Friday, February 11, 2005


In a former life I sang for Norwegian Cruise Line. I was on a ship for almost a year. It was a seven day cruise with a port everyday. Did I mention it was in the Southern Caribbean? Rough life. I loved it. Mostly. It was almost like summer camp for adults.

Have you ever been on a cruise? The food is unreal. There is something to eat just about 24 hours a day. In fact, the most trusted statistic says that the average weight gain per passenger each week was about 7-10 lbs. Scary, huh?

I'm not sure who originated the whole metaphor about the church being like a boat...battle ships, cruise ships, tug boats, etc. I know Randy Harris has done a lot of speaking on that. The point is that most of our churches resemble one or the other. And, mostly, it's the cruise ship mentality. What can YOU do for ME? We go to a church service to be "serviced". (read Dan Kimball's book--Emerging Worship--pg.2-4.)

I was thinking about this yesterday. Many of our churches are doing their best to change course mid stream. We are realizing the need for all of us to be missional. Ministers, elders, leaders, and missional minded members are finding themselves frustrated by the difficulty in making such a change.

I was trying to think of it in terms of my experience on the ship and relating it to church experience. Imagine with me if you will--you're a passenger on a cruise. You've saved and spent a lot of money (maybe a bldg. program), you've gathered your friends or close family (you're surrounded by the people you love and want to be with), you've got delicious food at your disposal any time of the day (every program we offer to enrich or feed our own members), there's a cruise staff taking care of your every need and waiting on you hand and foot (we often do this for our church members instead of empowering them to be missional), you go on the occasional off shore excursion led by experienced tour guides which causes you to feel like you've actually experienced the island (we do this with evangelism. We placate our convictions by doing a small tour of duty to a foreign land or a nearby city to do VBS thinking we have done our "missional deed" for the year), and we do those blasted boat drills in our nightly formal attire--never really believing this ship could actually sink (we talk about Heaven and Kingdom while our hearts are dressed and thinking toward more satisfying events here on earth).

What if in the middle of that cruise, the ship's captain came on the speaker and announced that this ship was now going to become a battle ship? How would you feel if you were on your cruise? Put out? Incensed? Angry? Would you demand your money back? Would you say, "That's not the purpose of this ship"?

Isn't that sort of what we're dealing with as we are thinking through these missional convictions? It's more than a sermon series. We are going to have to do some serious "redecorating" and probably change our itinerary. It seems ludicrous for a luxury ship full of people dressed in formals to be a battle ship. Doesn't it?

Perhaps the starting place is at the core of who we are as the church. Perhaps the Queen Elizabeth 2 will never become a battle ship. Perhaps it's ridiculous to even try.

Perhaps there are those in formals who have "grubbies" ready just in case. Perhaps the rich, fattening food isn't tasting so good after all and there are those who would be ready for a change. I don't know. But as new churches start, isn't it important to take care of some of these things on the front end instead of trying to convict a room full of "cruisers" that it's time to serve others or lay down our lives for the sake of the Kingdom?


Greg Kendall-Ball said...

Excellent imagery, BST!

Personally, I have been struggling with our cruise-ship mentality for a long time. Even the Battleship metaphor causes me some consternation.

I remember playing Battleship as a kid...the big 5-peg Aircraft carrier, the submarine, the little tiny whatever (with just 2 pegs!). I have seen pictures and documentaries about today's modern warships, with some, like the USS Enterprise being basically a floating city.

My problem with church-ships like this is their size...could you imagine trying to park the Enterprise in some tiny little stream in the Amazon basin? What if a huge, huge wave (I'm thinking giant tsunami sized) was threatening to flip our ship...would we be agile enough to change course, to get in a a better position to roll with the wave, or to attack it head on?

I think church should be more like the oft-mentioned Swift boats of Vietnam...light, nimble, responsive, well suited to its environment, etc.

Man, I could play with this image all day...maybe I will!

Rick J said...

I love this imagery too... actually, as an old English major, I love imagery period.

Sometimes how the ship functions depends as much on the need as the design. History tells us that boats of all kinds and sizes have been used to evacuate troops or civilians in times of crsis... people joining in to willingly roll up their sleeves and contribute because they saw a need and felt that tug on the heart.

My guess is those passengers who took that plane down in that Pennsylvania field on 9/11 had forgotten all about their original reasons for being on that plane for what they perceived as a greater need in a cirsis.

Cruise ship... battleship... swift boat... or bass boat... my guess is that God can use them all if we just remember we're in a war instead of on vacation.

Keith Brenton said...

Actually RMS Queen Elizabeth (the original one) was pressed into wartime service as a troop ship ... but not in mid-voyage!

Your analogy is keen. The idea of painting her grey while half-way across the ocean is a difficult sell to those aboard our fellowship!

Dwiggy444 said...

As usual, great stuff Brandon.

I struggle with "Life on a Boat" a LOT - do I try to steer the boat in a new direction, or try to change the boat itself? Do I continue bailing water out of the sinking ship or just jump ship? Hmm. Here's another way to look at this...

Maybe instead of trying to change the whole boat (by changing course and/or refitting a cruise ship for battle), maybe we need to retrain the crew and passengers on the boat to do different jobs. Maybe instead of focusing on the whole boat (our individual churches or the larger Church), we should focus on our smaller boats, in whatever forms those might be (small groups, friendhips, ministry teams, etc). I know that I am only one man and I can't convince the Church to do a 180, but I can start talking to my friends and family and my ministry partners and share my ideas with them. I know that I can't transform a cruise ship into a battle cruiser, but I can teach the crew how to fight and prepare them for battle. And maybe, just maybe, the passengers on the boat will notice the change in the crew and take up arms too. :-)

Lord, teach me to see the people in the boat (and the people who are floating in the water all around) and not get focus only on the boat. Help me to see the little things I can do for your Kingdom and appreciate the power of The First Step. Most of all, help me to keep my hands of the rudder and Trust you to steer.

Terry Finley said...

I invite you to visit my blog and to study the Bible with me.

Terry Finley

Brandon Scott said...

thank you. I've read and heard some things about your website. I don't think we'd see eye to eye at all. That's ok by me, but I'm wondering if it's ok by you. I appreciate the spirit in which you offered though.

discipler said...

Love your heart Brandon.

I have been struggling for 20 years with the ships God has assgned me to and their purposes. I struggled with what they were doing, and not doing, to me and to others. I even began to think that,since most of the passengers and crews of these ships often disagreed with me, I must have some kind of conflict with God.

Well, praise God, God patiently taught me that He and I have a great love. A love and deep relationship that no man has the power to put into bondage. And, no ship has the ability to put man-made doctrinal or program or ministy system anchors on my joy, peace and hope in Jesus Christ to weigh them down.

God and I are doing great. He is my Lord and I am his servant. I know that He treasures me and holds me in the palm of His hand. Satan no longer has me in chains by me waiting on a ship and its crew to verify this truth. I am serving God on a ship faithfully because that is what he asks of me. If that ship and its leadership becomes missional in my life time, praise God! What a joy that will be to watch. But, I am missional. I am serving God with all that He created me to be. I am His living Glory. And, I am sharing that with everyone on my boat, with everyone I meet in harbor, when I lie down and when I wake up. God's navy/family is growing independant of any cruise lines. I praise him because He turned me around in mid-stream, He protects me from the forces that seek to destroy me and He has let me partner with Him in turning others around. What an abundant life it is!

David U said...

Brandon, thanks for challenging us!
I think this blogging community is great for a LOT of reasons, but one of the most significant is the way we cause each other to search and seek. I know I need it, and from the looks of things, a lot of other people need it too!

Your post was a blessing to all of us! DU

Anonymous said...

Brandon, I appreciate your talent a little more every time I play "We Entrone You" and now I find out you are a deep thinker, not just a pretty voice. Wow!

This cruise ship analogy reminded me of an old issue of Wineskins. Vol two, Number three had a cruise ship on the cover. I thought the Afterglow by Phillip Morrison in that issue was simply too appropriate not to share:

Theodore Wedel, of the Washington Cathedral in our nation's capitol, used to tell an intriguing and disturbing modern parable about a lifesaving station.

Located on a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks occurred frequently, the station was housed in a crude hut and served by a handful of dedicated volunteers. With little thought for their own safety, these workeers went out day and night, rescuing so many of the lost that their little station became famous.

Many people wanted to be associated with the now-famous and successful lifesaving station. As the number of volunteers grew, new boats were bought, new crews were trained, volunteers became members, and a new building was constructed. New furniture replaced the worn cots and shabby chairs, and the station became a popular and comfortable gathering place. Though lifesaving was still the stated purpose of the organization, and the lifesaving motif was prominent int he decor, the members became less personally involved. Rationalizing that, after all, they were just inadequate volunteers, they hired some professional lifesaving crews to do their work.

When a large ship wrecked just off the coast, the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, dirty, half-drowned people. Some were sick from the arduous journey, and some had yellow and some brown skin. The beautiful new club was mudcaked and wet, and who knew what disease germs had been left by the shipwreck victims.

At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. A minority of the members insited that the primary purpose of the group was lifesaving. But they were voted down and told they could begin their own lifesaving station just down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occured inn the old. "History continued to repeat itself, and today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people down!"

will never get done by people who keep searching for easy formulas and sure-fire methods. And it certainly won't be done by people who try to hire spiritual mercenaries to take their place.

The demon-possessed man healed by Jesus understandably wanted to follow his Savior. But Jesus told him, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you" (Mark 5:18-20).

None of us will ever improve on that divine plan for the who, the how, and the why of evangelism. W

Anne-Geri' said...

"God Himself could not sink this ship." (one of the stupidest things in human history to come out of one's mouth)

Ya know, the Titanic sank because they didn't see how big the iceberg was underneath the ocean and didn't turn far enough away from it.

I just wonder how many icebergs lay ahead for me when I build ships with my own blueprints.

Jon Eppley said...


Thanks so much for your words of encouragement! I have found it difficult lately that within my ship we sometimes face the same problem from the opposite angle. I worship and work with a team on a battleship. We are at war! We are not only safeguarding the coastline and the open waters, but digging trenches strategically throughout the enemy's camp and shining the Light into the darkness.

"So what's the probem?" one may ask. "Many church families shudder at the thought of being in a battlefield. Too involved." The problem lies within our deep understandings of our purpose as a team running the ship, whatever that may be. On our ship, we are so used to warfare, that we are tempted to not go to the buffet line from time to time because we think that would be a waste of time. We have a hard time just being still in the presence of the Lord, most likely because we are so used to the perception that it is US who are creating the action.

We have to be filled up by the Lord and let Him take us on scenic vacations to the Paradise that is filled with His peace and love and one day excursions in the Spirit.

All that to say this, whether we are on a cruiseliner with a really cool, hip entertainer with great frosted blonde hair or on a battleship that is shrouded in the fog of war, we must have balance. We must never reach a point where WE are steering the ship, cleaning it, feeding the guests or even dealing with the random turists that have had to much Jamaican rum by our own strength or will.

It is God who steers. God who feeds. God who convicts and corrects. We are simply His sailing vessels set out by the Creator who in Gen. 1 "hovered over the waters." We are to allow Him to be our rudder that propels us in the direction of our next destination and our wind that fills our sails. My paraphrase of John 3:8 is this: If your cookie cutter life and/or church family and direction makes complete sense and is predictable and that is the way you like it, there is a chance that you or your church family is not being led by the Spirit of our Consuming, Fearless Director.

So happy cruising.

God Bless You!

Brandon Scott said...

Oh yeah, baby! Good stuff, Jon. Man, that is so right!! Why are we such extremists? We have to have that balance of service and feeding--even Jesus needed retreat time.

As for the frosted hair comment...I'll get you later for that one! :)

Greg Newton said...

I understand the imperfections of metaphors and thatthe cruise ship and battleship image isn't supposed to be all-encompassing. However, given the climate in our world today, I think Christians ought to be very careful with militaristic images for being the followers of Jesus. Perhaps cruise ship/hospital ship would be a better analogy and emphasize that we are called to serve the hurting rather than destroy the enemy.

Brandon Scott said...

What a GREAT point! Yes! Or at least something that speaks to community instead of the beat you over the head thing. Great point.

tlhanger said...

We have been trying to find "Duo Amor". A married couple that sang on The Norway in 97. He played the piano and she the violin. Thought we'd try you after reading your blog. We played their tape at our wedding.