Roadmap Types and Compass Types

A number of years ago I was asked to crystallize the church planting vision and distinctives of our church’s elder team, and to build upon it. They wanted me to put these things into a written form that would bring some definition and guidance to what was emerging as a new international church planting network.

I remember reviewing one of the drafts of this project with the elder team. While the feedback was mostly encouraging, there was one piece that at the time I found confusing.

“I just don’t see a plan here,” said one elder.

Now, I had defined key terms, spelled out our distinctives, established the principles of our strategy, set some goals, and provided several pages of content covering what it meant for someone to be trained, sent, and supported within this network. So I was perplexed at what exactly it meant that one of our sharpest elders – a brother at the time working in management in the corporate world – couldn’t see a plan. We scheduled a follow up meeting together so that I could better understand what he meant.

Somewhere in the course of our meeting I came to clarity on a point that has served me ever since. Different personalities have different understandings of what that little word, plan, means. I illustrated the difference between myself and my fellow elder like this. He was a roadmap type, and I was a compass type. He was looking for detailed, step-by-step directions and definition to this church planting strategy. I had provided the vision, the distinctives, and the strategic principles, and simply hadn’t aware that anything else was necessary.

Compass types like me are happy to know where “North” is, and to navigate each situation according to the framework of theology and principles they’re committed to. But roadmap types, while recognizing the goodness of vision, principles, and theological frameworks, feel as if they’ve been given no clear leadership about what to do come Monday morning. If compass types are leading roadmap types, the roadmap types are often frustrated by the lack of practical detail. If roadmap guys are leading compass types, the compass types often feel micromanaged. When neither are aware of these different orientations toward planning, they are usually headed for a collision, often under the guise of other issues that might exist. I continue to experience the reality of these differences as I work with colleagues who are wired to be roadmap planners.

The good news is that both orientations are good and needed. The compass types can keep us from losing the forest for the trees and they excel in flexibility and adaptability – while all still tied to solid conviction. The roadmap types keep us rooted in the practical daily realities of what we actually need to do next. They are great at thinking through next steps and in providing liberating checklists that can melt away organizational fog. And they are often better at crystallizing actual methods and plans. I still don’t have a discipleship plan to give a new missionary if they request one. I prefer to weigh each new believer’s situation and to make a plan on the spot. But I have colleagues who can give you plans for phase one, phase two, phase three, etc.

The roadmap types can become a little too married to their plans and strategies and confuse application for principle. The compass types can forget that to actually do the work we need to commit to a defined method. If a roadmap type is tempted to think, “My method of evangelism is the biblical method,” a compass type is tempted to think, “Method? Who needs method? Just preach the gospel.” Both are off-balance.

One of the stranger realizations we’ve had since coming to the field is to realize that large “tribes” of missionaries are characterized in part by these different orientations. Let’s call one tribe the Church Multiplication tribe and another tribe the Church Health tribe. Many organizations, including my own, are made up of members representing both tribes.

The Church Multiplication tribe is the one writing all the books on new and exciting methodologies, movements, and strategies. They gauge if someone is part of their tribe by leading with questions about strategy and methodology. They are by far the bigger tribe. The Church Health tribe is the one writing all the articles and recording the podcasts which focus on the importance of theology and the local church in missions. They gauge if someone is part of their tribe by leading with questions about the gospel, ecclesiology, and a distrust of the current most popular method out there (today it’s DMM). The Church Multiplication tribe tends to be evangelical, sometimes reformed, but not usually coming from a background which emphasizes ecclesiology. The Church Health tribe is often strongly reformed and evangelical and deeply impacted by groups like 9 Marks which labor to recover the centrality of the local church.

I find myself a man with feet in both camps. I have roots in the Church Multiplication tribe, but have been mentored and greatly helped by many in the Church Health tribe. I often find myself trying to nudge the Church Multiplication guys to give more weight to theology and the local church and stop trusting methods so much – and then trying to nudge the Church Health guys to give more weight to culture, methods, and contextualization. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll recognize these emphases. Now, these are all very important issues and conversations. I’m not downplaying the importance of the local church in missions or the importance of being thorough students of culture. I’ll take both, thank you.

But there is at least one difference that is not an issue of biblical conviction, but merely of group personality – and here is where I return to the roadmap vs. compass orientation. When these two tribes get together and discuss/argue methodology, I’m convinced that at least some of what is going on is a hidden issue of cross-cultural communication. It usually goes like this. The Church Multiplication camp is excited about a given method. The Church Health camp isn’t convinced it’s biblical. The Church Multiplication camp is a little offended at these prickly brethren playing the Bible card and push back to see if they have an alternative method to propose. The Church Health camp responds with biblical principles (compass language) – not a plan or a method (roadmap language). The discussion goes back and forth like this for a while and eventually ends with everyone feeling unsatisfied. The Church Health camp isn’t convinced that the other camp has biblical convictions and the Church Multiplication camp isn’t convinced the other side has a plan at all and assume they are merely going to reproduce traditional methods. In one sense, you could say they are speaking on different frequencies. And yet they aren’t aware of it. They are speaking past each other.

I’m convinced that learning about our own wiring and the wiring of others on this compass vs. roadmap spectrum is one practical way we can move toward healthier partnership on the field (and perhaps back home too). We can learn to speak the language of the other tribe, as it were, when we are communicating about our ministry, vision, and strategy. This can help us deal with the distrust that emerges when we don’t initially hear the other side addressing things that we find to be crucially important. When roadmap guys can tie their methods to principles and a theological framework, that will gain them a better hearing among the compass guys. When the compass guys can break down their principles into a nuts and bolts plan, that will gain them a better hearing among the roadmap guys. For example, Church Multiplication missiology quietly but deeply values the ability of a practitioner to visually portray his strategy on a napkin, a whiteboard, or on a screen. When Church Health guys scoff at this visual communication and merely stick to their thick position papers, they are missing an opportunity to communicate their convictions in different, but valid ways. Similarly, if Church Multiplication guys would write up some position papers that are very well-grounded in the Word, I think they’d be surprised at the kind of traction they’d get in different quarters.

In my story earlier, my fellow elder and I were on the same page theologically, but we had reached a misunderstanding because of a different personality-orientation toward planning. Turns out we were wired to see planning differently, to the glory of God. I needed general plans with goals, principles, and outlines. He needed plans with step-by-step procedures and detail. Our differences led to a stronger document in the end, because we were able to figure out a way forward in a context where our unity around the gospel and the essentials wasn’t in question.

Now that I’m on the mission field, our network of partners here is mostly Baptistic and reformed – everyone has Piper books on the shelf. And yet there have been some very deep rifts and hurts in the past over methodology. I think this unacknowledged difference of orientation is partially to blame. It’s not always an actual disagreement over theology and principle that divides us. It’s often differences in personality, culture, language, and politics. This is tragic. The good news is there are practical shifts that can be made in terms of language used and questions asked that can make a big difference.

Sometimes there will be real convictional differences that underlie these rifts. I’m not saying that all conflict between missionaries is simply a matter of misunderstanding one another’s wiring. But some of it is! Let’s get rid of that some. And then, if we have other believers on the field who indeed have different doctrine and convictions – then let’s pursue with them the healthy practice of theological and methodological triage.

And let’s learn to understand and value the compass types and roadmap types that the Lord has placed around us.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

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