Most of my ministry life has been spent teaching in theological colleges. They are a wonderful world in which to serve. You’re part of a rich fellowship of other faculty, staff and students. You’re in an academically stimulating environment. You’re teaching what you love. Your classes are full of (mostly) committed, godly and gifted men and women who want to be trained for ministry. 

Who’d ever leave such a world?  

Well, I did over ten years ago. I left the rich life of Christian community for the more isolated life of an itinerant preacher and trainer.

I thought it might be helpful to share some reflections on this kind of life.

The Travel   

The question I’m most often asked is, how do you cope with the travel? I’ve never had “the travel bug.” I’m a homebody. I prefer to stay home on my day off and, while theoretically, I like the idea of going away on holidays, I rarely do. But in my work of training preachers, I usually have to travel. I don’t mind the domestic travel, but it’s the long overseas trips that take their toll. In 2018 I visited a remote town in Tanzania. I left for home after lunch on Thursday and arrived back in Melbourne on Monday morning. Often, I never adjust to the time difference. So, I live on 3-4 hours sleep every night. That’s tough when you’re teaching six hours a day. I keep a diary of my travels. Let me share with you what I wrote in my diary after a trip to Africa:

Do I enjoy coming here?
Yes.  It’s the most worthwhile, satisfying, significant, fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I finished this week, like most workshops, so thrilled at the week and very willing to return.
And No. I miss home, where I’m happiest. In that sense, I’m an unlikely international traveller. It’s exhausting; teaching 5-7 hours a day wears me out. So, I’m always counting down the days.

The Relationships 

Being an itinerant preacher has an impact on friendships. I’m away a lot and often on weekends. That’s the time most people socialise. Meeting people on my travels is one of the great blessings of itinerant ministry. You make some good friends which you may see again. More likely, you won’t.  

Of course, the relationship most at risk is with the wife and children. My children have all left home. I’m married to a wonderful woman, and we’ve made this crazy life work. Although a while ago, when I’d just returned from Vietnam, and two days later, I was leaving for South Africa, Sarah said to me, “This is not the way it’s meant to be”. 

The Cost

So, there’s a cost in relationships. As I get older, there’s also a cost physically. 

There’s a cost in relationships. As I get older, there’s also a cost physically. 

I still enjoy good health, but I know that, as you age, the body begins to break down. I try to keep fit, but in many parts of the world, it’s hard to go for long walks. It’s unsafe or just too hot. And most of the hotels I stay in don’t have a gym.

There’s also a spiritual cost. I place a premium on a daily quiet time but in constant travel across different time zones; maintaining that is a struggle. Being at home usually means I’m in a routine, and my prayer and personal Bible study life flourish better in routine. 

I’m not sure whether this is a cost or not, but when you’re an itinerant, people usually only see the confident public persona of the teacher/trainer. When I preach on the road, I preach my best sermons. When I conduct a workshop, I’m playing to my strengths. And I’m on my best behaviour. In a church or a college, they hear the good sermons and the duds (Sarah’s comment is frequently, “not one of your best.” Those sermons stay at home.) In the church or college, they see you when you’re tired or grumpy or complaining or struggling. They see the ‘warts and all’ Mike Raiter. But on the road, I’m usually ‘wart-free’. So, normally all the comments I receive are positive and affirming. At home, they’re more balanced. The risk is that itinerants may begin to think of themselves more highly than they ought to.

The Temptations 

I’ve read the horror stories of itinerant preachers who, when away from home, succumb to sexual temptation. Now that the kids have left home, Sarah is able to come with me. But I need to always remain vigilant in this area. I’m never mistaken for Brad Pitt or George Clooney, but I’m aware that there can be a certain charisma around the confident, witty, engaging foreign speaker that some may find appealing. 

Now that the kids have left home, Sarah is able to come with me. But I need to always remain vigilant in this area.

I constantly remind myself that, in the end, the only person I answer to is God. And I’ll give an answer for both my preaching and my living. And I want to stand before his throne unashamed of both. I can conduct a highly successful preaching workshop and preach a sermon that makes a difference in lives, and still be found a failure. Paul encouraged Timothy, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker that doesn’t need to be ashamed …” (2 Timothy 2:15). I need to follow Paul’s example, for whom other people’s evaluation of him was irrelevant; he wrote, “the one who evaluates me is the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:4).

The Importance 

These are some of the challenges of itinerant ministry. 

However, they pale in comparison to the blessings and privilege. My particular work is to train men and women in expository preaching. In many places, I’m training people who’ve never heard a “Bible talk” and often struggle to understand a passage of Scripture, let alone teach it. Across the world, the situation is dire. On more than one occasion, people have said to me, “There’s such a hunger for the word of God here.” Quite simply, pastors are not feeding their flocks.

So, I can’t think of many Christian works more important than equipping pastors and lay people to preach the whole Bible. Of course, these people can’t come to me. I must go to them. For me, this work is just too important not to board a plane and travel for however many hours it takes me to get there.


Itinerant ministry isn’t for everyone. While the children were still at home, I couldn’t have done it (although I was away on weekends more than I should have been). But now, as “empty nesters”, it can work. And Sarah and I have made it work. I email daily and, if possible, phone or WhatsApp. But we need to keep communicating to make sure it’s still working.  

I don’t know how much longer this ministry will continue. Presumably, a time will come when physically or emotionally, I can’t cope with the rigours of constant travel. One day the invitations will dry up. Until then, I hope, by God’s power, to continue to serve the church across the miles.

But I must finish there. I’ve got a plane to catch.