There’s an image making the rounds on social media and it’s generating some interesting conversations. I am choosing to assume the the folks posting this picture love the Lord, love His church, and sincerely desire to see the church be faithful in its mission. The previous statement, however, contains within it the assumption that people question the extent to which churches are being faithful to their mission. Why?
It’s no secret that the Western church (Western Europe and the United States) has experienced decline in attendance, involvement, cultural significance, and perceived spiritual vitality.
To be clear, the church is experiencing exciting, and even exponential growth in the Global South (South America), Africa, and the East (China, Korea, etc…). Some of these countries are sending missionaries to the West!
In response to the decline of the Western Church, people point to contributing factors in an effort to confront, challenge, and change the downward trend. Again, this is to be commended and even encouraged. I believe, as do many other church members and leaders that Jesus Christ established the church as the hope of the world.
Unfortunately, passion can easily overshadow precision, good intentions can express concern in ways that are overly simplistic, and constructive criticism can devolve into a critical spirit. When this happens, the very people concerned about the church’s troubles can become part of the problem – creating an environment that divides fellow believers from each other, and repels the very people of the world we as the church are called to reach. This helps neither the church, nor the world.
The image is an example of this tension.
Interestingly enough, the image has been shared with me as a form of criticism by one believer (thinking their church should be a battleship), as a form of concern by pastor friend of mine (wondering why their church was considered a cruise ship), in the form of a question from one of my own parishioners (Pastor Kevin, which one are we?), and as a form of confirmation by unchurched friends (this is why we don’t attend church – too much infighting). It’s enough to make me seasick!
So, here’s my take on the image. It’s a false dichotomy; an unproductive and unnecessary either/or reaction to a problem demanding a both/and approach.
The image and the question it poses assumes that faithfulness is tied to isolation, aggression, and defensiveness. Unfaithfulness is tied to laziness, naiveté and fun. One is based in fear and legalism, the other in folly and license. Both, however, are caricatures of the interdependent realities of truth and grace.
Since our struggle is not against flesh and blood, and since Christ has already accomplished victory, the “weapons of our warfare” are not based on fear of man, nor in aggression toward him. On the other hand, our strength is found in the joy of being found in Christ. This creates the space for awe, wonder, laughter, and play, as we cruise the turbulent waters without fear.
My granny used to sing about the “good old gospel ship.” That’s the image I believe captures the heart of our captain, and the porpoise (sorry, I couldn’t resist) I mean, the purpose of our voyage. Without Christ, we were adrift, drowning in a sea of chaos and sin. We were rescued, saved, and brought aboard by the grace of the Captain. Now we’re part of the ship and part of the crew, laughing at the squall because we sail with the Master of wind and wave. Joyfully, we throw out lifelines, or take lifeboats to others caught in the very sea from which we came. Ours is a “Good News Cutter.”
The seriousness of our mission makes this no cushy cruise – ours is an adventure with souls at stake. However, the victory of our Captain makes this no battleship – He’s already fought and won. Besides, we need no guns on board when grace has brought us aboard.
Neither image captures the reality of what the church is to be. Let’s sink the dichotomy and catch the wind of reality. Let’s sail the Good News Cutter!