In a few weeks I’ll be transitioning my church in Phoenix over to a younger man that in many ways is a better fit for the neighborhood where our church building sits. My wife and I will then relocate to the San Diego area which will make it possible for me to be nearby my mom and dad as my dad’s health is failing fast. We will also be living near our two daughters and 3 of our grandchildren, which is really the icing on the cake of Grace that God is serving us once yet again.
Ministry-wise, I’ll be rejoining Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators full-time and serving as the Director of Church Relations and Missionary Care. Although I’ve been consistently involved in pastoral-type care of missionaries and encouraging and training church leaders to care for their missionaries since my return from the mission field in 1993, having the opportunity to concentrate on doing so in a full time capacity is extremely exciting. And needless to say, the machinery of my mind has been humming at warp speed as I think and pray about the needs and the possibilities that are ahead.
With that as a backdrop and at the risk of being misunderstood, I’d like to use the following questions and a few observations to provoke everyone, but ESPECIALLY Senior Pastors regarding ministry to missionaries:
Why do “Senior Pastors” conferences exist?
Why does the “Senior Pastor List Server” exist?
Why do a large percentage of Senior Pastors have as board members of their local church, Senior Pastors that are pastoring in other cities or even in other states?
Why, when a Senior Pastor needs wisdom and seeks out counsel regarding an aspect of leadership or a major challenge within their church, does he usually make a call to someone else who is now or has been a Senior Pastor at some time in the past?
Why does a Senior Pastor usually let loose with a little chuckle and a grin when one of his Assistant Pastors has filled in for him during the week and on a Sunday morning, and then says that he “knows what it’s like to be a Senior Pastor now”?
Obviously, the underlying answer to all of the above questions is that being a Senior Pastor is a unique calling that brings with it unique challenges and stresses that it’s hard for someone who hasn’t been a Senior Pastor to understand or relate to. No Senior Pastor that I’m aware of is ashamed of being convinced of that in any way, nor should they be.
And even though we’re open to God using other brothers and sisters to speak into many areas of our lives, when it comes to ministry issues or family issues that are tightly connected to ministry, we know that usually only someone else who is or has been a Senior Pastor will really be able to grasp what we are dealing with and perhaps give us some good Godly counsel.
If the questions and observations that I’ve written above have any credence, (and I believe they do), then I believe what I’m about to write is worthy of at least some consideration. Here then, are a few more questions:
Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about a person receiving and sharing the vision God has given them to represent Him in a different country to people of a different language and with radically different culture?
Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about having to trust that God will provide the money to do that through churches or brothers and sisters in Jesus that you may or may not have relationship with?
Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about liquidating pretty much every one of your belongings in order to fulfill the vision that God has given you?
Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about disconnecting yourself, your wife, and your 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 you begin living in this other country that if you or your family members need things like medical care or dental care, it is difficult to obtain and is probably of a different quality than what you’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 your trying to help your family adjust AND engaging in the “ministry” that you’re convinced God called you to?
Here’s where I’m going with this:
If we can justify specialized ministry for ourselves as Senior Pastors and encourage and even make it possible for other Senior Pastors to do the same, then might it not also be possible that missionaries also deserve some type of specialized ministry and that we should encourage and make it possible for them to obtain it, especially if they are members of our church that we have commissioned and sent to the mission field?
Having been both a missionary AND a Senior Pastor at the same time overseas, and a Senior Pastor of two different churches in the U.S., I can tell you by experience that the unique challenges and stresses of being a Senior Pastor in the U.S., as real as they are, do not compare with the unique challenges and stresses of living and ministering in a cross-cultural environment outside of the U.S!
If you’re tracking with what I’m saying, (and even if you’re not), and especially if you’re a Senior Pastor, here are a few things you might consider doing:
1. Begin viewing the missionaries you know with the same level of regard for their unique situation as you do your own unique situation as a Senior 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 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 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 Senior Pastor and we seize what’s available to assist and encourage ourselves, shouldn’t we seriously consider encouraging and maybe even empowering missionaries to do the same?