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when old maps fail




After an absence of many years we returned to the town where we had lived previously. We found that they had built new roads and that our old maps were now no use. They led us to dead ends. We now had to take the ring-road and come in the other way. A bridge across the river was now closed. What do we do when the old maps get us lost?

It’s a bit like the pioneers who initially explored and opened up new country. They had no maps. They had to draw maps as they went along.

We live in a time when our old maps don’t work like they once did. They no longer get us to our destination. They get us lost. We are confused.

Many of our rural congregations are struggling. The old models of ministry are failing. Many can no longer raise enough money to pay a pastor. Some have already realigned with a neighbouring parish and now a few years later once again cannot pay the bills. The distances are too great for further realignment. The old maps are failing. What do we do?

We often focus on patching up something to get us through the next 3-5 years. We have to do that. But a more important question is how will the Christian Church minister in the country in 20-25 years’ time? We don’t have any maps that cover that. We have to draw new maps while we are on the journey.

While we don’t have any maps to guide us I think there are at least two things that are obvious:

1. The old maps – the old way of doing things – no longer work in many places. A pastor serving one or more congregations, leading their worship services each Sunday, providing most of the pastoral care and personally tending the flock is no longer possible in a lot of situations. We will continue to need pastors and other church workers but we will need to use their services in different ways. Perhaps they will have greater emphasis on equipping and supporting others who will do most of the hands-on work.
2. We don’t know exactly what that will look like but we do know that we will need local leaders who have been formed, trained and otherwise equipped to lead in ministry and mission in their communities. So I believe we should identify young future leaders and invest now in their preparation for whatever will come. This is especially important in the country. Some will become pastors but we need to invest in those who will probably never go to seminary but who will become Christian leaders in their community in the future.

God has provided gifted men and women for the tasks ahead of us. He will raise up workers for his harvest. While we may not yet see what is needed God is already out in the world ahead of us preparing the way. He is calling us to follow him.

Steen Olsen