by Brendan Danielson - posted Tuesday November 29, 2016
Throughout history, navigators have been crucial to the success of human exploration at sea. When you find yourself in the middle of the ocean, with no clear signs or pre-determined routes, the ability to navigate, or the presence of a navigator, can be the difference between life and death.
As a Christian organization, we call ourselves The Navigators. But what is it about this title that makes it well-suited to describing the kind of work we do? The role, responsibilities and presence of real-world navigators is crucial, even in today’s modern world, as is the work of Navigators in the spiritual world.
One of navigation’s greatest benefits is the confidence it gives us to sail out into the open ocean. In the ancient world, sailors hugged the coastline, relying on landmarks and regional tendencies to tell them where they were. However, once they learned celestial navigation and how to use the North Star and Big and Little Dippers as guides, they could embark on multi-day journeys, satisfy their exploratory appetite and reach previously unreachable lands.
For many of us, keeping our personal shorelines in sight is where we are most comfortable. We may look out at the open seas of faith with curiosity, but we don’t know what to expect once we get there. At this point, we need someone like a Navigator who knows and can show us the way to orient ourselves in the correct direction so that, when we sail out to the deeper waters of faith, we have points of reference to guide us along the right course.
Before a journey begins, the navigator needs to have a plan. This plan is usually a detailed mental picture of how the voyage will progress, taking into account such factors as weather forecasts, the route and any necessary course changes. This mental picture is written down and serves as the standard for measuring the vessel’s progress as it makes its way to the destination.
In a similar way, Navigators are working continually to grow as disciples so they can share their experiences and insights with others. As the ocean is always shifting and never the same twice, so it is with life. Our faith is constantly growing, and no one approach is guaranteed to work the same way twice. Every person is unique, and cookie-cutter discipleship is not guaranteed to yield meaningful results. In the midst of calm and rough seas alike, the presence of someone like a Navigator, who is by your side and helping to guide you through life, can help facilitate meaningful advances in your faith.
Throughout humanity’s history, we’ve had a desire to explore, seek new lands and go beyond the known world. In the Medieval Age, sailors from the Arab Empire developed trade networks ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to China Sea. In the 15th and 16th c., Henry the Navigator led the Portuguese to become the pre-eminent naval European explorers, discovering new islands and opening vast trade networks through the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The success of these exploratory efforts depended heavily on accurate navigation tools and writings to ensure they stayed true to course.
It’s the same in our faith journeys. We’re curious about what’s out there, figuring out our purpose and considering different thoughts and ideas. It’s good to explore and discover truth, but without methods and a plan for navigating through the possibilities, there’s no telling whose or what truth we’ll encounter. In the midst of this, Navigators can show you proven and tested ways for setting your course towards Jesus as you seek to become more like him.
Over the past five centuries, the science and methods of navigating ships has changed dramatically. The same is true of how we make our way through the world as people of faith. The Navigators began among a few sailors on the U.S.S. West Virginia in World War II, and since then has grown into an international movement spanning more than 100 countries. During this time the ways we navigate the seas and faith have changed, yet the task remains the same as it always has been: to know where you have been, where you are now and where you plan to go next. To become a disciple of Jesus, to grow in that relationship and pass what you have learned and experienced on to the next generation.