The church: from battleship, to cruise ship, to life boats?

EasterTIDE provides 50 days to consider the vast significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. His incarnation and redeeming work envelope us in a living hope because He lives and can never die again; neither can any of us who are regenerated by His Word and Spirit.

On the other hand, and sadly, it seems like the church as we have known it for centuries is on its way to extinction. Generations of young people have apparently grown up, out, and away from the church.  Yet the Body of Christ—the actual church—is alive and well and thriving in these new and different times. 

My analogy: From battleship to cruise ship to life boats?

For much of history, from the 5th century until the mid-20th century, the church was like a battleship: very large, very strong fortresses where people found sanctuary, help, peace, and hope. Even during the turbulent 1960s, my Lutheran church on 3rd and Liberty Streets in Ann Arbor, Michigan was a strong place of stability, safety, family, friends, and activity (the VBS craft kits back then were fantastic).  But most of all, it was a place of enduring, unchanging truth and grace.

But the church as I knew it was wholly unprepared for the kinds of questions and challenges that have assaulted the church since then. The new liberal currents of our times replaced truth with pleasure and grace with self-indulgence.  Corrupt human nature has found this irresistible.  The visible church, not wanting to be abandoned, decided to remake the church into a cruise ship, no longer doing battle with sin and evil, but trying to be a place that fun-loving people would want to come to find affirmation and support. The visible church essentially did what The Kinks had named their 1981 album, “Give the People What They Want.”

What we have noticed since is that the world is better at building cruise ships than the church is.  We simply can’t compete, and no amount of repositioning bargains from the church cruise line is attractive enough to lure the people back.  And that’s not what the people need.

But what about life boats?

For all the social images of people celebrating the best and happiest of lives, there is more fear, anxiety, and disappointment than ever. Now is the time for the church to row out and among these drowning people where they are and pull them out of the depths of despair. Two examples are exciting and illustrative.

One husband of a former student has been sharing how coaching his young son’s little league baseball team and then basketball team has given him a way of connecting with other young families and providing a means of demonstrating and then explaining the hope, grace, and love that inspires him. And then there are the related opportunities when the team and their families gather at homes or in parks for meals and socializing.  Here, small but fitting witnesses to God’s Word are shared for the light and help it brings to these young families.

Another friend and his wife have found a similar avenue of connecting with others through their homeschooling association. Fantastic. People who homeschool their children have been combining their efforts to enhance the children’s education and experience, including theological education and spiritual life. Like coaching, collaborating as homeschool families establishes a powerful, lasting rapport that supports the welcoming of conversations about God’s truth and grace.

These are just two examples of the point Jesus was making in the Great Commission. Jesus did not command us to “GO!” Jesus said, “As you go about [that is to say, wherever the course of your life takes you], make disciples by surrounding them in the truth and grace of God.”

How many other kinds of associations bring us into relationships with people that would allow for rapport to build, thus creating the space for our ambassadorship to be fulfilled? Innumerable.

God bless us all during this EasterTIDE with eyes open to doors open, to all the ways and means by which we can share truth and grace (even by letting others know about helpful podcasts?).

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