Growing up and living around the Puget Sound, the San Francisco Bay, the North Shore of Boston and the Long Island Sound, I have had a life-long appreciation of watercraft, but in particular sailboats. I resonate with the line from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows who wrote, “…there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
I was intrigued, then, when I came across a little book entitled, Sailboat Church: Helping Your Church Rethink Its Mission and Practice by Joan S. Gray. Descriptions about this book in Amazon and elsewhere say this:
“Is your church a rowboat church or a sailboat church? Rowboat churches depend largely on human effort. When church budgets shrink and membership declines, rowboat churches frantically row harder against a current, often frustrated and disappointed at their efforts. Sailboat churches, on the other hand, take up the oars, hoist sails, and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them.”
We live in a time when American churches are experiencing and gravitating towards what some observers have called a theology of scarcity. Congregations are confronting limited resources, limited growth, and limited opportunities. There seems to be never enough. This outlook is also compounded by an accompanying anxiety that fuels shortsightedness, fearfulness, thoughtlessness and even meanness. The survival mechanism that kicks in is the mechanism that reverts to looking inward. The once outward thinking approach with a view to serve neighbor and others now becomes a closed hand. They morph into rowboat churches, frantically rowing harder with eyes looking back to where they had come from and to what had been.
Joan S. Gray offers an alternative. Using the Holy Spirit (Pneuma) as our guide and power, we are able to participate in what God is already doing in our neighborhood, community and world. Relying on the Holy Spirit shines the light on programs, practices, and preferences that are flawed or inadequate or have outlived their expiration date. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit there is a “clearing of the decks”, so to speak, that allows congregations to look at fresh ideas. This utter dependence on the Third Person of the Trinity will cause rowboat churches to untether and cast their lines, lift their anchors that have been mired in pride, stow their oars, hoist their sails and journey into a hopeful and flourishing future with the Spirit’s leading.
Warmly in Christ,