I am betting big money that this title will pull in some readers.
Cool off, no exposés or confessions here. This post has nothing to do with moral failures or temptations or high-dollar TV preachers who are cheating on their fourth wife. This is not as titillating as those things but it is way more important.
I want to write about the high number of North American pastors who secretly, or not so secretly, wish they were doing something else for a living. And I am not talking about the guys who would rather be a plumber because they are discouraged in ministry.
I want to talk about the pastors who would rather be missionaries.
I have a friend who was a successful pastor for 25 years. Six months ago, he resigned his church and is now a full-time missionary. He has never been happier. I have another friend who was a pastor, left there to be a missionary for 5 years and then tried to return to the pastorate. It didn’t work. He lasted about 18 months in the local church and, you guessed it, he now travels around the world doing disaster relief and working with orphans. And he is quite fulfilled. There was a well known and successful Assembly of God pastor named Dean Galyen who, several years ago left a large church in Missouri to become a missionary in Africa. People thought he was crazy and said he was making a huge mistake. He proved them wrong.
I have had numerous discussions with my pastor friends, and I don’t mean a few, about this topic. On Saturday, a successful pastor a couple of hours away told me, “the only thing that is keeping me from making the leap into full time missions is my personal finances.” This guy has been in local church work for 25 years, his current church for 20. I personally know of a dozen or so pastors who, over the past several months, have told me something very similar.
So what is behind this phenomenon? What is going on in the heads of local church pastors that cause them to desire to work in third-world countries rather than in comfortable suburbs? In just a few words: they are tired of beating their heads against the wall with little or no results. Ministry in North America is resulting in miniscule numbers of converts and disciples. Measurable life–change is microscopic. According to most stats, the conversion rate is almost at nil. Many of these same pastors have had the honor of doing short-term missions work and have seen the results of their efforts. They have seen how far money goes in other countries as it reaches the poor. They have experienced jam packed churches with no air conditioning and no running water and no creature comforts. But they have also witnessed these people worship God passionately for hours without complaining. In fact, there are no complaints about how loud the music is or how long the pastor preaches or what songs they were singing. You need to know that, in North America, these are the trifecta of church complaints! The pastors who have seen this on the mission field have a very difficult time staying inspired at their churches where commitment wanes and where most of their times is spent dealing with disgruntled church members.
I hope you are not offended. Don’t be. And I hope you won’t adopt the attitude that says that these guys should just quit and go on to do their happy little missions work. Maybe it would be more helpful if we would start looking at America as the mission field. Possibly we need to call it like it is and agree that the church in North America is in serious trouble.
Pastors, hang in there! If God is calling you to the mission field, get going as soon as possible. But don’t let the discouragement of no progress cause you to go searching for greener grass. The mission field is no picnic.
Bottom line: let’s know what God called us to do and get on with it.