Oops! Made a wrong turn. What do I do now?
A detour is a momentary diversion from the destination ahead. Often we are side- tracked when there's construction or repair, an accident blocking traffic, or some other obstacle impeding traffic flow. In most instances the detour is well-marked and of relatively short duration. Sometimes, it continues for many miles and take us far from the intended path. It's a wrong turn when it keeps us from the planned destination.
Detours are normal in life and ministry. There's a certain go-with-the-flow attitude that must guide us even in our most focused and perhaps obsessive-compulsive pursuits. In thirty-five years of pastoral leadership, all in highly transitional church settings, I learned the graces of a penciled calendar early on. A techie world enjoys and benefits from the toys and gadgets that help us schedule life today. But, our most advanced bullets and alarms and reminders can't factor the unknowns into every day life. Adjustments are the norm today. Flexibility may be among the most valued time management tools. There's a catch, however. One detour can quickly lead to another and soon the destination originally planned is lost in the twists and turns of normal everyday traffic.
That's the case with many spiritual leaders and churches today. The destination, or if you prefer, the mission, got lost somewhere in all the detours. The target, or planned end point, got lost somewhere along the way. Many of us are involved in good and noble pursuits, but not on the path that leads us to the objective that was originally identified when the journey began.
Jesus' final trip to Jerusalem is a very appropriate illustration of detours and how they may figure in the achievement of a final destination. In Luke's Gospel it is depicted with vivid language that expresses the intentionality of the Lord's pursuit of a hill in Jerusalem. It moves like this---
1. The destination: "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his
face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). Set his face = purposefully intended.
2. Detour 1: "Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village" (Luke 10:38).
The destination hadn't changed. They were on their way. They detouned into a
3. Detour 2: "He went on his way through towns and villages teaching and
journeying toward Jerusalem" (Luke 13:22). Once again, the final objective
hadn't changed but he was detoured by teaching along the way.
4. Detour 3: "At that time some Pharisees came and told him, Get away from here
for Herod wants to kill you...Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and
tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish
away from Jerusalem (Luke 13: 31, 33). It was a deliberate trip to Jerusalem.
5. Detour 4: "Now great crowds accompanied him..." (Luke 14: 25). He was still
traveling to Jerusalem but he addressed the crowds.
6. Detour 6: "On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria
and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers..."
(Luke 17: 11). Luke emphasized that he was going to Jerusalem but was
detoured in a village by ten lepers.
7. Detour 7: "He entered Jericho and was passing through" (Luke 19:1). Here is
the great story of Zacchaeus and an important parable about the ten minas,
another detour. Luke emphasized that he was passing through.
8. Detour 8: And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to
Jerusalem" (Luke 19: 28). As he aimed at Jerusalem, his planned destination, he
taught along the way.
Later, of course, he saw the city and wept (see Luke 19:41). What stands out in this great strand of Scripture is how Jesus was not distracted from his intended destination even though there were at least eight detours along the way. Even in the life of Jesus detours were not a wrong turn. He intentionally met the needs of the people he encountered as he traveled to Jerusalem. But, he did not permit these detours to become the mission. It's a great distinction, this separation of meaningful, noble activity and the mission. His detours were moments of miracles and teaching that changed people's lives. But, they were not his final, intended purpose. You see, the son of man came to seek and save and give his life as a ransom for many. That was the mission, the destination.
With all the modern tools of focus and on-point mission it is incredible how the detours often become the mission. All over America churches are involved in so many great and worthy tasks . Every day we all must stand amazed at the diversity of our engagement and the many unique and wonderful ways we connect to local communities. Some opportunities drop immediately in front of us, a detour sign flashing a change of course, a shift in our travel plan. What a thrill to see churches and spiritual leaders ready to make on-the-spot adjustments to accommodate the needs right in front of us. But, how often that detour becomes the destination. And, the mission is lost because a detour became a wrong turn.
Jesus made the mission very clear. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19-20). Making disciples of all nations is the assignment, the destination of his church in every setting, in every generation. There are many detours along the way. But, the destination never changes.
Detours aren't a wrong turn. They're only a wrong turn when they become the destination.