Cable television has so many channels with 24/7 programming that it has had to reach back into the vault to pull out some of the “Oldies but Goldies” to fill all the airtime. As if that “Oldies but Goldies” phrase doesn’t already date me, this next reference will!
While surfing channels recently I came across one of the popular television programs of my childhood. As a child, “Wagon Train” was appointment television for me. It was fascinating to vicariously tag-along with a group of folks who were exploring new frontiers as they traveled westward.
A couple of images remained in my memory from this television program. At the end of each day or whenever in the group was in danger, all the wagons would circle up, creating a temporary fortress. Within the circle was greater security.
Also, within the circle was a greater sense of community. After all, most of the day the wagons were lined up traveling cross-country. While all were traveling in the same direction, all were traveling in virtual solitude focused on the rear of the preceding wagon.
While “circling the wagons” was both a necessity and an anticipated blessing, one additional action accompanied each new day. Every morning, the wagon master would direct the wagons to move forward toward the intended destination.
As a child, it dawned on me how boring the whole production would have been if the wagons remained in formation and traveled all day in circle. I am sure they were tempted some days to stay close to each other, to feel safer, and to keep moving. Yet, in the circle there would be an illusion of progress without ever making advancement.
As an adult, it has dawned on me how often I would rather stay in circle formation, seemingly moving forward, but remaining safe.
As a Christian, it has dawned on me how often I have gone through the motions of being a disciple and investing in disciple formation when in fact I continue traveling the same, safe circular path.
As a church leader, it has dawned on me that my wagon isn’t the only one traveling in the circular path. Whether out of fear of the unknown or out of treasuring the companionship of related travelers, many of our churches have gone through the motions without venturing toward the frontier.
Sometimes we tell ourselves we need more information or new skills before we can travel into the frontier, which were once called our neighborhoods. Other times, we tell ourselves that we need the confidence of a leader – like the wagon-master – to direct or “strongly encourage” our group to unwrap the circle and move forward each day.
Those missing pieces are really just excuses to justify our remaining circled up. I believe there is one huge missing element that keeps us moving in circular formation. We lack the trust in the One who invites us and leads us on the journey – who calls us to step out of comfort toward our frontier.
In what ways are you living in circled wagon formation? In what ways is your church under the illusion that you are moving forward when you are just going in circles? In what ways can you summons a radical trust in the God of our journey so that you unfurl the circle and strike out toward the frontier?
Day is breaking for all of us. The Holy Spirit is calling for us to drive forward. Let us radically trust God and launch forth on the greatest adventure known to humanity! If we will look to the right and to the left we will see individuals and congregations who are moving forward – we have partners for the journey!
Dr. Brad Brady is the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries.