Advance Magazine
Summer 2024

Lavish Appreciation

The church members of Agnew Road Baptist Church leaned forward to see the presentation, interested in photos that, to an outsider, would look commonplace. They were shots of a family’s kitchen and living room and of the home’s outside. But this was no ordinary home. It belonged to people precious to the church: their missionaries.

Agnew Road Baptist Church (Greenville, South Carolina) has made it their mission to make missions central to the church’s ministry. “We teach our people that missions isn’t a department of the church, it’s the Great Commission—that’s everything,” says Pastor Jeff Miller. The church wholeheartedly stands behind this commitment.

Every year, they provide funds for Jeff and his wife, Debbie, to visit at least one of the church’s missionaries so they can be a blessing to them on their fields. The Millers take plenty of photos to help their church members get a clearer idea of what their missionaries’ everyday lives look like.

On-field visits are just one of the ways the church stays intentionally connected to its missionaries. Pastor Jeff says that missionaries often say they’re not superheroes. This is important for churches to keep in mind, so they don’t expect too much of their missionaries. But he also recognizes they are making substantial sacrifices greater than someone serving in their own local church ministries: “They walk away from home and family, learn a new culture and language, and more. That’s a big deal.”

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Jeff believes that churches should be generous in giving of their time, attention, support, and finances for their missionaries. It’s an act of appreciation for their sacrifices, and at Agnew Road, the church lavishes appreciation on its missionaries. Each has an open invitation to visit and preach when they’re in town, and these meetings are highlights for the congregation.

Long after the missionaries leave, church members continue investing in them. Several ladies regularly keep in touch with female missionaries to help fill their need for fellowship, especially for those in cultures with few Christians. Each member of the missions committee is assigned three or four missionaries to maintain the church’s corporate communication. The committee members read their assigned missionaries’ prayer letters and contact them often for up-to-date information. At Wednesday night prayer meetings, committee members give presentations that share current prayer needs.

Agnew Road works hard to keep missions in front of the next generations of church members. Jeff’s previous church in Ohio sent out BMM missionary Betty McKeehan. When Betty came home on furlough, she became a regular part of the church’s Wednesday night children’s program by helping the kids learn all about missionary life. The Millers brought this emphasis to Agnew Road by establishing a Missions for Kids program. This summertime curriculum covers the gamut of missions, culture, and other topics that help children understand missionary life. Pastor Jeff wanted to keep this teaching going for the teens so that missions stays in their minds before they head to college. Two church members, Ian and Emily Ferguson, lead the year-long teen missions class. In this way, all youth at Agnew Road know that everyone can be a part of missions, whether at home or overseas.

The church’s strong missions emphasis has created fertile ground for church members to sense God’s call into missions. As Pastor Jeff preaches, if he sees something in his text that would help people better understand the Great Commission and how to live it out, he’ll work those thoughts into his message.

Church members Daniel and Sarah Ruley answered the call to serve in Brazil. Another couple serves in a Creative Access Nation, and a third family just began their first term with Bibles International. Still others serve in Mexico, the Philippines, and the Greenville area.

Pastor Jeff offers several points of advice for churches sending missionaries: “Give encouragement and advice when requested or needed, but give your missionaries freedom to develop their ministries in ways appropriate for their host culture, even if it’s in ways you wouldn’t choose for your own church.” Jeff also stresses that first-term missionaries should be shielded from too much ministry activity during their first year. “Missionaries need time to absorb the culture and language of their new country. There’s nothing wrong with going to a sporting event, or to the park to observe people, or making small talk. Don’t feel you need to jump in with both feet.”

Agnew Road demonstrates that pastors and church members should develop as close a relationship with their missionaries as possible and remain as personally invested with their time and attention as they would with a son or daughter or brother or sister they love. “And remember,” Pastor Jeff adds, “we must be willing to send our best servants and choose to trust God to replace them. In Acts 13, the church at Antioch was small but still sent out two of its very best.”

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