My Father’s Map

Europe, 1971

Europe, 1971

My father once sat me down on the couch and placed a map of Central Europe in my lap.  He pointed to two major cities and said, “We have five months to get from London to Copenhagen.  You plan our route.”

I was ten years old.

My parents had decided to take us to Europe on an educational adventure for my entire 6th grade school year.   This was their way of involving me.  So I traced a pencil line that ran from London across the English Channel to Paris, down through the Basque region of Spain to the Costa del Sol, northeast into Switzerland, south to Italy, and back north through Austria and Germany before ending up in Scandinavia.  My parents respected my general itinerary and filled in the blanks with extended stays in suburban London, Marbella, Davos and Florence.

As the leaders of our family, my parents regularly led us on forays into unfamiliar territory and taught us to read maps and navigate the landscape.  On the way, everyone had a job (in Europe, I always carried the coats).  I like to think this kind of upbringing prepared me to approach life with a greater sense of curiosity, adventure, and confidence.

Somewhere in this story there is a lesson about leadership.

As leaders, we do not necessarily need to have all the answers.  We need to be clear about where we are and convey some vision of where we are going, but maybe everything between those two points should be collaborative.

If you are a pastor, what would it be like to say, “Here’s where I see us now.  Here’s where I dream we could be.  Does anyone else share that dream?  And if so, how would you like to get from here to there?”  Then, let the congregation buy into the journey, not just the destination, and try to give everyone a role in determining the next steps.

One thing that may be different in your church than on our family’s European voyage is that you can’t always plan the itinerary in advance.  Obstacles come along, some of them wonderful, and some of them treacherous, and we have to keep re-grouping and discerning to determine God’s direction at every stage.

But if, as a leader, you feel the burden is on you to figure out how to “save” your church or that it’s your job to get the congregation across some Jordan River, maybe you can instead turn to them, even to the youngest member or the newest member or a beloved spiritual leader of the laity, and listen in order to lead.

In October, my father passed away.  And this week, I am making the journey home to be with my siblings as we navigate the next stage of our family journey without him.  I am so grateful for the map-reading skills he gave us.  There is more road ahead and we will find the way!

*Photo by Marvin Irwin

5 responses to “My Father’s Map

  1. As is so often the case with your posts, this one brings God’s Word and wisdom to me. Thank you! The map image is very helpful as Church of Peace decides how to progress into the future. Jim and I have an idea of the next step, but they have to own it and make it happen. The way you explained this is easy to grasp. Thank you.

    Our family also begins 2014 without my dad, the first of such years for us. I hope you found Christmas to be both joy-filled and poignant as we did. The next Christmas may not have as many tender moments as this one did, but neither will it probably be as rich with God’s presence.

    May your new year be bright with grace.


  2. Jenny, I spent today combing through my father’s memories and it is a poignant time indeed! May God bless you in this precious time of mourning and gratitude!

  3. A safe and smart New Year to you Gail, and many thanks for all your posts! Very helpful indeed as Messiah Lutheran in Pasadena, CA generates a renewal plan. Grateful that you and your father visited us a few years back – such warm memories of your time with us. Best wishes on your road ahead with his accompaniment of/in many forms…

  4. Thank you, Ginger, for reminding me of that precious day with my dad, and how he came forward to be blessed as one of the fathers in church! Blessings to Messiah Lutheran as you navigate your future.

  5. I think that listening in order to lead is the first step. Certainly it helps share the burden and can direct a pastor’s energy more efficiently. There’s no magic trick – sometimes the answer is right in front of us.

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