There is no lack of misunderstanding of the missionary furlough. Part of the confusion may be the language churches and mission organizations use for time off the mission field. Words like home assignment seem to be synonyms for furlough, but even that phrase falls short. Dictionaries don’t help when they use the same word for military service people, employee layoffs and even a temporary leave for prisoners. This may explain why some home churches and mission organizations see a furlough similar to a vacation while others see it as a time of work with specific goals to accomplish.
Reporting (Acts 14:27)
Acts 14:26 says Paul; and Barnabas had completed the work they had been commended by the grace of God to accomplish. They reported of God opening the door of faith to the Gentiles to their home church at Antioch. Today’s missionaries should be regularly communicating what God is doing in and through them from the mission field, but personally addressing the church provides a depth of relationship which written communication will always lack.
Continued (Acts 14:28)
While Paula and Barnabas surely spent significant time with the church leaders on their return to Antioch, it is telling that they stayed with the disciples for a long time. Not much can be extracted from the brief statement given, but it does suggest missionaries should purposely spend time in their home church community connecting with the body and possibly working with their practical care teams.
Testified (Acts 15:3-4)
Most missionaries know as good as it is to be with their home church, there is great value in testifying to all God is doing in and through them to other churches. It is recorded Paul and Barnabas described the conversion of Gentiles in Phoenicia, Samaria and Jerusalem. It is likely that list is incomplete. Taking time to encourage other churches builds a broader base of relationships for prayer and financial support, which is often a main purpose of furloughs.
Ministry (Acts 15:25)
Most Bible scholars believe Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians during his “long time” with the disciples of Antioch recorded in Acts 14:27. Other ministry the two accomplished includes collecting the letter from the church at Jerusalem regarding circumcision and expectations for Gentile converts. Modern missionaries on furlough can focus on serving in their home church, writing, and other projects not conducive to time on the field.
Re-Commisioned (Acts 15:40)
When Paul and Barnabas were sent out from Antioch they were commended to the grace of God (Acts 14:26), but it is also recorded Paul was re-commended to the grace of God for his second missionary journey. Furlough is a good time for modern missionaries to be reconfirmed and re-commended by their home churches to the grace of God for the work they are set apart for.
Returning to Antioch in the first century is obviously far different than returning to the States today, but many of the same principles apply. It would serve the home church and missionary well to consider a simple set of goals to plan to accomplish on furlough. These may be specific committees or groups to give report to, a number of churches to meet with and even a specific financial commitment to meet before returning to the field.