In September I attended the Second South Pacific Membercare Conference. A conference for all those involved in missionary care in Australia, New Zealand and across the pacific. I have spent a lot of time over the last 8 years reflecting on member care, particularly thinking about its foundations and definition. For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six foundations that we need to discuss and gain increased understanding on. My previous posts have considered what it means to be developing professionalism, being proactive and being locally grounded and globally informed. In today’s post I want to start thinking and talking about the holistic nature of missionary care.
Another foundation of our membercare practice and one that is hard to separate out from being proactive is that membercare is holistic. Actually, perhaps rather than asking what is membercare we could even begin to ask - what is not membercare? Part of our role as membercare providers is to promote and maintain an attitude of care to our workers from all parts of our organisations. In this way membercare should be happening whenever our organisation interacts with its field workers. This is most easily demonstrated through conversations I have had around finances.
Do you consider your finance staff as part of your membercare team?
As membercare workers how often do you talk to your finance staff?
The field workers probably interact with the finance staff more often than they talk to their designated membercare worker. Finance staff may also have a good idea of stresses and challenges that field workers are experiencing and what their long-term plans are.
Developing a holistic foundation for our membercare practice involves seeing and understanding field workers as whole people, with overlapping and interacting needs in many areas. I have noticed that Membercare has developed a culture of responding to emotional and psychological needs. This focus could easily lead us to overlook other areas of our workers well-being. Taking a holistic approach means caring about their physical and financial health, their faith, their professional growth, their sense of identity as a Christian and as a missionary worker. There are challenges in caring for all areas of our workers wellbeing. There may be cultural and ethical challenges in being holistically involved in peoples lives.
Do you feel comfortable for example, suggesting to people that they need to exercise more or loose weight? Is that a conversation that membercare workers should and could be having? Does it overstep the boundaries of our care? Or does it demonstrate an attitude of care to workers as whole people?
As we express this view and acknowledge our workers as whole people it helps to dismantle any dualistic thinking that can so easily creep into Christian spirituality. Dualistic thinking sees the spiritual parts of our life as good and important and worthy of God’s and the mission agencies attention and the rest as secular, bad and not as important. This type of thinking can be associated with seeing the world as a bad place, rather than as somewhere that reflects God's glory, and can be appreciated and enjoyed. In this way, we can begin to develop and nurture a more holistic faith in our workers so that they are aware of God in all they do and are, wherever they are.
Taking a holistic view towards our workers and the care we provide them also involves becoming aware of the long term impacts that the policies and procedures that they live with have on them. We have become so accustomed to some of these that we take them for granted but consider, for example, our reliance on support raising to fund missionaries field service. Currently we are facing decreased giving in our churches, this means less money to go around for both local and global mission. Although that doesn’t change the amount of money that our workers need to raise to go, (although the global financial situation does) it does have an impact on how hard and how long they need to work to raise and maintain that support. It means that they need to have more interactions with more people and more churches just to raise their support.
Are we taking that need into consideration as we help them schedule home leave?
Do we consider the long term impact of support raising on their relationships?
When I was on support I found the pressure to ask all my friends for money and accept money from some of them had a huge impact on my ability to sustain those relationships with the same level of closeness as before I was on support. It also blurred boundaries between when I was working and when I was socialising, that made it difficult for me to set self-care boundaries. The other part of this scenario is that shrinking church budgets mean church workers are doing more work for less and may have less time to support and encourage the mission workers.
A holistic view sees our workers as part of systems. Systems that support (hopefully) them like their families and friends, and systems that may be unhealthy for them (like a church that uses financial support to control their work). Holistic membercare understands that struggles like burnout are not just caused by individuals but by an interaction between the individual and the systems that they work in. Holistic membercare takes into account the impact of living within systems on the health of our workers. It understands that for some (like those who experience oppression and discrimination) the system in which they have lived or are living impacts on their ability to thrive and nurture relationships.
Holistic membercare takes a step back and develops a broader picture of whole complex people impacted by the variety and complixity of the systems in which they live. Lets work together to create a membercare with a holistic foundation and expression.
In my next post I would like to start thinking about membercare that is interdisciplinary.