7 Reasons Pastors Need to Spend Time Overseas

I write this post as a pastor who is leading training this week in West Africa, where my fire for missions has been refueled again. Every pastor, I’m convinced, needs to spend some time overseas. That time may be as short as a week or as long as years, but I’m certain we need to commit the time. Here’s why:

  1. We need to see that the world is bigger than our world. By far, most of the world doesn’t live in the United States. Most of the Christians in the world don’t live here, either. Simply stated, we won’t reach the world as long as we think we are the world.
  2. We need to see how little we are. Even if every believer in America knew your name, read every book you’ve ever written, listened to every podcast you’re produced, and saw you as a hero, 95% of the world still would not know your name. That’s humbling.
  3. We need to see the lostness of the world. Get a chance to listen to the sounds of the Islamic call to prayer five times of day. Hear and see Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the wind. Watch as people bow before statues they created with their own hands. You’ll never be the same after you stand in the middle of darkness.
  4. We need to see the hunger of the believing world. I’ve watched as believers around the world listen to my teaching, record every word, and then reteach it to others. I make no claim that my teaching is that good; I’m simply noting the hunger of people who long for training. You’ll likely find people who don’t want to stop the training.
  5. We need to meet people who are paying the price of following Christ. We Americans tend to throw around the term “persecution” and act as if any opposition we face is persecution. It wouldn’t hurt us to learn more about what real persecution is. 
  6. We need to learn the realities of contextualization. Teaching well overseas is never as simple as translating our outlines into another language. It requires understanding contexts, worldviews, histories, and theologies of the people we teach. Frankly, learning the importance of these issues will help us in sharing the gospel in the United States as well.
  7. We need to meet missionaries. Pastors and their congregations will support missions better if they actually know missionaries—and it’s not the missionary’s job to come to us. It’s our job as pastors to develop relationships with them.

Pastors who have been there, give us other reasons to spend time overseas. 

9 Comments

  • Kevin Prather says:

    I’ve never been overseas. We took our first trip about 3 weeks ago, to see our daughter who was studying in Rome. It was not a mission trip. I was, however, profoundly impacted by all I saw and came home actually telling my wife: as a pastor, I should be going overseas once a year for mission trips or to see and experience another culture or grow in my understanding of what I read in Scripture.

    I did feel very small there. It was humbling. I saw a tragic lostness in what should be a place where the gospel sill rings out. I saw how the gospel itself was lost/distorted profoundly in Vatican City. My heart grieved.

    In the ancient Rome sites, I was absolutely stunned by what was once the glory of Rome. I had a much better appreciation for what the early church was dealing with when it came to powerful resistance/opposition to the Message, how intimidating Rome must have been. I was amazed at the faith of Paul whose greatest missionary passion concerning place was to go to Rome, to preach the gospel there. I had no idea just how overwhelming that city would be to someone entering it . I had read much on the debauchery, paganism and violence and wealth and power of the culture, but until I saw what was, I couldn’t fully appreciate it. I re-read Romans and 2 Timothy while there and in many ways new things came to life because I could see. I am still in awe that things built 2,000 years ago, 2,500 years ago, still stand. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    The arch of Titus was meaningful to me. Jesus told His disciples the temple would be destroyed. Standing there and looking at this arch built to celebrate the victory over the Jews, with the inscriptions and pictures of the victory engraved on the arch, also made certain things come alive for me. His words were fulfilled and to see the other side of it, just how important that victory was to Rome was also incredible. One of the pictures on the arch shows among the items taken from Jerusalem (from the temple)-a menorah and trumpets. I did not know what those trumpets meant. Our tour guide, who also knew his history very well, said those were trumpets the Jewish people blew when the walls of Jericho came down. He said some of those were kept in the temple as a reminder of that great victory. He stated something like: ‘This picture is important because Rome is saying the Jewish people boasted their God caused walls to come down, but here, the Romans are saying, we men are more powerful than your God who makes walls come down. We tore down your walls and overran your city.’ Paraphrased.

    Whether or not that was the actual prison that Paul was in before he was beheaded (the Mamertine prison), it was one of several dungeons from that period in that area where people like Paul were imprisoned. It was such a contrast from the Vatican with all the wealth and opulence and power. It made his words of being alone, asking for a cloak and manuscripts, about finishing the race, so vivid. The greatest missionary got to Rome, but not how he envisioned. He would have been able to hear, from those dungeons in that area, the noise and clamor of the powerful in that city because all of these seats of power were in this concentrated area. I really was moved by that experience as well.

    There is a profound need, again, for the gospel in Rome. That struck me very much. The difficulty of missions work in Rome struck me very much as well. I would imagine it is that way across Europe. The spiritual soil is very hard there. In some ways I felt like I was getting a snapshot of where our culture is headed and will be 10-20 years from now. The gospel must always be an urgent matter.

    That the gospel continued to spread in the face of such power and opposition and turned an empire upside down in time, is nothing short of amazing to me, even more so now that I had that experience there. I am very thankful we were able to go. I have other dreams of places I hope to go for missions and also to see first hand. I appreciate this Blog entry very much. I do believe that if all of us pastoring had that opportunity to serve more overseas and to go see things from time to time, it would not only help us grow in Christ, but also as teachers. Our churches would also be blessed.

    Have a wonderful Christmas.

  • Charles Clark says:

    Prior to going to the mission field I witnessed a church come alive because the pastor caught the vision and passion for leading the church to be on mission by going on a mission trip. The church grew spiritually and in numbers because its vision and purpose expanded beyond the world they knew and understood. There is no substitute for going and experiencing what Dr. Lawless highlights in his 7 Reasons. The unreached people and places around the globe are crying out for someone to share the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ. We are all called to be full participants in the Great Commission and pastors play an essential role in leading those that God has entrusted to fulfill the Acts 1:8 command.

  • #8 We need to see how really good we have it as pastors in the States.
    #9 We need the lessons in humility that come when ministering abroad. (it puts us in our place in a proper way)
    #10 We need to see the bigness of our God.
    #11 We need to see God at work out of our context.
    #12 We need the experience of being more dependent on God as we have less resources and technology to depend upon.
    #13 We need the experience of seeing the faith and spiritual hunger of people who have so little access to good teaching and bible training.
    #14 We need to see how our sophistication has blinded us to the power of simple faith.

  • Joe Bailey says:

    Thanks for your work Dr.Lawless. Traveling makes you appreciate God’s grace even more. Traveling also makes you appreciate America more. This country isn’t perfect but we are blessed to live here.

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