Are You a Map Reader or a Navigator?

“Yesterday’s solutions and procedures may not provide an adequate or appropriate response to the present challenges. Hence, the biggest hurdles facing long-time leaders may not be in learning new insights and skills, but in unlearning what they consider to be tried and true and what thus provides them with a false sense of security.”
— Eddie Gibbs in Leadership Next

Your biggest challenge in working with a congregation in transition, may not be to simply find the right map to follow but in helping them unlearn what might be holding them captive to past solutions.

An analogy I've found helpful in thinking about the role of a traveling companion and coach to congregations in transition (of any kind) is to see our role not as map readers but as navigators. I give credit to Leonard Hjalmarson in his book, Broken Futures, for reminding me of this way of framing the work we do (a book I recommend you add to your reading list).

Eddie Gibbs says further, “The church needs navigators tuned to the voice of God, not map readers. Navigational skills have to be learned on the high seas and in the midst of varying conditions produced by the wind, waves, currents, fog banks, darkness, storm clouds and perilous rocks.”

How to assess when a navigator is needed

There are a few signs that tell you it’s probably time for a navigator, not a map reader.

  • You need a navigator when the change required is adaptive in nature, not just technical (ie. You don’t just need to hire more staff, you need to develop the leaders from within the congregation to be fellow equippers of the congregation).
  • You need a navigator when the route you need to take is brand new and no map is available (ie. You want to shift to a disciple making culture instead of a more traditional "if we build it, they will come" model).
  • You need a navigator when the models and approaches you have been using don’t cut it any more (ie. Talking from the front no longer results in changed lives — an interactive approach is needed)
  • You need a navigator when the conditions have changed and old approaches don't working (ie. The entire community around the church is no longer a homogeneous unit but rather multi-cultural and multi-faith).
  • You need a navigator when there is no clear route that has been traveled in the past to get to where you’re going (ie. The church is so far down the 2nd half of the life cycle that a reinventing of the ministry is required not just hard work).

Skills to Sharpen when Learning to be a Navigator

1. Collaboration

If we have to learn everything the hard way — by our own experience — we’ll run out of time. We need to collaborate. We need to look around and see who the other navigators are and learn from them. We need to join forces so we can see what we don’t see, lean on the strengths and experience of others, and find the new route that others have already discovered.

I’ve seen this in my home church experience where I serve two days a week as an equipper. We’ve been part of a larger community of other churches where we’re being guided by experienced teachers and coaches to travel a new path towards creating a discipleship culture. It’s making all the difference!

2. Coach-ability

If you are going to be a navigator, you have to be a growing leader. Growing leaders are coach-able. They find those around them who can both believe in them and challenge them to be their best.

Being coach-able means being open to outside input and new ideas that you haven’t thought of before. They say, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” In other words, if you want to move into uncharted territory, you need others to speak into your life who have been there or know how to use the instruments needed to figure out how to get to where you want to go.

“Every leader will hit a series of plateaus in their lives. The key is not to stay there, because settling on a plateau can easily lead to an elongated season of comfort. Being comfortable is one of the leader's worst enemies.” ― Gary Rohrmayer

3. Creativity

Creativity and innovation are a third skill required to make it to a new land. In my facilitation work with congregations, one of the ways I try to spark creativity and new ideas is to ask powerful questions and host collaborative conversations. A powerful question lights up the brain and creates room to explore new possibilities. Collaborative conversations make room for the quiet ones to share their ideas and be heard.

This past weekend, I witnessed young people interacting with seasoned leaders. They needed a navigator because this was uncharted water for them. I saw the Spirit breathing new life and ideas for how they were going to move forward into a new future.

Are you a map reader or a navigator?

Moses was a navigator.

The path to the Promised Land had no map. What there was to go on was a pillar of fire and a cloud -- plus Moses had the voice of God speaking to him.

There are times when map reading is the right skill set. The key, however, is to discern what kind of guidance is needed in your particular situation. I think navigators are needed more now than ever!

For you, do you need to be a map reader or a navigator? If a navigator, ponder these three questions:

  1. Who are you collaborating with in order to increase your chances of success?
  2. Who is coaching you? What have you identified as growth areas where a coach can help you?
  3. What are some of the ways you can spark Holy Spirit inspired creativity and imagination in those you serve?

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