Receiving a call to be a guest speaker in a new church can be a wonderful experience! But, of course, being the guest often means that you will be traveling to get there.
In this article, I will deal with a pair of extremely practical, connected subjects that must be considered by any itinerant minister—the places we stay and the things we eat.
Certainly, much more could be said about these and other similar matters, but I hope that these few introductory thoughts will at least stir some who may benefit from them to think and plan ahead for ministry journeys. Failure to do so can quickly become disastrous!
Lodging & Meals
There are certainly others who are more experienced travelers than me, so in many ways, I feel inadequate to address this subject. Still, I have covered a fair amount of territory in my service for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. To date, I have been involved in opportunities to serve upon the soil of 19 states. So, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned—hoping they will encourage both guests and hosts.
First of all, let me say that, occasionally, people long for the good old days when traveling preachers stayed and ate strictly in the homes of church members. Some view this as an act of obedience to passages such as Rom. 12:13, which speaks of the importance of “hospitality.”
In response, I would ask you to keep in mind that—while still binding on today’s church—this exhortation must be primarily understood within the context of its first-century readership. Travel was exceedingly difficult then, and close Christian fellowship was vitally important along the way.
But I would also point out that showing hospitality does not necessarily involve inviting someone physically into your home or to your dinner table. The root of the word used for hospitality here actually carries the delightful meaning of turning a stranger into a friend. Especially in today’s world, I believe that one can be very “hospitable” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:9) by taking a new friend to a restaurant of their choosing or by placing them in a comfortable hotel and providing them with needed rides.
Now, staying with friends that you know and love in their beautiful home can surely be a wonderful enhancement to any ministry trip. And it will certainly save you the cost of a hotel bill!
Staying with strangers in an unknown home might also be a wonderful opportunity to make new friends. On the other hand, it can be fraught with peril. Obstacles could include anything from distance to the church to access to a bathroom. There may also be issues related to privacy, sickness, children, pets, being alone with a member of the opposite sex, keys, security alarms, etc. In some cases, it can be very difficult to get work done in the home of a stranger. Family members may also feel compelled to spend excessive time socializing with you.
Certainly, staying in the wrong home—or eating the wrong food—can yield disaster, especially in the midst of a longer trip.
Those of us who travel regularly for ministry probably each have a horror story about eating a meal in someone’s home. When you are staying with a family and the host serves food that does not agree with you, you will likely feel hindered from even going to get something else later.
All this is to say that, in my experience, it is often wiser to stay in a hotel than with a family that you do not know well. Of course, there can be a myriad of issues with hotels as well. For me, when staying alone in a hotel, the biggest obstacle I must overcome is trying to stay focused and positive and use my time in the most strategic way possible.
But back to eating, one of the biggest challenges on any extended ministry trip is finding the right kind of food. For me, that means a healthy meal with plenty of vegetables or salad. And that can be extremely difficult to obtain—even in nice restaurants!
Often, people want to take their guests to their favorite eating places that offer various types of international cuisine. I almost always try to redirect them to a familiar restaurant that offers a hearty American meal.
And, once in a while, I just simply have to draw the line and say no. I remember once when I was slated to speak in an evening service, and a couple introduced themselves and told me I would be having dinner with them in their home about an hour before the time of the service. “No, I won’t,” I had to say with a smile. I never eat before I speak, and an hour before church started I would want to be … at church!
As I write this column, I am about to turn 55 years old. There was a day when I could eat fast food for all my main meals, sleep five hours a night, actually sleep through the night, and be productive all day. Sadly, those days are gone. And, as I get older, I realize that sometimes twenty- or thirty-somethings may not yet understand the needs of fifty-somethings.
I must add here that I am very grateful for the leadership of The Friends of Israel and their philosophy regarding these issues. They always encourage us to travel as comfortably as possible. Of course, I am not referring to luxury—but to the freedom to fly out a day early, leave at a reasonable time, stay in a relaxing setting, etc.
There is so much more that could be studied as it relates to issues like airports and air travel, driving, renting cars, using ride-booking services—even packing for a trip. But I hope that this short treatise will stir some productive thought and conversation.
What else would you contribute as you think about your travels in ministry?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, based in Columbus, WI, and serving in the Midwest. For more information on his ministry, visit sermonaudio.com/pscharf or foi.org/scharf, or email email@example.com.
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