To my fellow pastors and church leaders,
As a former missionary, church planter, and pastor, I'd like to seize the opportunity that the beginning of a new year provides, to provoke you to think a little deeper about the members of your church that you have sent out as missionaries and/or the missionaries that your church loves and supports financially.
A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT PASTORING
Why do local pastor-specific gatherings take place on a regular basis in almost every town and city around the world?
Why do pastor's conferences exist?
Why are there online-limited-access groups, chat rooms, or bulletin boards for pastors?
Why do a number of local churches have board members that are pastors from other churches in other cities or even other states?
Why does a pastor who needs wisdom and seeks out counsel regarding an aspect of leadership or a major challenge within their church, usually make a call to someone else who is or has been a pastor at some time in the past?
Within a senior pastor-type structure of a local church, why do many senior pastors usually let loose with a little chuckle and a grin when one of their assistant pastors has filled in for him while he was on vacation, and then says that he now knows what it’s like to be a senior pastor?
A UNIQUE CALLING WITH UNIQUE CHALLENGES AND STRESSES
Obviously, the underlying answer to all of the above questions is that being a pastor is a unique calling that brings with it unique challenges and stresses that it’s hard for someone who hasn’t been a pastor to understand or relate to.
Even though most pastors have the leaders and certain members of their churches speaking in to their lives in many areas, when it comes to ministry issues or family issues that are tightly connected to ministry, they know that someone else who is or has been a pastor is more likely to be able to relate to them and to provide ministry-specific counsel.
A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT BEING A MISSIONARY
If the questions and observations that I’ve written above have any credence, then I believe pastors and leaders of local churches--especially those from local churches who have sent some of their own members to the mission field, should also consider these questions:
--Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about a person receiving and sharing the vision God has given them to become a missionary?
--Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about having to trust that God will provide the money to fulfil the vision to be a missionary through churches or brothers and sisters in Jesus that they may or may not have relationship with?
--Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about liquidating pretty much every one of their belongings in order to fulfil the vision that God them?
--Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about disconnecting themselves, their wives, and their children from anything or anyone that is familiar and then resettling them in a foreign country?
--Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about the reality that once they begin living in this other country that if they or their family members need things like medical care or dental care, it is difficult to obtain and is probably of a different quality than what they've had access to in the U.S.?
--Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about learning to live in a completely new culture and environment and learning a new language at the same time they're trying to help their family adjust AND engaging in the “ministry” that they're convinced God called them to?
PASTORING CONTRASTED WITH BEING A MISSIONARY
Here’s where I’m going with this:
If we understand our need for pastor-specific ministry and resources because of the unique challenges and stresses we experience, and we justifiably spend time and finances to obtain or receive them, it shouldn't be too difficult for us to understand the need for missionary-specific ministry and resources--and then to encourage and assist missionaries to receive them.
Having been both a missionary AND a senior pastor at the same time overseas, and a senior pastor of two different churches in the United States, I can tell you by experience that the unique challenges and stresses of being a senior pastor in America--as real as they are, do not compare with the multitude of unique challenges and stresses of living and ministering in a cross-cultural environment outside of this country!
If you’re tracking with what I’m saying, and even if you’re not--here are a few things I'd like to challenge you to do at the start of this new year:
1. Begin viewing the missionaries you know with the same level of regard for their unique challenges and stresses as you do your own unique challenges and stresses as a pastor.
2. Increase your personal inventory of understanding of what missionaries experience by doing some specific reading about the subject and pray about having your church leadership do the same.
3. Whenever possible, set up a meeting with someone who is living or has lived on the foreign mission field and ask them to share with you the unique challenges and stresses they faced or are facing.
4. Encourage, and possibly even pay for your missionaries or other missionaries you know to attend missions conferences.
5. Even more importantly, encourage or pay for a missionary to receive the gift of debriefing** and to attend one of the many specialized missionary retreats that take place in various parts of our country and around the world.
I could go on and on with things to consider but I’ll leave it alone for now.
The bottom-line is that if we unashamedly recognize the unique challenges and stresses involved with being a pastor and we seize what’s available to assist and encourage ourselves, shouldn’t we seriously consider encouraging and empowering missionaries to do the same?
**For more information about the gift of debriefing for missionaries, click here.