Seeking to be a Sailboat Church (Part 1)

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Since our earliest days, we Christians have used a boat as a symbol for the church. In Sailboat Church (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2014), Joan Gray picks up on this symbol. She draws a distinction between two types of churches. (1) a sailboat church, and (2) a rowboat church. The Holy Spirit powers a sailboat church. Human desires, pushing the oars, powers a rowboat church. They go through the waves, battle currents, and fight the wind. What is your church?

Kilmarnock Baptist Church began 2017 with study groups. We, as a congregation, are seeking to be a sailboat church. That is, we envision a bright future, with the Holy Spirit driving everything we do. We are not looking at our past. We are looking at our present and dreaming the future. Starting in the first week of January, four groups began meeting weekly.

As they study Sailboat Church, they are beginning to draft a new vision. The groups use the book and the Bible for guidance. They imagine Kilmarnock Baptist as it could appear in the future. What could it look like 10 or 20 or 100 years from now? Each person listens. The Holy Spirit speaks and guides them. The new vision will be both inspirational and aspirational.

The study will last ten weeks, coinciding with the ten chapters of Sailboat Church. It concludes at the beginning of March. Each week, worship kicks off the study week and includes themes from the chapter for the week. On March 1, the church will begin 40 days of prayer, before finalizing a new vision statement.

Gray calls the first chapter, “Created to Sail.” She writes about early Christians as “God-powered, God-led, and God-resourced” (p. 1). As the church grew, it has always had an uneasy relationship with power and resources. This was especially true after Constantine converted. In other words, when the church has something to protect, it can be more self-powered, -led, and -resourced. The goal is to return to God.

Distinguishing between a sailboat church and a rowboat church can be difficult. Both can be successful and growing. They can be liberal or conservative. Rowboat churches are human organizations. When they are going well, it is easy to give God the credit, even if there were other reasons for the success or growth. Note well: God can work in all kinds of circumstances. Neither Gray nor we who seek to sail with the spirit think that God only works in sailboat churches.

Gray cites John 15:5. Jesus is speaking. He says, “Without me you can do nothing.” Without Christ, the church is lost. It wallows in the waves, dependent on itself. She writes, “Rowing means that we are in control” (p. 5). People like to be in control. Part of seeking God’s vision for the church means giving up control and recognizing the need for Christ.

Life together as a church is a journey. This, and the following entries, will explore this journey for Kilmarnock Baptist Church. So far, six week in, the journey is exciting and full of the Holy Spirit!

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