Three Roads to Chicago

By: Dr. Clark Armstrong

In the USA, there are many roads to take to get from one major city to another. During most of my adulthood I have lived in Kansas City, but since my roots were in Chicago I have had to travel back there many times. These destination points are over 500 miles apart.

There are three main ways to get to Chicago from K.C. And I think they can teach us something important about ministry. Stick with me.

First, you can go east on Interstate 70 across the state of Missouri and through most of the state of Illinois until you get to I-57 and then travel north to get there. This is the most commonly used route. It has a large major city (St. Louis) at about the half-way point of your journey, which is an excellent place to take a mid-trip break.

You may also take Interstate 35 north out of Kansas City into the state of Iowa where you will intersect with I-80 in Des Moines and go east all the way to Chicago. The main reason people take that way is to avoid St. Louis with its heavy traffic. But the Iowa route has fewer and less dependable exits for gasoline, food, or emergency road service along the way.

Of course, some people like to see the countryside, so they cut diagonally across in a northeasterly direction. They may not take highways at all and may prefer to go through all the little towns along the way. Cameron, Missouri to Hannibal, Missouri leads into the middle-of-nowhere Illinois where they will eventually get on I-55, taking them into Chicago. I think of this option as the road less traveled. Some people don’t care about traveling fast or may just prefer to go “as the crow flies.”

Are you still with me? There is a huge principle for ministry embedded in this illustration. I thank God that I learned early in my ministry that there are “three roads to Chicago.” Stop and think. Just because you are the pastor doesn’t mean that your idea or your preferred direction to guide the church is the only way to accomplish God’s purposes in your place.

As leaders, we must discern the destination or the goal that God wants to see happen. However, it will be essential to listen to the key leaders who will be influential throughout the journey of getting “it” done. Then, don’t be locked in on only one way to get the goal accomplished. Instead of insisting on your preferred method, take the way with the most agreement and “buy in” by those who will be doing the driving. Personalities, values, and perspectives will come into play. If the majority want to “take a different road to Chicago,” you must remind yourself that the destination is what’s most important. The ultimate goal is building the Kingdom in this place and at this time.

At one church that I pastored, we needed to launch a building program. There were six members of the building committee and me as the pastor. The church had told us that we should all have unanimous agreement before we accepted a bid for the construction. There were three general contractors who gave us bids. Six of us (including me) wanted to go with the lowest bid, but one man was set in his ways and did not want to use that contractor.

After the impasse continued for almost two months and we were about to give up, I gave the committee my now (in)famous “three roads to Chicago” speech. That very night, six men and women changed our vote to side with that gentleman. We built that building to the glory of God even though it was at a little higher price.

It is now twenty years later. The building is completely paid for and has been used greatly for God. I doubt that few, if any, remember that we almost gave up. Apart from the Spirit of God instructing us in a moment of tension, we would have never built that building and stubbornly put the blame on the one “dissident,” causing conflict and strife. It wasn’t the way I wanted, and we endured a season of frustration. But in the end, we achieved the objective together. Leaders and ministers, always remember: there are three roads to Chicago.

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