I grew up with railroad tracks running behind my house. I cannot remember a time that I could go to sleep without hearing the clackity-clack of the wheels on the tracks, boxcar after boxcar rumbling by in the dark.
Some years ago, I lived even closer to the tracks in Colorado. They ran about thirty feet away from my home. They didn’t often run at night like they did in my old North Carolina home, but they did have some things in common.
- No train ever moved without knowing where it was going. Those tracks are there for a reason. Forward-thinking individuals envisioned destinations, planned the way, built the structure, cleared obstacles, and set in motion journey after journey that impacts the lives of thousands of people every day.
- Except for the tragic, every train arrives at its destination. Unless a train goes off its tracks, hits an obstacle on the tracks, or runs out of fuel, it will arrive at its destination. It knows where it is going and how it will get there. It knows what potential problems may arise, and often where to expect them (we call them “railroad crossings”). And with apologies to an air conditioner company, “it’s hard to stop a train”.
- Except for the dying, every train journeys toward a new destination. Sometimes, a train is put out of its misery. It has traveled hard and long, and repairs to make it functional are simply not worth the expense. Otherwise, every train gets set on a new journey as soon as the present one is completed.
Churches could learn a lot from trains.
- No church ever moved without knowing where it was going. Oh, there is the illusion of movement, but running in circles is not really going anywhere. It is not only possible, but it is Biblical for the leaders of a church to know where God wants them to go, if only for the current journey. It is possible to envision destinations, plan the way, build the structure, clear obstacles, and set in motion journey after journey that impacts the lives of thousands of people every day. The apostles did it following Jesus’ teaching, and the scripture reports that these unlearned men “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, ASV). They knew where they were going, the followed a plan, built the church structure, cleared obstacles, and set in motion the journey that has resulted in generations of new disciples for Christ. However, in the United States, thousands of churches each year reach no one for Christ. Thousands each year reach one or two. These thousands and many thousands more reach people accidentally. There is no plan and no structure. But even running in circles tends to stir up the occasional accidental opportunity.
- Except for tragedy, every church can arrive at its destination. There really are only a few reasons why churches don’t arrive at God’s plan. And it is a tragedy when they don’t. Churches that are on track are not surprised by the occasional obstacle. In fact, they have predicted it, planned for it, and deal with it appropriately. They know where they are going, how many resources it will take to arrive, and they have a plan to work these things together for that good journey. A church headed in God’s direction is hard to stop. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to stop one that is running in circles.
- Except for the dying, every church journeys toward a new destination. Sometimes, a church does run out of track. But unlike trains, churches don’t have to be “retired”. Trains only have two choices: continue to new destinations or retire. Nobody wants a train that just sits on the tracks blocking traffic or runs in circles. These are not the purpose of a train. Sitting and circles are really just the first stages of running out track.
The well-trained stay on track.