Confessions of a Traveling Pastor
Even though I’m in Minneapolis & preaching most Sundays, if you follow me on facebook or twitter, you’ll see that between Monday-Sat, I’m all over the U.S. A few months ago, it was Australia & Switzerland. This May it’s South Africa. Of course, I’m also finishing up a particularly crazy stretch of domestic events… (In fact, as I write this, I’m flying to my 7th mid-week conference speaking engagement in 6 weeks.) Whew! I feel tired just saying that! (But thankfully, I’ll be home watching my grass grow for much of the summer.)
“So, then: How do you travel and stay fresh?” Well, I’d be lying if I said I’m “fresh” right now (& I usually blog when I’m procrastinating sermon writing : ) But, truth be told, I usually know in advance when I have a busy stretch; so, it’s not uncommon for me to get my sermons done five weeks in advance. So, I always make sure that the Lord and my family are still my priority.
Ironically, I don’t really like travelling. Once you get to know me, I’m somewhat of an introverted home-body (I realize that most of you think I’m lying!) But seriously, I’m quite content hanging out with my wife and kids all the time. To boot, I have a never-ending to-do list of fun Substance people I want to be with. “So, then Pastor Peter, why in the world do you travel so much?” Well, let me give you two huge reasons:
(1). I need Rare Mentors: As many of you know, Substance is not a typical church. Our growth rate puts us in a .01% of all churches in the U.S. And it’s hard to find accessible leaders who are pastoring Substance-styled churches. And more than this: I need mentors who are a phase or two ahead. So, one of the great serendipities of preaching at great conferences is being able to hang out with brilliant pastors. (In fact, I actually preach at many of these conferences as a favor to various mentors.)
For example, one of our biggest dilemmas at Substance is: “How do we afford a basic building project, when ½ of our members are college students?” Up till now, we’ve cut costs by being a portable multi-site church. Yet, at this size, portability is now costing us as much as the would-be mortgage of a permanent worship center.
But how do we raise a down-payment? And how do we keep our core values intact while we do this? Thankfully, I’ve got dozens of mentors who’ve navigated this without becoming like those facility-obsessed corporate churches that we’ve all been scared of. And, every time I hang with them, they give me organizational insights which have already saved Substance hundreds of thousands of dollars.
(2). But the Second reason I travel is this: God is wanting to speak to the American church through Substance.
Recently, I was sharing about how much I hate travelling. And truth be told: I enjoy speaking to new audiences; but, I don’t have any deep ego needs to stroke by doing it. In fact, sometimes, speaking out is nothing more than a burden to me… because it often simply means that there will be hundreds of new people vying for my time, money and resources. Yet, recently, a Substance member told me: “Pastor, I’m praying that you start loving to travel… after all, you’ve got a message for the body of Christ at large that needs to be shared.” And, God must be answering her prayers because, the desire in finally increasing.
Honestly, it totally bugs me that the body of Christ at large in the U.S. is dying. 17% of Americans claim to attend church; but, only 9.1% actually do. Of that 9.1%, the vast majority are senior citizens. (And this 9.1% merely counts those who attend church 3 out of 8 Sundays!)
To make matters worse, misguided Christian leaders everywhere spend all their time bickering about complicated theology and church methods. It’s like we’re standing on a sinking ship debating about it’s engine. Yes. Engines are important; but, not when it’s sinking!
What many Evangelical leaders fail to realize is that: If we can’t even get unchurched people to even step foot in ANY Bible believing church of any kind… then all of our silly “Christian debates” are all for nothing. The best mid-week discipleship program in the world is useless if we can’t even bridge the massive chasm between our Christian sub-culture and the vast majority of Americans. And, dog-gonit… I would rather rip the skin off of my body than watch Evangelicals and Charismatics stay on the same silly course (O.k… so, perhaps that was a bit dramatic).
But, God is fast-forwarding our church for a reason. He’s giving us credibility out of nowhere. So church: “To whom much is given, much is required.” And for me, a part of that cost is travel. And for you guys, the cost is: giving up your senior pastors a few more weeks of the year (which, is probably a healthy thing for Substance anyway : )
Besides: I’m going be taking many of you with me on these trips in the future. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if, in a few years down the road, we’ll have a few Substance campuses across state lines! …(somewhere tropical perhaps?)
And that’s the last reason I travel. Right now, I’m looking out my airplane window and it’s amazing how far I can see. I get perspective. And the same is true as I work with the body of Christ at large. I don’t want Substance to become some cloistered group of myopic Christians with no “Big picture” of the body of Christ. God wants us to become a movement. And to do this, I must move with the movers. I.e., I must travel.
But the result: More mentoring. More clarity. More opportunity for Substance to hold a torch for the American church. So get ready Substance: our best days are yet to come.