Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Jackie: Having A True “Itinerant” Heart

Written by: on May 24, 2018

In our “Tribe” called the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church (30 Churches, 2 Camps and a Bible College in a four state region–North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana) we have an average of 8700 worshippers on a week-end, and 107 “Pastors” of various callings–Lead Pastor, Worship Leader, Associate Pastor, Youth or Children’s Pastor, Missionary, Camp Director, Chaplain, Retired, etc.

In The Discipline, our guidebook to how we are organized as a Conference and Denomination in the Evangelical Church, we have a peculiar word that I hope to address in my Blog today: It is called ITINERANT. [1]

When someone becomes an “Ordained Elder” they actually must pass two votes: One for Ordination, and one for the “Itineracy”. Ordination is easily explained through calling, education, experience, pastoral references, doctrinal examination, etc. But, itineracy; that is much tougher to explain.

Here is what “Itinerant Elder” basically means in a nutshell: “Here am I, send me.” [2] An Ordained Pastor serves at the pleasure of God’s will without reserve–he must be open to serving wherever he is called, for as long as he is called, to do whatever he is called. Amazingly, he may be moved by his Conference Superintendent possibly annually after discussions with both the pastor and the local church leadership.

I have heard stories of past “Annual Conferences” where all pastors came to hear of their assignments for the next year. Then they took a break while the Pastor let his family know where they were moving by the end of the month. Some would stay at their church from the previous year, others would be moved immediately to another church, which could mean a church across town, or a church 10 hours away. Children moved to new schools, families opened new bank accounts and had to make new friends. Thank goodness back then the local churches had parsonages to move into!

The purpose of this historical system of ours is, first of all, the church is not the Pastor’s. It is God’s. And it is the local community who must rise up and also take leadership. If you understand your Pastor may be moved any year, you might assume more ownership in your church and use the spiritual gifts God gave you, instead of relying on only the professional clergy to do all the Kingdom work. Interesting!

To connect this to our book of this week, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens by Jackie Pullinger, I was immediately struck at her willingness to go WITHOUT RESERVE. In fact she comments, “He never suggested that I had to achieve anything at all; I had simply to follow wherever God led.” [3] She then quoted Psalm 32:8, “Go. Trust me, and I will lead you. I will instruct you in the way which you shall go; I will guide you with my eye.” [4]

Wow, Jackie Pullinger had the heart of an ITINERANT. This made me wonder what would cause a woman to move across distant waters, not knowing where her feet would land, nor what her Christian work might be? Then I found what compelled her to take this giant leap of faith–a still, small voice! “It was not a great booming voice at all. Someone was speaking quite quietly, and I was completely sure that it was meant for me.” [5] Pretty darn sure she was describing the same still, small voice that Elijah heard in I Kings 19:11-13, when the Lord passed by; not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in a quiet whisper. [6]

Wow! What an inspiration! I am wondering if I still have that heart. Probably not, as comfort has become of too much importance to me. I love my town, am happy with the conveniences here, and bristled at potential moves when my kids were certain ages/stages in their schooling. I am sure Jenn from our Cohort has an Itinerant’s heart, as does G from our Cohort in a far away land that doesn’t very much appreciate missionaries.

I was reminded of a pastor in one of our smallest churches in a very rural town. Last week he said to me, “I am willing to serve here for as long as you wish, and do whatever you wish.” Wow! What an inspiration! His church is among our smallest, his TINY town is shrinking, but last week 23 kids came to their after school program to hear about Jesus. They ate pizza. And rejoiced in the Good News. By the way, 23 is the exact number of EVERY kid in their local elementary school.

What really inspires me about Jackie Pullinger is also this: She honestly was transparent with this most difficult calling,

“Resentment burned at me. They’ll soon miss the club if I close it up; they’ll soon see what they’ve done was really harming themselves. But at the same time, I also heard what Jesus had said. When people hit you, you should let them hit you again; when they persecute you, you should bless them. There was another insistent passage about praising God in all your troubles. But I did not want to do that–I wanted to howl and wallow in self-pity. I wanted my enemies to suffer, too. I certainly did not feel like rejoicing or turning the other cheek.” [7]

Sounded a lot like another Itinerant I know–Jonah!  I actually appreciated her honesty. Made me respect her even more. And for that, I am both inspired and grateful for this book this week.


[1] Eckhardt, Brian. The Discipline of The Evangelical Church. Salem Evangelical Church, 2014. Paragraph 501-511.

[2] Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Zondervan, 2008. Isaiah 6:8.

[3] Pullinger, Jackie, and Andrew Quicke. Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens. Minneapolis, MN: Chosen, 2014. p. 34.

[4] Barker. Psalm 32:8.

[5] Pullinger. p. 34.

[6] Barker. I Kings 19:11-13.

[7]  Pullinger. p. 83.


About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

7 responses to “Jackie: Having A True “Itinerant” Heart”

  1. Jennifer Williamson says:

    This is SO key, Jay: you say, ” If you understand your Pastor may be moved any year, you might assume more ownership in your church and use the spiritual gifts God gave you, instead of relying on only the professional clergy to do all the Kingdom work. Interesting!” Being “intinerant” as a pastor actualy HELPS the flock to BE the church rather than depending on a pastor. It also frees the pastors from the temptation to need to be needed.

    Though I moved across the globe with teenagers, I think it is pretty normal to want to “put down rootS.” We, too, have to work to keep our hearts opening to moving however God leads. But the gift here is recognizing that we are Kingdom citizens, which helps us to live simply and travel lightly through this life. And that is a gift, too!

  2. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hey Jay,
    Thank you for this post and for reflecting on the itinerant nature of Jackie’s ministry, and some of our own. I appreciated where you pulled out that self-doubting moment in Jackie’s story, where she wanted to “show them” how much they’d miss her, but then had to be called back to just focusing on what God had given her to do. It seems like a hard life to be itinerant and so moveable as many pastors are, but it has the benefit of keeping us close to the Spirit and open to being led. That’s how I feel after reading this book: the need to listen more closely to what the Spirit is saying. thanks.

  3. M Webb says:

    Thanks for the background on your ministry and leadership role. I especially like the way you broke down “itineracy” and did not realize how much I guess I have been traveling around the world in different ministry contexts. I’m not sure if that qualifies as “itinerant,” but I do love an adventure with the Lord.
    Yes, I like Pullinger too and hope we get the chance to meet her and the St Stephens team and experience their calling to love the hard to reach.
    I would love to know how we could help in Boise with your “tribe” from the WCEC. Let’s talk sometime.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  4. Jason Turbeville says:

    Your denominational background really gave feet to this book in an American setting. I really appreciate the clarity. I have often been asked is there anywhere you would not go if called. I jokingly would say as long as its cold there I will go anywhere, and yet God keeps calling me to very warm weather climates (of which I hate) I probably should shy away from telling God what I wont do, it sounds like you had to struggle with the same heart issue, as long as its convenient, or not, that is just what I got from your blog. Hope all is well.


  5. Jay,

    Thanks for your observations.

    I appreciated your reflection on being an itinerant minister. While Jackie uprooted her life, once, I don’t think she was really itinerant in that she put her roots down deep into that Walled City, and is still living and serving her community in Hong Kong. It’s a lifetime of rootedness into a place. I think it’s a good example of faithful presence, which we need in our world.

    Both of my paternal grandfathers were ministers in a denomination that had similar requests of its clergy in being willing to be itinerant. One was even born in North Dakota (near you!) before he moved to Saskatchewan in a covered wagon at the age of 1. As pastors moving every year or two, the itinerant lifestyle was a challenge for both families, and led to children being uprooted and without a sense of place or purpose in the world. I hope that before moving pastors around to new churches, there is also consideration given to the children – their age, stage, and readiness – to provide them with the roots they need as well.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    Jay this is amazing! I love the concept of itineracy and I wish we had that in our system. I also wonder if the frequent transitions were difficult for the churches. But you’re absolutely right on that the church is not the pastor’s! Lord save the church from pastors who seek to be lord of the church. I appreciate your wisdom and kind spirit!

  7. Kyle Chalko says:

    Great job Jay. And what a great heart from the pastor taking the ministry in a shrinking town. we need more men and women with that heart. That is why Im so passionate about non-traditional education which can enable someone to get trained without the crushing amount of student loan debt, so that can afford to be work in small towns and in bivocational roles.

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