This morning, I’m leaving with some other pastors for a vision trip sponsored by Compassion International. I’m sorry to say, the last time I was overseas for mission purposes was in 2001, when I spent some weeks in Kiev, Ukraine with Let’s Start Talking. I’ve been to mission points in Mexico and throughout the U.S. since then. I’ve even planted a church, and the churches I’ve served have sent dozens of teams overseas, planted churches throughout the U.S. and around the world. But, I’m sorry to say, when the plane touches down in Quito late tonight, I will be overseas for a missional purpose for the first time in … well, too long.
I say “too long” not only because of the worthwhile work that goes on overseas, but also because of how it’s changed me over the years. There are some things one encounters only elsewhere. So, for the next few weeks, I want to feature some leadership lessons from my missionary adventures over the years in Mexico, Thailand, Ukraine, and Ecuador. If you enjoy this blog or have been blessed in any way by my ministry —know these short-term mission projects are part of my ministerial makeup. I look forward to sharing why with you over the next couple of weeks. These are some of the watershed moments that changed who I am and how I serve the Lord.
First though, I want to address the fact that too many of my colleagues never make it overseas to see what God is up to in other parts of the world. Here are the three biggest reasons they give.
1) They don’t see the point. I pity the fool (thanks, Mr. T) who feels this way. Everyone — and especially Americans — needs to see with their own eyes that God is on the move around the globe. We need to get in touch with global issues, poverty, lostness and outbreaks of the Kingdom. My friends, it will change the way you approach everything from unity to evangelism to compassion.
2) Their churches won’t send them — and they don’t have the money to pay their own way. Many churches feel as though it’s too expensive for the minister (and certainly for his or her family) to go — though they don’t feel it’s too expensive for everyone else in the church. Many churches will not fund such a trip through the church budget, leaving the minister with the uniquely awkward experience of trying to raise money to go from the congregation itself. There are a myriad of “awkwardnesses” (new word) that apply to the minister asking the church for money to go on the same trip the congregation would gladly contribute to for others. I don’t have time to list them all here — but you can probably imagine them for yourself.
3) A perception among stingy people and churches that it’s a “vacation.” Those who’ve been before know better, but many churches require the minister take vacation time to do it — like most people in the church might have to do. I get where this idea comes from. However, the problem is that most churches don’t grant benefits similar to corporations at any level — and so it isn’t apples to apples. Even if it was, I might hope the church could aspire to greater treatment of its people than the typical American corporation. I’ve found churches usually “go corporate” when it suits them.
For instance, when it comes to salary and benefits, ministers should sacrifice. When it comes to mission, they should imitate the corporate world. Nice. I might ask which vacation situation we should view as typical? Four months off, like teachers? A few days a week, like police officers? Virtually no vacation, like those who work retail, etc.? In my experience, we choose whatever fits what we want to have happen. At NVC, we try to view our staff like missionaries in residence — which helps a lot. Our primary mission point is San Diego County, but the world is God’s mission field in which we labor.
There are other reasons, but the aforementioned are the biggest in my experience. When these aren’t overcome, the pastor is relegated to a “do as we say, not as we do” kind of thing when it comes to missions. We encourage the church to go, to give, etc.; but, we don’t/won’t do it ourselves. This isn’t good.
Of course, there are excesses here. There are those who want to take too much time overseas or cost the church a boatload. However, I would suggest that most pastors don’t ask for too much — far more won’t ask at all.
Ultimately, this is a loss for the church. Why? Because nearly any missed opportunity to expand the vision and spiritually fire up the minister is a loss. It’s also a missed opportunity to further what God is doing overseas, like…
TO BE CONTINUED
Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book Jesus, the Powerful Servant. This post is adapted from a July 22, 2013 post.