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Sailboat Church

The first Christians experienced the Spirit of God moving them along as the wind moves a sailboat. From the beginning the church was intended to be a God-powered movement. On Pentecost, the believers found what they had been missing, the gift of spiritual resources to participate with Jesus in his transformation of the world. As they felt the wind of the Spirit begin to blow around them that day, they raised their sails, and began the process of learning how to become sailors....

We can sail like they did or we can choose to keep rowing. What makes the difference between rowboat church and sailboat church?

The bedrock reality of life in the rowboat church is that God has given a basic agenda (for example, to make the world a better place, save souls, help the poor, and spread Christian truth) and then left it up to them to get on with it. The dominant attitude in this congregation is either "We can do this." or "We can't do this." The church focuses on circumstances like the money it has or can raise, the available volunteers, the charisma and skill of the leaders, and the demographics of its community. The rowboat congregation acts as if its progress depends on its own strength, wisdom and resources. It's all about how hard and long people are willing to row.

In contrast, the dominant attitude in a sailboat church is, "God can do more than we can ask or imagine" (Eph 3:20). Its members know that what they have or lack in human and material resources is not the decisive factor in what they can accomplish as a church. They look on church as a continuing adventure with a God who guides and empowers them to do more than they could ever have dreamed...

In many ways, sailing is just as much work as rowing. The difference is that rowers are confined to the power they can generate themselves; sailors learn to let the boundless power of the wind move them where they need to go. This process is about living in the creative tension between our weakness and God's power, between our poverty and the wealth of resources God provides to those who humbly seek to do God's will.

- Joan Gray, “Elders as Sailors in the Sailboat Church,” The Presbyterian Outlook, 9/3/2012. Excerpted from Sail Boat Church: A God-Powered Adventure, to be published by Geneva Press in the spring of 2014.


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