I tend to be a skeptic when it comes to ministry trips. Most of it stems from being frugal and having a hard time justifying the money it takes to travel and wondering if that money could be better spent in other ways to serve God’s Kingdom. I love to travel, but am very hesitant to spend money to go and tend to keep my money in my pockets when I’m there. Yes, sorry friends, this is my way of telling you I didn’t bring back any souvenirs or chocolate.
I’ve just arrived back from a ministry trip where 10 Canadian students joined 15 European students for a course and then we spread out to visit some of the European students’ home ministries. It helped me gain a fresh perspective. So I thought I’d write this blog to remind myself and others the value in exposing ourselves and other leaders in our midst to different ministries, whether they are across our city, across our Nation or across our world.
Four reasons leaders should travel and visit other ministries…
1. Trips expose you to what is possible
When we see someone else doing something, it is easier to say “I could do that”. It forces you to wrestle through what is working in the context you are observing and how it could (or could not) apply in your context. The big thing I saw on this trip was how the European leaders did so much with so little. Often our response to new innovations is that it is going to take money and staff. Yet I saw European leaders who somehow found ways to start new youth ministries, start church plants, start a school etc… without any money or staff upfront. I also saw our Canadian students trying new ministry ideas on the trip that they may not have the courage to try yet back home in front of everyone they know and who knows them. For example they tried dance, new ways of leading communion, new ways of hearing from God, pushed their physical limits and were vulnerable in sharing more of their journey with God. Where are you trying to break through? Who could you visit to show you what is possible?
2. Trips remind you of the community we have all over the world
Even though we spoke different languages, came from varying background and different communities the commonalities in Christ and Christian leadership were staggering. The understanding we had for each other and support of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ was such an encouragement. Furthermore, travelling and living together with a group of others for two weeks teaches you a lot about community! We saw each other at our best and at our worst, it doesn’t matter if you are the “leader”. I had to confess my selfishness to the group more than once (e.g. when I wanted to get to the top of the mountain on our hike) as we figured out how to live, work, play and eat together as a group. You learn so much about yourself and others in this close community. Who can be your encouragers and partners in ministry? Who do you need to go on a trip with?
3. Trips reveal we have the same Gospel, but use different methods
The ministries that were flourishing the most in the places we visited were not the ones who had copied some cookie-cutter North American approach. The flourishing ministries were the ones with thoughtful, indigenous leaders who had found a way to be relevant in their neighbourhood, to the people right around them in their town or city. Sound leadership principals were the same across cultures, but methods were very different. The Gospel is the same, but how we show and tell that Gospel in ways that are relevant to our neighbourhoods are very different. Seeing how different leaders figured out how to best show and tell the Gospel in their context invited me to rethink how I best show and tell the Gospel in my context. What new method do you need to see in action? or do you need to try?
4. Trips can give you a fresh perspective
Taking a step away from your usual ministry and routine can help you get a balcony view of your own ministry. As you see new ministries and come back to your ministry it helps you to see it with fresh eyes. It is so easy to become focused just on our own ministry, church or camp. We have a big God, who is at work all over the places. May our eyes be open to see where God is at work all around us. I found that even Scripture can have a new freshness in new places. Whether I always realize it or not my Bible reading and interpretation is steeped in my culture. Reading passages about the freedom we have in Christ took on a whole new meaning as I read them standing in a city that used to be under occupation and heard the stories of Christians from a different era and culture. I carry that fresh perspective back with me to my life and context. Where can you go to gain a fresh perspective?
These are just a few thoughts on the value of travelling to visit different ministries, if we take the attitude of a learner as we go.
Your travel doesn’t need to be across an ocean or a national board, it can be across your city, to a different town, to a different province or just down the road.
Where can you go to learn? Where can you go to get a fresh perspective? Where can you take your team to build community and get a fresh perspective?
Why are ministry learning trips valuable to you?
May God open our eyes to what He is doing beyond our own ministry. And may God help you apply what He shows you, when you return to your circle.