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How to Pastor a Missionary By Zach Bradley

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While living overseas I had the opportunity to disciple a couple of young men toward becoming pastors. One day, in place of our typical discussions, we decided to walk to the fields nearby to talk with local shepherds. We planned on simply asking them questions about shepherding sheep to see if any of it paralleled pastoring people. To our surprise, it immediately became an unforgettable experience.

One shepherd began by nodding toward his flock and saying seemingly random words.

“Will-run”

“Friendly”

“He-bites”

After a while we realized he was actually telling us the name of every sheep one by one. Though there were dozens of them—dirty, munching, mindless sheep—the shepherd not only knew them all by name, he knew them well enough to name them according their unique personalities. That day, the young candidates walked away with a tremendous lesson in pastoring: shepherds know their sheep.

When it comes to shepherding missionaries, pastors must strive to know them well. After all, it will have to be the kind of relationship that stretches across time zones and sky miles. Staying connected will take time and intentionality.

There are numerous well-known stereotypes of missionaries, but in reality, no two are alike. They cannot be pastored solely according to processes and policies. Missionaries are people. As such, they need to be pursued and known, not exalted as if they belong to a special class of super-Christians.

To pastor them is to shepherd a flock in perpetual crisis. Yes, they often live in dangerous places. And yes, they often get sick. But transitioning to another culture and learning a new language adds pressures that create a state of constant tension.

It’s painful living far away from family, friends, and sending church—especially for families with children. If you assume anything about missionaries, assume they need you to care for their souls.

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