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Are You Rowing or Sailing?

Posted: 2/7/20 at 3:50pm. Column by Ed Jordan.

I am reading a wonderful book by Joan S. Gray, entitled Sailboat Church. I believe it is going to be a spiritual blessing to Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, as in a few weeks we begin to read through the book as a congregation, using it as a guide to help us rethink our church’s priorities and methods.

God has used this book to excite me about the future possibilities of our church. Last week I carried the book with me to read while waiting for the start of a meeting.

As I read, an older gentleman next to me began to laugh quietly. Then he said: “That’s an interesting question on the back of that book.” The question was: “Is Your Church a Rowboat Church or a Sailboat Church?” 

This started a conversation about the status of our churches. A large percentage of churches in America are struggling, as younger generations grow up without having experienced the value of regular worship in church with other believers. They know little about God, Jesus, or spiritual living. But that is a story for another column.

“Is Your Church a Rowboat Church or a Sailboat Church?”

Many churches in America which were birthed in the 20th century relied primarily on the human effort of members to accomplish the church’s objectives. Churches became well-oiled organizations and were really good at mobilizing people to make positive impacts upon society.

Most people don’t realize that many of the building-block values in our culture came about by God working through Christians and churches. The earliest colleges were formed to educate clergy. Many of the earliest hospitals flowed from the compassion of Christians who wanted to eliminate suffering and promote health.

Today we value both higher education and health care, without realizing that churches were the source of such blessings.

Today, the work force of many churches is declining, while the work needing to be accomplished is increasing. Joan Gray notes that today many of the churches in America operate like rowboats, powered by human volunteers working hard to accomplish good things for God.

This has served the church and society very well for many decades. People have followed God’s mission, powering it with sheer human energy, ingenuity, and hard work.

But now, after years of rowing, some are just no longer capable of rowing very far, nor very hard.

Does this mean that the church will be no more? No way!

The church will survive until the end of the world and indeed beyond this world’s end. Today’s church needs to commit itself to rely on the power of God’s Spirit to empower its people rather than relying on human strength.

The church needs to get the course and destination of any particular journey from God, then hoist the sails, catch the wind, and adjust the sails for God to power it toward its destination.

This does not mean that the sailors do nothing. To the contrary, they must learn the art of sailing. Proper sailing is hard work, but God provides the wind and has the power to move our sailboat across the water. Our task is to keep our sails aligned to catch the wind of God’s Spirit.

What is true for churches is also true for individuals. Living out our faith is a spiritual matter, not merely a question of physical stamina. In John 15:5 (CSB), Jesus told his followers: I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.”

As a church, if Jesus is not filling us and empowering us, we can do nothing of any eternal consequence. As individual believers who make up the church, we must remain in Jesus and remain filled with Jesus to produce much fruit.

Not one of us can accomplish anything of spiritual, eternal significance without the power of Jesus flowing in and through us.

So many Christians are not letting Jesus fill their spiritual sails to move them—and empower them—in effective service.

How about your spiritual life? Does fruitfulness in and through your life depend upon you and how hard you row?

Or are you fruitful because you are daily opening up your life and agenda to God’s Spirit and allowing him to fill you, move you, and work through you to reveal God to others?

Are you personally a rowboat or a sailboat?  

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.