I am a “map geek.” There are maps all over the walls of our house and a stack of atlases by my chair in the family room. I loved looking at maps as a child and never lost that fascination with graphic representations of the real world. I married another map geek, so it was no real surprise that our daughter majored in geography in college. I know what you are thinking, but she had a good job within a few weeks of graduation. Her world of maps is all digital. She converts raw data into maps that change shape, perspective, and color depending on what questions you ask of them. The map app in my phone is far more powerful and adaptable than all the maps stuffed into cabinets in my house. But whether your map is secure in the cloud or poorly folded in your glovebox, there are some things that I’ve learned about maps and ministry.
Know where you are and where you want to go.
It’s easy to say, “I’m here.” But where is here? “Here” is not just a spot on a map. You need to know something about that spot. Are you flush with resources or impoverished? Cut off by rivers or mountains or easy to get to? Who lives here? What are your realities of life? Who is willing to travel and who wants to stay put? Travelers and churches alike need to ask and answer these questions before they begin to move.
How will you decide where to go? What is important to those who are traveling? (Never plan a shopping trip for folks who would rather climb a mountain!) Why do they want to go to particular place? What do they expect to find when they get there? Are those expectations realistic? How will they know when they are there? And for Christian people and congregations, “Where does God want us to be?” is the ultimate question.
Have some personal experience with the route or talk to someone who does.
The great shortcoming of map apps is that they don’t show you what is just beyond the edge of the screen, like the nearby stadium that is filling or emptying with fans. Neither do they tell you that this shortcut is one that local police don’t travel without backup.
Rick Steves is my friend—not a personal friend, but I devour his travel guides when I’m planning a major trip. He’s actually been to those places and can tell you things like “this is interesting but not worth the 20 flights of stairs.” Or “this road is shorter but takes twice as long as the other.” Talk to people who have traveled this way before and ask, “What did you learn? Even if your congregation chooses to go another way, you will all still benefit from the conversation.
Not all routes are equal.
It helps to study possible routes in advance. The map in your phone makes some assumptions about how you want to travel. I was heading home from an out of town meeting recently and the road I came in on was one way. So instead of taking the time to look over the map, I hit a few buttons on my phone and followed the mellifluous guide. I drove through some beautiful neighborhoods, and then entered the countryside. It was not the route I would have chosen, but I was headed in the right compass direction. As the route became more and more rural I began to think, “This is not right, I should be turning towards the interstate by now.” I pulled off the road and looked at my phone. The first thing I noticed was that my ETA was two days away! I had hit the “walking” instead of the “driving” button! I would have gotten home, but not in time for dinner. We have to pay attention and discern the value of possible routes. Which fits us best? Which brings us closer to God?
Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry in the Western Carolinas, can help you and your ministry discern how to get from here to there. He is Associate Pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders as a coach and consultant in visioning, administration, and spiritual formation. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at 828.713.6986 or email@example.com