There are more reasons for pastors to visit the mission field than I’ve listed so far, but I’ll stop my list with the three I’ve given: understanding missions better, improving your leadership of the church’s missions efforts, and being a blessing to God’s servants on the mission field. I’d like to address an intensely practical question—and potential objection in some minds—how can I afford the time and cost of visiting the mission field?
Obviously, it takes both time and money to travel across the globe to visit missionaries, but not as much of either as we might think. While some of the time factor will be affected by how well you handle jet lag, you can get to and from most places on the planet much quicker than you’d expect. If you treat your first visit to the mission field as a “once in a lifetime” trip then you will probably plan it larger than the kind of visit I am recommending. The tendency in that case is to jam too much into the trip simply because you think you need to get everything you can do while you are “on that side of the world.” It might be wiser to develop a plan for visiting your missionaries over a period of time that allows you to do so with shorter trips that actually give you more time with each one.
In our church’s case, we have a number of families for which we are the sending church, so we targeted those missionary families as the top priority for visiting on the field. We’d love to visit all of the missionaries we support, but our first obligation is to the ones who are members of our church. That became a simple decision-making guideline for us. You can develop your own, but some principled plan for visiting the field can keep it from becoming a whirlwind tour. I believe most missionaries sincerely desire to have any visit include a Sunday on the field so that you can worship with believers in the churches they have started, so you should plan to arrive before or stay through a Sunday. Personally, I don’t like to be gone from our church for two Sundays in a row, so I generally restrict my trips accordingly.
There is no disputing that international travel can be expensive, especially if you go to places for which you need an array of shots and medications. Here are a few quick observations and suggestions. Don’t conclude you can’t do it until you begin to actually look into it—far too many never get past the “we could never afford that” stage. I don’t know what “too much” is for you, but the numbers are not as bad as you might think. Especially if you shop around and do some investigation to learn what time of the year is best for prices. For example, the drop in price from August 31st to September 1st can be huge because of tourism. Travel at an off-peak time. See if the missionary can get a better deal on his end of the travel arrangements. Call William Shatner to negotiate for you!
Where do you get the money to do this? I would hope your congregation would be committed to this, but they may need to be taught and encouraged in this regard. That’s one of the reasons I wrote these blog entries—share them with folks in order to have them understand that it’s not just your idea. Consider including money in your missions budget for annual or bi-annual field visits. Plan a special offering at Christmas, or some other part of the year, that will be used for missionary projects, including visits to the field. My observation is that if you get to the field once, the impact it has on you will convince the congregation to send you back again (just make sure they buy you a roundtrip ticket!).
I am extremely thankful to pastor a congregation that is committed to missions and to allow its pastors to get to the field to minister. As we’ve worked to direct the resources of the church toward our missions priorities, it has also helped us grow in our commitment to missions. If visiting the field is a priority (and it ought to be), then take the steps needed to direct resources toward that priority. Teach, model, and make the most of every opportunity you get. You’ll be amazed how easily the momentum can be built and sustained when God’s people see the fruits of this kind of leadership.