Lessons Learned On the Trail
Church planting is often referred to as trail blazing ministry. I think that would’ve been true maybe ten years ago but that is probably not the case today. The reason is that so many people are walking that path today that it has become a highway. Don’t get me wrong many people are blazing new ground in very hard areas to reach but with the technology and resources out there it has become incrementally easier than a decade ago.
Blazing a new trail is hard work. I ride mountain bikes on some of the best and most beautiful trails in all of California. Those paths are well defined and have been put there by people who did a lot of back-braking work. Just recently a guy in our church decided to develop a new trail which runs right behind my office. We decided to meet after church one Sunday to do some manual labor on the trail. We never made it.
First he decided to pre-ride the trail before I got there and ended up bending his derailer on tree stump that was sticking out. Just as he was getting hauled off the trail by a friend I started on the same trail. I got to a bridge, which I promptly rode off, and bent my front rim. My friend had to come pick me up.
The thing is that established trails are so much more fun because they are defined. They may be difficult due to hills and soft sand but all in all you have a good time while you are out there. New trails are no fun at all. They are poorly marked out, many elements that can do serious damage to your bike, and you often have to backtrack because you got off the path. Usually when you are frustrated by time you are done riding.
This got me thinking about blazing new trails in ministry. You see many of us want to be seen as out in front of the pack blazing trails (i.e. as church planters) but few of are willing to truly do the legwork necessary to develop new trails of ministry. The reasons for that are not always clear seen.
Here are three needed to cut new trails:
- You Have To See a New Path No One Else Does: The hardest part of starting a new trail is determining the direction you want to go and having an idea how you want to finish. My friend is a biology teacher. He chose to cut his path along the natural flow of the animals who live in the area. It wasn’t logical or efficient but the trail developed quicker than if he had used other indicators like ease of use.
This is more than just vision. This is being able to see things that others can’t right now. It is being able to see the connection between what you are doing right now and where you want to go. This take fortitude.
- You Have To Go Over the Path Multiple Times: Once you complete the path you will often find that no one is ready to follow you yet. This is because they can’t see what you do. This necessitates you going over and over the path to make clear designations. People want to know where they are going. Our turning from trail blazer to trail guide helps calm their fears.
So many people take the Lewis and Clark approach to ministry. They do something once, get some notoriety, and then they hit the speaking and book circuit. Being known for the trail that we cut should only be a fruit of the whole reason we cut the trail in the first place
- Your Path Has to Go Somewhere: Some of the best trails are never ridden because they go nowhere. Mountain Bikers want ride trails that connect to other trails so that they can go somewhere. Blazing a new trail for the sake of doing something new will end up in a dead end or an unused trail. I have met so many people in ministry who have developed great programs, systems, and events that never caught on because people couldn’t see the value in it. Don’t get caught up in doing a new thing without seriously considering the benefit of it. Being trendy only last for a while because something new comes along.
The best paths that are blazed are those that God has led us down out of necessity. They are total faith walks. Let God use you to blaze new trails.
Don’t get caught up in doing a new thing without seriously considering the benefit of it. Being trendy only last for a while because something new comes along.
Great lines and good reminders, Chuck. Thanks. Have you ever got caught up in a trend that proved to go nowhere?
When I was in Youth ministry this was the biggest temptation. It seemed there were ne trends all the time that you needed to be doing. It really boiled down to how cool you could remain with the kids. I got really tired trying to impress teenagers.
I really like your 3rd point.
Any vision needs to have a goal and some sort of evaluation process for determining if we’re achieving said goal or need to make adjustments to do so.
It really is amazing to see the mass amount of ‘programs’ that churches can get involved in that really do very little in meeting the vision and mission of the church. A friend once shared the illustration with me saying, “If you had a shoe factory and took me on a tour, showing me all the die-cutting machines, advanced stitching and assembly equipment, and so forth; at the end of your tour I’d really hope you show me some shoes. Therefore, if the church is ultimately about making Christlike disciples of all nations, then you can show me all the great programs you have, but you’d better show me some disciples at the end of the line.”
Great point Miles! It is always important to ask how this is going to make disciples. Done too many programs in my career that ended up as a flash in the pan. I want to do something that draws the people and me closer to Jesus.