On the Road
On the road again. The Willie Nelson classic has been a clichéd anthem for missionaries over the past decades. Watching the odometer spin higher and the passing towns blur together, we go from conference to meeting to Sunday service sharing our burden and vision for the place and people who have captured our hearts. Over time, as the extended road trips pile up, the screaming toddler and sore backside may tempt us to question the reason for it all. We need to visit churches, but we want to be in the “place” where we are called. While our collective deputation and furlough travels across the U.S. line the pockets of oil companies, hotel chains, and fast-food joints, we pray and hope we are making an impact. We long to stir the hearts in each congregation toward greater global outreach. We love what we do. Yet, life on the road can morph into a monotonous series of incessant driving, unpacking, presenting, eating, packing, and driving once again…an unavoidable reality to endure until we finally get back to the “place” God has called us.
How can we proactively prevent that from happening?
I’ve been around missionaries my whole life. My parents, my grandparents, plus an uncle and aunt were missionaries. My home church loves missionaries and they visit us regularly. As an associate pastor I enjoyed constant exposure to missionaries. Over the years I’ve had the privilege to gain a plethora of missionary friends. Now I’m a missionary too, and a wise missionary friend gave me some great counsel this past summer as we started hitting the road. He told me not to look at deputation (or furlough) as something to get through to get to the “place” where God called us. He astutely reminded me that, as I’m on the road visiting pastors and churches, I will never have these specific interactions with these specific people in the exact same way ever again. Each opportunity on the road, therefore, is the “place” and “people” God has called me to right here and right now. These are all Psalm 90:12 moments – divinely ordained appointments I am expected to faithfully seize. His advice has stuck with me, and coalesced into a three-fold goal while on the road.
- Encourage the Ministers
- Expect the Miraculous
- Enjoy the Moments
Encourage the Ministers
Ministry work isn’t easy. The aftermath of a global pandemic made it harder. Recent statistics show that many pastors are discouraged, overwhelmed, and considering stepping away. Lead pastors are not the only victims of this exhaustion and exodus from church service. Others on the pastoral team, along with faithful members who teach or serve or volunteer in some capacity, are struggling and stressed more than ever before. As a visiting missionary, my desire is to be a source of encouragement to pastors and all their ministry team. I can listen. I can commiserate. I can rejoice with those who are rejoicing and weep with those who are weeping. I can be a friend. I absolutely must never be fake or shallow, but I must be proactive. As God gives me opportunity, I want to encourage the ministers.
Expect the Miraculous
For every pastor and congregation that God allows me to interact with, my prayer is that God will do something great in them for His glory and His kingdom. Like every missionary, I want hearts to be moved and motivated for global outreach. I long for every Christian to see the need and catch the vision. A personal prayer of mine is for more cross-cultural laborers in the harvest. I plead with God to raise up at least one person in every church where I have the privilege to present or preach. I believe God will do just that. Not because I have special prayers, but because I know He longs for that as well and has promised to answer prayer. I don’t always personally see God moving, but I always expect Him to. Sometimes people share with me how God did work in their heart or how He may be calling them to a life of missionary service. At other times, no one says anything. Yet, I always know God will do something miraculous. I don’t have to know about all the unseen and ongoing ways God is moving in people’s hearts. I don’t have to get any personal credit for eventual fruit God bears through my interactions on the road. I simply pray and expect the miraculous.
Enjoy the Moments
In between all the important ministry and unavoidable miles, I strive to enjoy the moments along the way. Drink in the stunning scenery of God’s creation as I drive down the highways. Feast on the myriad of natural wonders across America. Try a new type of food. Visit a local coffee shop. Stop periodically to walk a nature trail or watch my toddler explore a new playground. Take photos. Converse with our waitress at Cracker Barrel and our front desk clerk at Holiday Inn. The list goes on and on. I don’t want to rush down the road so fast that I get to my destination but miss the highlights of the journey getting there.
These are my goals out on the road as a missionary. I’m by no means perfect or always proactive, but they are the objectives God has personally laid on my heart to pursue. Yours may be different, yet they are no less important. Find yours, then be purposeful and intentional as you hit the road on deputation or furlough. Eventually we’ll wrap our time on the road and return to the place and people where we are called. We’ll likely even be able to declare with Johnny Cash that “I’ve been everywhere, man”, then proceed to list each city and church we visited. Ultimately, we want to make an eternal impact and seize each opportunity while on the road – everywhere and with everyone.