Lifeboat Station or Exclusive Club? Discuss.

During my 25 years of church ministry, one story has come to my attention again and again since I first used it as a sermon illustration in the early 90’s. You have probably heard it before, but I use it here as the basis of my February piece, in the hope that this will be the springboard for discussions at our Leadership Away Day and the Church Members’ Meeting on Thursday 5th February. I welcome your responses, with the hope and prayer that we will be like the people of Isaachar (mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:32) who ‘understood the times and knew what Israel [Cambray] should do’.

‘On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occurred, there was once a crude little lifeboat station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and, with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly looking out for lost people.

Some of those who had been saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time, money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. With commitment and energy the little lifeboat station grew.

Some members of the lifeboat station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency hammocks with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifeboat station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated and furnished it beautifully, and started using it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going out on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. Lifesaving pictures and mementos decorated the club’s walls where official meetings were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, with different personalities and temperaments and from other cultural backgrounds. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where shipwreck victims could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, the club membership was divided. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a ‘Lifeboat Station’! However, they were finally outvoted, and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all types of people who might be shipwrecked, they could begin their own lifeboat station somewhere else, further down the coast. This they did.

As the years went by, similar changes took place in the new station as well. It also evolved into a club, and consequently another lifeboat station was founded elsewhere. History continued to repeat itself and on that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the coastline. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people are never reached and saved.’

I realise that is not a Bible parable, but it has Bible challenges and warnings contained within its storyline. The New Testament depiction of early Church life is all about mission to rescue the lost, the 1/100, the poor and broken who are drowning in sin and death. I encourage you to read the letters to 7 churches in Revelation 2&3, with a question in mind – what does Jesus think about our church life? What please Jesus and would he criticise? And, in particular, what about our own personal involvement and motivations?

We have much to encourage us at Cambray, but I believe, like any local church, we are always in danger of settling in to a ‘club’ mentality where we want everyone to fit the membership profile (which ironically will tend to be our own theological and personality set of preferences!).

My perspective, for what it’s worth, is that some of our relationships, systems and organisational life are straining, due to competing agendas that are more to do with cultural shifts and unmet personal expectations than to do with the Kingdom of God. With full reliance and openness on the leading of God’s Spirit, let’s discuss and pray about such things over coming weeks and aim to ‘hear what the Spirit is saying to the church’ at Cambray.

Personally, I remain gripped by the challenge of CT Studd’s life motto:

‘Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.’

Yours warmly, by God’s grace,

Tim Welch