The five worst pastors’ excuses for not going to Israel

Hey Pastor! The Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City is waiting for you! (William Haun Photo)

It’s amazing to me that at least nine out of 10 pastors haven’t been to Israel. After years of trying to convince the people who talk about Israel every week to actually visit the land of the Bible, I’ve heard all kinds of reasons pastors haven’t made the trip. Here are the five excuses I hear the most.

1. “It’s not a good time for me to go to Israel right now.”

Let’s see … You’ve found time for mission trips, pastors’ conferences and vacations. Good things, all of them. I’m right there with you. But here’s the deal. More than likely, you’re going to mention Israel in the next seven days as you teach the people who look to you as an expert on the Bible. By the end of your first day of touring the land of the Bible, you’re going to regret that you haven’t made this trip before now. The worst feeling? Waiting until you’ve retired to go to Israel and realizing you missed sharing life-changing insight with all the people who listened to you over all those years. You want a “bad time” to go to Israel? It’s when you’re finished with your preaching career!

2. “It’s not safe.”

Give me a break. It’s also not all that safe to live in your community, either. Have you checked your local newspaper today? People are dying like flies. I’ve spent time in several countries, and in some pretty scary areas of my own community. I’ve never felt safer than I have when touring Israel. Every traveler who once feared this trip has come home feeling silly that she had such fears. Nearly 9 million people live there right now. Unfortunately, 1 million of them are news reporters looking for a rock-throwing teen-ager. Don’t make your decision about a trip to Israel based on CNN-produced fear. Listen to your heart. And tell your fears to stay home.

3. “I don’t see a need for me to go to Israel.”

That’s fine. Keep mispronouncing names of cities. Tell your people you’re willing to go to Bible college and/or seminary but not willing to invest two weeks of your life seeing the actual background of countless Bible stories. Forget about envisioning the message of Jesus in his culture, and keep misconstruing his message in your culture. Forget that thousands of pastors and hundreds of thousands of church attenders have called this the “trip of a lifetime.” They’re all exaggerating. They weren’t serious. If you buy into this logic? You’re probably right. You don’t need to go to Israel.

4. “I’d go, but I’ve got a mission trip scheduled this year.”

Let’s see … One week for a mission trip. If I do the math correctly, that leaves 51 weeks left to do other things. Why do you take people on missions trip? To help others? Great. To inspire your own people to become more passionate about following Jesus? Sure! Listen to this carefully. You will be re-energized by going to Israel. If you take a group from your church, the people who walk the ancient paths in Israel with you will come home filled with passion for following Jesus. They will give more time, money and energy to their personal mission in life. So go on your mission trip. By all means, go! But if you’ve not been to Israel, quit fooling yourself. This is a non-negotiable for anyone calling himself a preacher.

5. “I can’t afford it.”

This is an expensive trip, no kidding. It takes roughly two weeks of time, a long flight, and you’ll have to convince your in-laws that you’re not crazy for heading into a “war zone.” The money? Where did you find the cash for your last mission trip? Did you manage to find the money for school? Have you ever preached a sermon on faith, and trusting God to supply all your needs? Pastors – of all people – have the easiest time finding funds for this trip. Someone in your church wants you to go and will help you fund the trip. Every tour agent has access to “familiarization tours” that will allow pastors to go for a fraction of the regular cost. If you lead a tour, you’ll probably get to go for free, anyway.

How do I know about all these excuses? For one thing, I used to believe them. For another, I’ve talked to hundreds of pastors about taking this journey. I’ve think I’ve heard it all, right down to a fear of not finding a bathroom when it’s needed. No offense, but that’s a crappy excuse. The Stone Age has passed. Israel has plenty of toilets. I’ve even tried out a few myself.

Listen to your heart. Listen to your Bible. Don’t you want to stand inside the gates of Jerusalem? Wouldn’t you like to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, have a quiet time on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, or spend some time in the Judean Wilderness? Wouldn’t the sights, sounds, taste and touch of such a visit enrich your preaching? Is it possible you might rediscover the Bible there?

Israel is waiting. Time is running out. Tell your excuses to stay home.

But get yourself to Israel as fast as you can.

PS – If you’re a church member reading this, you can help send your pastor to Israel simply by bringing up the subject with a few other church members. And if you don’t really like him? For half the money, we can leave him there!