Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Between Navigators and Visionaries

During the last year or so we have had two very different visiting speakers at our church, doing sermon series about the nature, meaning, purpose and mission of 'the church' - exploring different aspects of what it means to be the church of Christ today. I have been struck by the differences between their two approaches. These differences can be summed up by saying that the first one who came had visionary tendencies, while the second was more of a navigator.

The visionary approaches the subject like this. Beginning with an ideal, they explore that ideal, hold it up - and then try to work back from that ideal to where we are. As follows:

The Navigator, on the other hand has a completely different point of departure. For him, the starting point is not a place we might never reach this side of glory, but actually where we now are. As such the focus is on what we can most practically and helpfully do next as we seek to build the church. It looks more like this:
There are of course limitations to both approaches. The visionary is usually criticised in the following ways. His vision is so bold, so inspiring and so wonderful that it is quite beyond our reach. The pattern of church life he recommends is unattainable, merely creates guilt, disillusionment with outworking things in daily reality, and can just create a crowd of people skilled in criticising their fellow-believers, and the church itself. It looks like this:

On the other hand, the navigator is not always well-received either! When he speaks directly into the muddy and complicated realities of our situation, it can seem like duty, piled upon duty, lacking a vision to motivate and invigorate the daily effort. Without the imagination fired by a 'bigger-picture', the practical, down-to-earth wisdom of the navigator can fall flat. Like this:

Interestingly - and I think mostly on the basis of temperament rather than on any other split such as age, gender, etc people have expressed appreciation of either the visionary or the navigator! Few people have been enthused by both, most have either responded to one approach or the other. I suggest that both approaches are absolutely vital, necessary and that we are absolutely impoverished without both of these things. We need visionaries to remind us of God's big plan for the church, His love for the church, and its glorious future -and all that it can become today for the glory of God and enrichment of the lives of those around it. We need their ability to make us unwilling to settle for the mediocrity of the moment and to stretch, dream, strive and pray for the church to become all it should be - all it is called to become. But we also need navigators, people who will not merely berate us for being in the wrong place, but will start with where we are, our mundane, drab and awkward realities, and point us in the right direction - so that fired by the visionary passion we can continue to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that we are heading the right way. It looks like this:

So here's to Visionaries and Navigators. Long may you inspire us and instruct us. And may we all learn to appreciate the value of the model which least suits our temperaments!


Endlessly restless said...

Hmmm... a really interesting take on things. I guess that we all tend towards one 'camp' or the other. The challenge for our church (and all churches?) is to be committed to working through the wobbly bits in the middle and to really learn to listen to each other.

scottish terrier said...

I heard the Navigator one evening - unfortunately for him after a morning in which I had heard someone on the same vein take such a different approach that it cause me to abandon said Navigator totally! Morning guy was not a Visionary, but a Navigator who did not just point to what needs to be done, as evening Navigator (on that occasion anyway) did, but slowly unfolded HOW, in such a gentle and clear way as not to scare the pants off us all and cause us to say 'not for me then'. I realised in a moment that for years I have been told firmly what needs to be done and then left to my own devices to carry out the command which could be a reason why so many do not find the nerve/imaqination or whatever it is that holds so many of us back from getting on with the job and means us being merely spectators to the few.