Worker Transitions

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May 2018 | Volume 13 | Issue 5 |

Worker Transitions:

Best Practices for Sending Churches, Agencies, and Missionaries

How can we ensure that transitions are handled in a way that honors God, cares for the worker and their family, and facilitates good church/agency leadership?

Cross-cultural workers transition back from the field for a multitude of reasons—retirement, change of assignment, family needs, etc. These transitions are usually stressful as difficult decisions must be made, families uprooted, and ministry transferred or ended. Sometimes these transitions must occur very rapidly under crisis conditions.

As they navigate transitions from the field, workers may be well supported by their agency and sending church. But sadly, many workers leave the field with too little encouragement or guidance when they need it most. Or they may be forced to negotiate conflicting or unclear expectations. Additional pain may result. The missionary and their family may not receive much-needed counseling, financial support, or guidance in making decisions with far-reaching consequences. And not just the worker suffers in such cases. Extended family, sending/supporting churches, donors, agency colleagues, and personal friends may also be confused, disappointed, or frustrated.

Many transition failures seem to be the result of poor communication and role confusion among the three key entities with a high investment in successful transitions: the workers themselves, the sending church, and the mission agency. How should worker, church, and agency collaborate to ensure that transitions are handled in a way that honors God, cares for the worker and their family, and facilitates church/agency responsibility to lead well?

Four veteran missions leaders and mobilizers tackled the task of establishing guidelines addressing worker transitions. The resulting document outlines suggested best practices for multiple types of major transitions. For each of the scenarios listed below, the guidelines detail the responsibilities of the sending church, agency, and worker.

  • Summary Guidelines and Values
  • Policy Development
  • Pre-Return Action Steps (regardless of reason for return)
  • Return for Retirement
  • Return for Discipline/Restoration
  • Return for Physical/Mental Health Crisis or Other Traumatic Crisis
  • Return for Job Change or Relocation with Same Agency
  • Return for Agency Change
  • Return for Change of Career

This document was developed by:

John Bernard, executive director, United World Mission
Dave Hall, missions pastor, Emmanual Faith Community Church, Escondido, CA
Ellen Livingood, President, Catalyst Services
Kelly McClelland, certified career coach, Transition Time Coach