An initiative by the Israel Ministry of Tourism encourages leaders to experience the Holy Land.
By Mark Dreistadt
“I never realized how significant a trip to Israel could be” was the universal response of the pastors and wives sitting around a table at the Scots Hotel near the Sea of Galilee. These individuals were the second group of megachurch leaders to be hosted by the Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT) in a new initiative to encourage every megachurch pastor in the United States to have a personal Israel experience.
The trip took place this past February but the journey actually began several months earlier as Infinity Concepts, representing IMOT, began to search for qualified candidates. The guidelines specified that a candidate should be a senior pastor who had never been to Israel with a church with a peak attendance of 2,500 or more in the past six months. The application process included a registration form along with a copy of each person’s passport and pastor’s ordination certificate.
Once each pastor was vetted and approved, we began to correspond through email to prepare their hearts and minds for this life-changing experience. As the day of departure grew closer, there was a growing anticipation in everyone’s heart about what would take place. It’s sometimes hard for people to understand how a few days in the Holy Land can transform your life and ministry.
Hidden treasures await
For a busy pastor to carve eight or nine days out of their schedule for a trip to Israel is not an easy matter. Bishop Brandon Porter, pastor of Greater Community Temple COGIC in Cleveland, TN, says, “The trip to Israel for me was a blessing in disguise. Because of my schedule I was somewhat apprehensive about taking those eight days away for a trip, not really knowing the hidden treasures awaiting me.”
When the day arrived and we all met each other for the first time before the flight, there was an immediate bonding of the entire group. I believe this was because of the commonalities of ministry at the megachurch level and the shared anticipation that we would all encounter God in a very special way in Israel.
We arrived in Israel late afternoon, quickly cleared passport control, baggage and customs, and were met by our Israeli guide. We climbed on the bus that would be our daily means of transportation for the next several days and headed to the Sea of Galilee.
While everyone was weary from the flight, we were excited about being in Israel. During the next six days we walked where Jesus did. Each day was packed with biblical sites, historical and cultural adventures, and life-changing experiences. This was a study tour; we often paused at biblical locations to read the Bible and pray.
Each of the pastors was assigned locations where they would deliver a message based on the events that transpired on the place where they stood.
Centuries of biblical history
We traveled from the Mediterranean coast to Galilee; from Galilee down the Jordan River Valley to the Dead Sea; from the Dead Sea up to Jerusalem; and from Jerusalem back to the Coast. A relatively small geographical area, this region encompasses centuries of biblical history, unique geography and diverse culture.
Among the many highlights of the trip was the Mount of Beatitudes. “As the Sermon on the Mount was read out loud I felt overwhelmed. It was like I was there with Jesus speaking to me,” says Vince Nelson, pastor, Lima Community Church, Lima, OH.
Pastor Philip Griffin from First Wesleyan Church in Battle Creek, MI says, “I’ve been able to put stories and events I’ve read and re-read into a literal context and gain a better understanding on so much.”
Other biblical sites evoke similar reactions. One of the most profound is the Garden of Gethsemane. John Hampton, former pastor of First Christian Church in Canton, OH (newly appointed pastor of Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL) says, “Spending some time praying and worshiping in the Garden of Gethsemane is something I will never forget. If that is all I got to do on this trip, the time and effort to come to Israel for that alone would be worth it.” Pastor Marvin Parker from Broadview Baptist Church in Chicago, IL, comments, “Today our hearts were so full. There were many tears and testimonies to the goodness and faithfulness of God.”
Study at the sites
The group studied the Bible at sacred sites including Mount Carmel, Nazareth, En Gedi, the Mount of Olives and the Garden Tomb.
Pastor Derrick Hutchins of Orlando Institutional COGIC in Orlando, FL, describing his experience in Israel quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Our minds and spirits were definitively expanded by our spiritual adventure in Israel.
“I do believe that there is nothing that can replace actually being here with the opportunity to frame the Biblical stories. I am leaving with a deeper passion for Scripture, as well as a love for Israel and the people here,” comments Griffin.
Pastor Kevin Taylor from Kenosha First Assembly of God in Kenosha, WI, sums up the trip when he says, “What a time it’s been; life-changing. They say when you come here you’ll never be the same.”
Each of the pastors returned from Israel having been deeply and profoundly transformed by their experience. They all intend to return again and bring others with them.
Mark Dreistadt is president of Infinity Concepts, Export, PA, a firm that represents the Israel Ministry of Tourism. www.goisrael.com
Photos courtesy of Mark Dreistadt.
Israel resources for pastors
If you would like to know more about planning your life-changing trip to Israel order your free Christian Leader’s Tool Kit at www.IsraelToolKit.com.
If you are a senior pastor of a church with a peak attendance of 2,500 or more and you have never been to Israel you may qualify to participate in the next Pastors Educational Tour of Israel. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.