Cairns (pronounced, like “karen” but in one syllable and think Scottish while you say it) are the way-finding rock-piles that help guide people when there were no trees around to post trail-markers.
If you’ve never seen or heard of cairns, they are essentially a navigation tool first used by Vikings in Iceland to mark trails in areas with little to no vegetation. Today, you’ll find them used for navigation in places like Killarney, or in sections of the Appalachian trail, but more and more, you see cairns popping us as decoration, or as a way of showing that, “Hey, I’ve been to this cool spot”.
There’s a big difference between “I’ll help you find the way” and “I’ve been here”.
Way-finding cairns are built over time, by many people adding to make a big pile that can be seen for great distances. Each stone still has a personal connection to it, but by looking at the pile in the picture, you’d have no way of knowing which one was placed by a specific person. The usefulness of a true cairn is showing the way. You being a part of showing the way is still there, but it’s secondary.
As leaders, it is part of our job, and usually our DNA, to help people find their way in an organization, group or in life. How can you “show the way” without staff knowing that you were doing it for them? This is the basis of mentoring. My mission is; to develop students to become the next generation of Christian leaders. To show the way. And hopefully they don’t make all the mistakes I did on my journey. The classic Lao Tzu leadership quote: “A leader is best when people barely know [they] exists, when [their] work is done, [their] aim fulfilled, [people] will say: we did it ourselves.”
It’s the same in our Christian faith. We are an example to our family, friends, neighbours and everyone else. We serve as a cairn to point the way to Jesus. And better than a pile of rocks we can use all our being to show the way. That includes our words, actions, character, attitude, habits, spiritual disciplines, etc. This is the basis of discipleship. We have been given the most extravagant infinite undeserving gift of forgiveness of our sins by God through Jesus Christ that we need to share it with other and show them the way.
What can you do now to be a useful cairn? Who will you show the way to next?
Here’s to another rock in the pile!