Monday, January 5, 2009

Navigators, Map Makers and Map Readers -- Part Two: Magnetic Declination

Have you ever seen a map or nautical chart with the warning: “Not for navigational purposes!”? There are many reasons for that warning. There are lots of church programs and “how to” books upon which I would like to put that stamp. It doesn’t mean that the program does not work or that following the steps will not help your church grow. What it does mean is that they will not necessarily get you where God wants you to go or do it the way God wants you to do it.

One of the things that good map readers understand is that you can’t always trust every map. A navigator knows how to find true North by sighting off the star Polaris, but a map reader using a compass has to take into consideration something called “magnetic declination,” which is the variation between true North and magnetic North, a factor that varies according to your location on the globe. A good map will include a symbol of magnetic deviation (see picture), but some maps, while they look good and may appear to work well in a short distance, are truly “Not for navigational purposes.”

Too many pastors and lay leaders pick up programs (maps) that sound exciting and pragmatic, but are not fit for navigation because they are based on faulty navigation points. Or to put it in plain English, too many churches use programs that sound exciting and may even bring results without really checking on the theology behind them. If a book is a bestseller or a program is used by the church down the street, “Maybe we should use it here.”

Not every pastor has the skill and vision to be a navigator or map maker in the new missionary age in the sense of pointing the new directions for the church in the 21st century. But every pastor should have the skill to check those new directions and maps against the fixed navigational points of God’s Word.

In an earlier post (Twitter: The Gospel in 140 Characters or Less) I observed how many different theologies of salvation one could convey in 140 characters. I am a strong proponent of a missional church and of an emerging missional theology and ecclesiology, but even an emerging theology has certain fixed points. For Lutherans they remain Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone. The “Twitter” experiment was, in my opinion, an example of how “open source theology” can produce maps “Not for navigational purposes.”

So, Eddie Gibbs is right, “The church needs navigators tuned to the voice of God, not map readers.” The church needs navigators to lead us into a new missionary age and it needs pastors and lay leaders who also have enough navigational skills to make sure we are on the right course.

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