The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Directions, maps, compass

Finding our way on the journey of discipleship

This summer I drove from California to Minnesota to answer a new calling. I was traveling alone; I'd never made the trip before; I didn't want to get lost. What to do? I downloaded directions; I got maps; I bought a compass.

The directions told me the way: Take Interstate 80 east and turn left at Des Moines, Iowa. Maps acquainted me with the landscapes I'd be passing through, showing state lines, rivers, mountain ranges. The compass oriented me to "True North."

I figured if I covered two states, one set of mountains and one time zone each day, I could make the journey in three days. It worked.

Directions, maps, compass — these point the way forward on another journey, discipleship.

No clear destination

Discipleship is the adventure of a lifetime. Like the road trip, it's a journey none of us has ever taken before.

Unlike the road trip, though, discipleship doesn't always have a clear or immediate destination. We believe that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19), but how we get from here to there isn't always clear.

Moreover, even though we're all headed to the same place, the path for each person is different. How do we know we are on the right one?

Like travelers, disciples need guidance. Fortunately, resources abound, and they are tailored to the needs of the individual disciple or community of disciples.

If we could "MapQuest" the journey of discipleship, some of us would download directions: "Tell me when and where to turn." Directions correspond to moral rules, which come in the language of command.

Other disciples want the maps: "I need to know the landscape I'm moving through." Maps correspond to the roles we choose and are placed in: roles of parents and children, roles of lawyer and teacher, farmer and nurse, and, above all, the role of disciple, which Jesus defined as being "friend." Roles flesh out identity. We know what to do by exploring the dimension of a particular role. Maps correspond to moral roles, which come in the language of description.

Finally, some disciples want nothing more than a compass: "I'll find 'True North' and everything else will fall into place." Compass corresponds to the relationships we have. We are the company we keep, as the parents of every teenager know. They watch the impact of peer pressure. They see their children wearing their best friends' favorite clothes, making their best friends' gestures and saying their best friends' favorite phrases. Similarly, the company disciples keep informs what they wear, what they do and what they say.

Relationships direct us often more profoundly than we realize. For Christians, our primary relationship is to Jesus. Compass orients us to that relationship.

Rules, roles and relationships: these provide the directions, maps and compass for the journey of discipleship. Disciples may prefer one to another, just the way some travelers prefer to get directions, while others want a map — and still others simply prefer to "head into the sunset."

In fact, we need all three forms of guidance to make our paths straight and our journeys just. Together they inform faithful decision-making.

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