I started a series on an effective missionary last week. We all want to be “effective” to what the Lord has called each of us. Sometimes it is hard to know how. Today’s lesson on how to be an effective missionary is to report back to the churches that support you. The good news is that with the technology we have today missionaries can easily report back each month. I am blessed to have wonderful churches who have supported us for years. Most of them require a missionary letter once every three months. I recommend that you send a prayer letter every month. It doesn’t cost that much, it is very easy to do in comparison to missionaries who were on the field 50+ years ago, and it is a blessing to those churches that support you.
Send physical letters through the mail: Monthly prayer letters should be sent as a physical letter to the churches, and as a backup they can be sent via email. The reason for sending the prayer letter through the mail instead of only email is because in the future, the email address you have for a church may no longer be a valid email address. If it is the pastor’s email, he may get a new email address, God may lead him to a new ministry, or he may retire. The church will think you have stopped sending prayer letters altogether, even if you are consistently sending them. If you send monthly prayer letters through the mail, they will always receive your prayer letters.
Give details about your ministry in the prayer letters: Your prayer letters should include details about your ministry, specifically what happened the last month, and what is planned for the present month. Give specific details about what is going on, about specific people you are witnessing to, about steps of faith you are taking. It is a prayer letter, so give the readers specific requests to pray about!
Keep your prayer letters simple and easy to read: I am addressing the format of the letter. I was an assistant pastor at my sending church. At one time, Pastor Lawrence asked me to work in the missions ministry. We had stacks of prayer letters, many from missionaries we never supported, that would come in each month. Each prayer letter was different, for some of them it was hard to identify the missionary, the field, the contact information, and/or the support address. All of that information was on the prayer letter (well… most of the time the information was all there), but the layout was complicated. Make it clear and easy to read. At a glance, the reader should know who the missionary is, where he serves, and how to contact him.
Your prayer letter should fit on one piece of paper: Some churches like to display their missionaries’ prayer letters. When a missionary sends a two page letter, it makes it harder to display. Format your prayer letters so that they fit on one page (and on one side of one page).
Don’t preach in your prayer letter: This may be controversial and I don’t want to offend anyone, but I do think this is a valid point. Your prayer letter is supposed to update churches about your ministry and give them requests so that they can pray for you and those specific requests. Whenever I saw a prayer letter that started out with 2-3 Bible verses and included some sort of comments on the verses, I thought, “this is filler”. Missionary, save your teaching and preaching for the pulpit, use your prayer letters for updates and prayer requests.
Be honest and forthright: Don’t embellish what is going on in the ministry. Be totally honest. If you are on furlough, make that clear, the same whether you are on deputation or in language school. Don’t misrepresent anything. Be honest and be positive. Every ministry has problems. I can remember when I was in Bible College, at times, pastors would come in to preach chapel, and a running joke was, “The ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” It was just a joke, obviously the ministry is all about Jesus and about people. You can be honest, but you don’t have to sound like the world is ending and everything is horrible. Just like every ministry has problems, every ministry also has blessings! Share both, but focus on the blessings (that is a general rule for life, not just for prayer letters). Be clear with what stage you are in, I am on furlough right now, I am visiting churches, and the ministry is still continuing in Argentina. To put it bluntly, If you are on furlough, don’t make it sound like you are on the field.
Be consistent: Send a prayer letter every month. With technology today, a missionary can send their letter to the states from almost anywhere in the world. There may be some place deep in the jungle where a missionary cannot send correspondents, and if that is the case then it is completely understandable why they cannot send a prayer letter every month, but that is an exception, and not the rule.
An effective missionary sends prayer letters to churches every month. People want to know what is going on in your ministry, they have invested in you, they believe God is using you, let them know all about it!