Setting Sail “Is the Church a Rowboat or Sailboat?”

 942454_10151630103158938_847188878_n   Growing up I lived in a community that was built around a man–made lake. Packanack Lake was a “Country Club” community.  In it’s early days it was used as an escape for New Yorkers seeking weekend respite from city life.  By the time my family had entered into the community it had become a suburb of New York like most others.  Yet, there was still this “Country Club” setting that allowed folks to enjoy certain activities like swimming and boating in the lake. 

     The lake only allowed row and sail boats on the water.  One summer our family was fortunate to purchase a used rowboat to use on the lake.  I remember the excitement of getting the boat and fixing it up so we could go fishing.  We launched the boat for the first time and we headed out to enjoy the day.  I was in middle school a the time and not exactly the most muscular or athletic. (Some things never change)  My brother Kris rowed the boat out the middle of the lake and we dropped our lines.  After a while of fishing in one spot we decided to move to another.  Kris decided that he was the captain and told me (commanded me) to row.  With all my might and gusto I began to row.  Because of my lack of strength, coordination and training we went in a circle to nowhere. 

     Meanwhile, off in the distance a fleet of Sunfish sailboats glided through the water with grace and beauty.  It was at that moment that I decided that I didn’t like the row in rowboat.  Then, while in Boy Scouts, I got the opportunity to experience sailing and determined that it was a far better experience to me.  The joy of having the wind power your movement while still needing to be artful in your response to it is a great feeling. 

    Joan Gray in her book Spiritual Leadership for Church Leaders talks about the church from the perspective of rowboats and sailboats.  “A significant point is that when early Christians used a boat as a symbol for the church it was never a rowboat; it was always a sailboat.” (pg. 17)  The church was powered by the Spirit of God. 

    Gray asks the question, “Are you a rowboat or sailboat church?”  Both types of churches can be growing, strongly engage in mission and varied in political or theological persuasion. 

“The basic difference between them has nothing to do with the circumstances of a congregation; rather, the difference is in the attitude of the leadership and members.    Pg. 18”

The difference in the dominant attitudes is striking to me and are more than semantic.

  • Rowboat Churches -“We can do this or we can’t do this”
  • Sailboat  Churches- “God can do more than we can ask or imagine.”

    At the heart of congregational life should be the desire to follow God’s will.  Likewise, seeking God’s will should be dependent upon the power and Spirit of God, not the frailty and sinfulness of individuals.  Where do you believe that Christ Presbyterian Church finds it’s power and drive?  Do we share an attitude of sailing or rowing? 

    Gray believes there are three basic components—three attitudes and practices– that work together when being a church that seeks to function like sailboat.  Passion for God, faith in God’s provision, and  willingness to let go.  “These attitudes and practices allow God’s Spirit to take the church where God wants it to go in the same way that the interaction between wind and sails moves a boat through the water.”  In the next few weeks I will explore the various components she shares with us and how I see them embodied in our congregation and where we might have room for dynamic growth. 

6 thoughts on “Setting Sail “Is the Church a Rowboat or Sailboat?”

  1. Interesting read, Geoff. I think we certainly embrace all three attitudes. Having grown up with both types of boats, there are times a sailor finds herself on a rowboat praying for a sail, or on a sailboat praying for oars. I think we need to be both.

  2. I’m not fond of boats or being on the water, and I have to admit that I’m both scared and exhilarated when I try to truly cast my lot with the Holy Spirit. But I keep trying. FYI, re the Google images, I like the one of the kitten who looks in the mirror and sees a lion : ).

  3. This blog entry was inspired and powered by the Holy Spirit. May the excitement take hold within the robust wind of “God of the Ages, Whose Almighty Hand” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” Amen!

  4. I agree with Jill’s assessment. Sailing requires more skill and variable elements than row boating. Yes, rowing requires more work, time and depends more on the power of the rower than sailing. What happens when there is no wind for the sail. Must be what happens when we stray away from fellowship with God and others in the faith.

  5. Pingback: Further Conversations on the Rowboat and Sailboat Church | Views From The Roof

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