One of the books I have read in the last year is Presbyterian Pastor Joan Gray’s, “Sailboat Church.” I shared an article about the book with the session at our last meeting and I keep returning to the analogy that defines her book. Simply stated, there are only two choices when you want to cross a body of water. In the days before engines, you could row or you could sail. Rowing is hard work, but you can do it. Sailing is also hard work, but the power of the wind will move you further and faster than you could ever row, assuming the wind is blowing. Gray uses this analogy to help us understand how a congregation approaches its mission and ministry. A rowboat church charts its course and then rows hard. Lots of individual work is required to get from point A to point B, and the rowers often get tired and burned out. In contrast, a sailboat church harnesses the power of the wind. You may recall that wind is a common biblical metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Through prayer and discernment, the sailboat church aligns itself with the wind of the Spirit, hoists the sails and sets the course. There’s still a lot of work involved, but the relief of having the heavy lifting carried by the Spirit instead of by the oars is tremendous.
Have you ever felt like you’re in a rowboat church? Have you ever experienced a sailboat church where the divine wind equips the church to sail with less effort to the same shore? Here are some ideas about how to encourage one another to be sailing more and rowing less.
The first and most important idea is to tend your relationship with God through prayer, worship, and study. That’s the only way that you’ll master the technique of reading the wind on the waters, of being able to see where the Spirit of God is blowing. A church sailor is familiar with the Spirit of God, and senses where the Spirit is moving.
A second idea is to know who God has created you to be, your interests, gifts, and abilities. Then direct your service to those areas. Service can be joyful and fun – if it aligns with how God has created you. It’s not the drudgery of rowing when it’s a task you enjoy and know you are equipped to undertake. Let God use you in those ways, and trust that God has placed others in the congregation with gifts to do the work that you would find life-draining.
A third idea from Gray (and there are plenty more) is to not let the limitations of money, time or space be the final word in pursuing a new course of ministry. Yes, we need to be responsible – but we also need to occasionally take risks to align ourselves with where God would have us serve.
Should we hold an outdoor worship service? Yes, but how? It’s amazing how all the pieces came together both last year and this year to hold a service outside on the lawn. We needed new people to help mow the grounds. Did you know that for some people using the riding mower is fun and enjoyable? Clearly that’s not me, but I’m amazed at how God created us with unique likes, dislikes, talents and abilities; and I’m thankful that some of us love lawn mowing!
What Joan Gray offers in her book is a reminder of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 - the church is like a human body with many parts. We need each other in order to do the work we are called to do. We don’t need eight feet, but we do need two.
As we trust in the wind of the Spirit, we should not be surprised when God provides. So the next time we call for volunteers, or you see a need that you can fulfill, ask yourself if volunteering would be just rowing the boat, or if it would be sailing with the wind of the Spirit? Then come and sail with us!