Explorers explore unknown territory. Exploration must take place before the pioneers can arrive. Pioneers come to settle a place discovered by an explorer and announced as available for settlement. Explorers will try many different ways through unexplored territory before they can establish a safe path that can be used by the pioneers. Not all the paths an explorer takes are intended to be the final route. Their mission is to weed out the failed routes to provide safe passage for those who would follow. That is the nature of exploration.
When I moved to Montana as a young church planter, I heard the term “bushwhacking” for the first time. Bushwhacking happens when you leave the known trail and set out overland and hike where no trails exist. I can remember crossing parts of the Rocky Mountains where there were no human footprints or any evidence that anyone had ever traversed the distant canyon where I hiked. On a few occasions, I took a wrong heading and had to backtrack to find a safe place to cross the spine of the Rockies high above the timberline. These failed navigations did not mean I was wrong or ill-informed. It is simply the nature of exploration. You try something to see if it works. If it doesn’t, you adjust your route and move on.
In life in the Spirit, some are called to be explorers. Explorers leave the trail of the status quo and set out to find a way through a challenging theology or try to discover a point of passage through a difficult moment in culture. These explorers need a lot of grace, especially when they have to backtrack because their spiritual bushwhacking failed to find the right path. Backtracking is not a sign of weakness. It is wisdom.
Treat the explorers in your life with respect. Bushwhacking in the realm of the Spirit carries with it a John the Baptist anointing. Making a way in the wilderness is never easy. Give explorers grace and they will show you the way forward when no way seems possible.