"Re-Placing" The Navigators

My first staff assignment was in Southern California, not too far from where The Navigators began. We thought it might be fun to take advantage of our location, so we created a scavenger hunt based on the book Daws.

This was in the 1980s, so no one had a phone in their pocket, but we were able to round up enough Polaroid cameras to give one to each team. We gave them clues from Betty Skinner’s biography of Dawson Trotman and off they went.

The famous Navigator home “509” had already been torn down, but there was a house across the street that looked very much like the photo in the book. We told people to snap a picture there. The presence of several groups of military-age people taking photos caught the attention of the elderly owner of our 509 replacement and brought her outside.

In the ensuing conversation, someone asked if she remembered the old Navigator home. She said, “Yes, I remember all of those military people coming and going. I was a young woman myself at the time and I always wondered what those folks were up to. Was it a religious thing?”

I tell this story because it illustrates that of all the beautiful things we have in our Navigator heritage, a commitment to place does not seem to be one of them. Our focus has tended to be on people, not places.

Is there something wrong with that? On one level the answer is no. Our commitment to the Great Commission has meant that traditionally Navigators are mobile. Many of us have moved for the sake of the gospel. Because we are an apostolic organization, this mobility is critically important.

Just as important is the local expression of the gospel in a specific place. Most people we invest in will not be moving for the sake of the gospel. God’s plan is for many, if not most people, to live out the Good News in the community and location in which He has planted them.

One of the questions we continue to wrestle with is, what will it take for the people raised up in our military and collegiate ministries to continue to live and disciple among the lost? Have you noticed that a university or a military base occupies a piece of ground? Both campus and military installations are actual places with distinct environments, economic life, educational systems, and civic life. Our Navigator ministries take advantage of these unique locations and cultures to plant the gospel and make disciples.

For some reason though, we historically have not done much to help people discover the same dynamics in the places they live and raise their families after they leave the military or graduate from college. We’ve somehow lost sight of the fact that our homes are located in communities with all of the same dynamics available to those who look for them.

I cannot emphasize enough how important place is to the carrying out of our Navigator vision. God is calling us to raise up people who are “rooted incarnationally in their local contexts.” We must re-place the Navigator movement. I’ve been thinking about six compelling reasons that ought to motivate us to help disciples of Jesus “live into place,” and I will tackle them one by one over the next several weeks.

Here they are:

  1. The Incarnation of Jesus
  2. The Kingdom of God
  3. The Fragmentation of Society
  4. The Dismemberment of the Church
  5. The Advance of the Gospel
  6. Whole-Life Discipleship

I’m sure there are many more reasons besides these six, but we’ll begin with these. Stay tuned!

Al Engler is the director of Navigators Neighbors and Navigators Workplace. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.