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Finding Your Way When the Map Is Always Changing

In the early 1700s, a North American explorer was guided by a map drawn by cartographer Herman Moll. This map would be recognizable to modern eyes, except for one thing----it showed California as an island.

Once you believe in a map,
it's very difficult to change.

This error was the result of good Cartesian reasoning: Spanish explorers coming from the south encountered the tip of the Baja Peninsula; voyaging north, they sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Connecting the first point to the second, they created the Gulf of California.

When missionaries were sent from Spain to convert the heathens in New Mexico, the map's accuracy came into question. Landing in California, they prepared to cross the Gulf their maps showed. They packed up their boats and carried them over the Sierra Nevada and down the other side. They found not sea but the longest, driest beach they'd ever seen, the Sierra Desert.

When they wrote home protesting that there was no Gulf of California, the map makers replied: "The map is right; you must be in the wrong place." This misunderstanding persisted 50 years until a high-ranking missionary persuaded Spain's king to decree changes in the maps.

Once you believe in a map, it's very difficult to change. If the facts are wrong, you are relying on a map that's wrong too. At times our "mental maps" must be challenged. Our perceptions about the world shape how we think about ourselves, our churches, others around us, and the future. Mental maps may be blinders----preventing us from acting effectively (adapted from Global Business Network Website).

There are three primary orientation or "mental maps" in the church today.

1. The maintenance-oriented mental map.
The maintenance-oriented map leads a church to be more inward-focused on its members' needs than on reaching out and meeting the needs of the lost and hurting. The church wants to keep things as they are. Fear of change freezes this church into a maintenance mentality that slowly chokes all life.

2. The program-oriented mental map.
Program or structure drives all activities. This church confuses methods of ministry with core principles for ministry. This leads to the notion that certain methods, contents, curricula, and processes are sacred and subsequently principles are lost. This church is not likely to equip people to handle daily life's problems and pressures. Its worship of methods ultimately causes it to die of irrelevance and obsolescence.

3. The purpose-oriented mental map.
In this church methods are not sacred; purpose and principles are. Form follows function. This church values both core tradition and effective ministry results. It remains committed to divine revelation yet seeks to remain culturally relevant. It is sensitive and attentive to the needs of people but tuned into the purposes and leading of Christ in its midst. It continually evaluates, strategizes, and adapts ministry. It is renewed and energized by a clear understanding of its mission and goals, combined with a deep awareness of its dependence upon and partnership with God for results.

Rules for the Map of the Future

Keep God's mission central in your vision. The Great Commission, "Go and make disciples," must be central. The church that loses this passion ceases to be Christ's church. When the reality that God has chosen us to fulfill His mission comes alive in us, our ministry becomes joy. God has no plan B. We are His plan to demonstrate His character, nature, and power to others. We have been chosen by God to bear His image and fulfill His purpose of reconciling lost people to himself.

We can keep God's passion alive and central through regular times of meditation and solitude with Him. Allow the Holy Spirit to energize your heart with God's passion. Rediscover in God's Word the nature and purpose of the church.

Set your sights on achieving results in ministry. One of Jesus' last prayers to His Father, was, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." (John 17:4, NIV). Jesus brought glory to His Father because He focused on results, "completing the work you gave me to do."

The goal is to see people become fully devoted followers of Christ. Be intentional in ministry. Implementation is the key. People who repeatedly hear and discuss the principles without practical application soon become passive and pious. Focusing on this goal will keep the church relevant without compromise.

The church has given verbal assent to the doctrine of the believer's priesthood but has failed to make it a reality in practice. Equipping and mobilizing laity is not an option. It is a mandate.

Fix your eyes on equipping and mobilizing people. This is one of the most significant guide markers for the church of the future. The church has given verbal assent to the doctrine of the believer's priesthood but has failed to make it a reality in practice. Equipping and mobilizing laity is not an option. It is a mandate. Time and resources must be committed to developing people to use their God-given gifts in service. The effective church in the 21st century will be an equipping center, not a ministry center.

This will require a change in the concept and role of leaders as well as the laypeople. Leadership must become decentralized while providing a clear vision, mutual accountability, and guidance that assists people to the next step in their spiritual development. Lay members must assume responsibility for ministry. The church will place less emphasis on formal structure and more emphasis on informal, temporary leadership structures. Team ministry will be more than a hierarchical pastor-elder team. It will describe the church culture that encourages and allows people to serve in their gift areas and diminishes the distinction between clergy and laity. Volunteer ministry programs will be replaced with intentional strategies to equip people to serve according to their gifts and calling. Mentors who can help people discern and develop their gifts will take priority over spiritual gift assessments that give people knowledge but little application.

Continuously scope out and adjust to the terrain. The future landscape will be different. The church is traveling down a path of continuous cultural change and must remain flexible. Amanda Bennet in The Wall Street Journal said, "It's really a wake-up call. With the galloping changes that are taking place----demographic, geopolitical, global----if you think you can run the business in the next 10 years the same way you did the last 10 years, you are crazy." (Amanda Bennet, "Many of Today's Top Corporate Officers Are the Right People for the Wrong Time," The Wall Street Journal, October 27, 1992, B1, B4. as quoted in Shawchuck, Norman and Heuser, Roger: Managing the Congregation. Nashville, Abingdon Press; 1996, p. 56.) If we think that we can do church in the next 10 years the same way we did the last 10 years, we are crazy. The believer who tries will be consciously ineffective and incredibly frustrated or unconsciously ineffective and piously contented. Although biblical principles remain solid, methods will change.

The point is clear, culture is changing. The church must remain committed to core principles but flexible in its methods to navigate the varying terrain successfully.

The church whose mental map is purpose-oriented will utilize these guiding points to chart its course and make its ministry effective.


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