Eddie Gibbs, in his book, Leadership Next, wrote “The church needs navigators tuned to the voice of God, not map readers.” As I read that, I looked up at the old Japanese sextant that serves as a bookend on top of one of my bookcases. I’ve had it so long, I don’t remember how I got it or where it came from – probably a hand-me-down relic from WWII. Of course my very young friends, raised in an age of GPS and satellite navigation, don’t even know what it is. And when I explain how it is used by sighting the sun or stars and measuring the angle of ascent against the horizon, they recognize the skill and, sometimes, the “luck” involved. But such is the challenge and the “romance” of navigation.
The difference between a navigator and a map reader is this: Map readers are good at finding their way around in a known world. All you need is a compass and a plotting tool to find your way from one known point to another on a map of the known universe. Navigators, on the other hand, are able to explore the unknown. They do not need fixed points and compass. They rely on the heavens. They look upward for guidance, not down at a map.
Len Hjalmarson in his review of Gibbs’ book, writes: “Map readers, and navigators, are actually two different kinds of people (See Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?) While it is possible to make map readers into navigators, it is not easy, and some will never make the transition. Map readers as leaders make good managers; navigators as leaders are explorers. Map readers love predictability; navigators enjoy complexity. Map readers are impatient with process; navigators enjoy the journey. Map-reading is a lonely vocation; navigators value company.”
At a recent meeting of our local circuit we talked about the difficulty of getting the members of our congregations to think in missional terms and to understand that we are moving into a time of great unknowns for our culture, our economy and our church. The truth is that we have lots of map readers who are good at finding their way around in the known world that used to be. Those people are important, for they are good managers. But we need more navigators—pastors and lay leaders who can look to the heavens and lead the way into the unknown. We also need something else that Gibbs does not mention. We need map makers. Map makers are people who can take the vision and direction pointed by the navigator and turn it into a practical pathway that others can follow. They make new maps for a newly discovered land.
In my experience, about 5% of the people are navigators. They see things others do not see and point directions for the new world in which we find ourselves. These people need community. They need to share ideas. And because they are navigators, they usually find one another out there in the unknown hanging around the blogs and the bookstores. You will find them on the links of places like Friend of Missional and Allelon. (See my link list) Another 15% are map makers. They are able to take the ideas they learn from listening to or reading the navigators and make practical application through the creation of a program or ministry that is able to transform the unique ministry they serve. These people need process, ideas and resources. The other 80% are map readers. They listen to the ideas of the navigators and then say, “Give me a map to get to this new land.” They want programs, study guides, schedules, ten steps to transformation. Both map makers and map readers are often well served by groups like Alban Institute and Center for Parish Development. (See my link list)
An example from my own denomination, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is the Ablaze! Movement. (See my link list.) Ablaze is intended to be a “movement,” not a “program.”
Ablaze! is not a program or a campaign. It began as a mission vision with the hope of starting a mission movement. Each participating congregation, group, mission society, partner church, individual, etc. is challenged to pray about its own particular situation and the part of the mission endeavor it can impact and to design its own strategy to contribute to reaching 100 million people. LCMS World Mission is asking the church to develop mission models that work and can be shared with others. Ablaze! is not an answer…it’s an invitation!
“Visions” and “movements” are led by Navigators. “Strategies” are designed by Map makers to make the vision work in their situations. But often the big demand is for tactics, programs, and models that can be used by Map readers, and so at the end of an Ablaze! presentation, or listed on the FAQ website there will be the question, “How do I order one of those Ablaze! T-shirts?”.
The truth is that the church needs all three types of people. If we were all navigators, we would constantly explore new directions, but never establish settlements in the new worlds we have discovered. The navigator has probably not fully accomplished his task until the most entrenched map readers are ready to order T-shirts with a map of the new world.
But there is another sense in which “we need navigators tuned to God’s voice.” In Part Two we’ll take a further look at what that means.