parable of the lifesaving station

I don’t remember where or when I first heard this parable, but it always comes to mind on days like today. Some days, I feel like the church I serve is making great strides toward becoming more effective in carrying out our unique mission in reaching this world for Christ. Then there are days (like today) when I hear about people who would rather continue the status quo, or back track to what is comfortable and familiar. Frankly, it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart for the world around us that is paying the price for the church’s indifference–addictions, crumbling families, hopelessness… and it breaks my heart for the Christians who equate their faithful attendance to Sunday School, morning worship, evening worship and midweek prayer meeting, but in reality, are having little if any impact for the Kingdom of God. They have bought into the lie of the evil one and unless they wake up, they will miss their opportunity to make a difference in this life and have little to show for it in eternity.

The Parable of the Lifesaving Station was originally written by an Episcopal priest named Theodore Wedel in 1953. Let his words remind you of the purpose churches exist. Then ask yourself, “Which group of people do my actions place me in?” As for me and my family, God helping us, we’ll be the ones fighting for the church’s original mission–even if it means relocating like those in the parable!

A Crude Lifesaving Station by Theodore Wedel

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude lifesaving 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 searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and their money and their effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Now some of the members of the lifesaving station became unhappy, in time, however, because the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable, suitable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. And so they replaced the emergency cots with beds, and they put better furniture in the now enlarged building, so that now the lifesaving station actually became a popular gathering place for its members. They took great care in decorating it beautifully and furnishing it exquisitely, for they found new uses for it in the context of a sort of club. But fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, and so they hired lifesaving crews to do this work on their behalf, and in their stead. Now, don’t misunderstand, the lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decoration and symbols — there was a liturgical lifeboat (symbolic rather than fully functional) in the room where the club initiations were held, for example — so the changes did not necessarily mean that the original purposes were totally lost.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold and wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty people and they were sick people, some of them with black skin, some with yellow skin. The beautiful new club, as you might imagine, was thrown into chaos, so that the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where these recent victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside the main clubhouse.

At the very next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities for being so unpleasant, as well as for being a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose, pointing out that, indeed, they were still called a lifesaving station. But these few were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. And so, they did just that.

Now as the years passed, the new station down the coast came to experience the very same changes that had occurred in the older, initial station. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station had to be founded to restore the original purpose.

Well, history continued to repeat itself, so that if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a great number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!

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exponential church conference recap

It has been awhile since I posted an update on what has been happening–primarily because so much has been happening that I’d be on the computer blogging all the time!

This past Thursday, Tim and I returned from the Exponential Church Planting Conference held at First Baptist Orlando. I can honestly say that it wasn’t what I had expected–it was far better! Keep in mind that I attended this conference last year with Dogwood Church. We were exploring the multi-site strategy that churches like Community Christian in Naperville, IL, had pioneered. God had been stirring some things in my heart and this conference really got the ball rolling. Alan Hirsch, Ed Stetzer and Tim Keller all had incredible things to say about the status of the Church in North America and what needed to change. It resonated deeply with me.

Just one year later, I attended the same conference having already planted a church–browns mill church in Newnan, GA. Not only that, but we were staying with the authors of The Tangible Kingdom (a book I highly recommend). Each night, we stayed up past midnight discussing the status of all things missional and how their organization Missio could keep up with the demand they are experiencing for the training and materials they have to offer. In fact, at the conference, several networks, denominations and megachurch pastors sought an audience with Hugh & Matt (the TK authors) to learn more about moving toward being missional.

Hugh & Matt quickly came to the realization that they were not going to be able to keep up with the demand on their own, so they have recruited several guys (Tim & I included) to serve on the national leadership team of Missio. We will be coaching church planters through the MCAP (missional church apprenticeship practicum), and providing general leadership to various aspects of Missio at both the national and regional levels. It is so exciting to be on the ground floor of where God is moving!

Back to the conference… We got to hear some of the speakers (Francis Chan, Erwin McManus, Bob Roberts), but the majority of the time, we were working the Missio booth in the resource area. I spoke to so many people whose journey is so similar to my own–God had begun to stir a holy discontent within them about the status of the church in North America and they were studying the Scriptures and found that the “missional” movement seems to line up more with God’s original intent for His Church than the “attractional” methods used today in most churches. It really has been an exciting ride so far! It is amazing to see God lining everything up. We see Him working all around us in such amazing ways. Interestingly, the one last piece that needs to be lined up is our funding. However, we believe the promise in Matthew 6:33 and are seeking His Kingdom first and trusting that He will add to it everything else!

Now, regardless of what you think of Dr. Falwell, whether or not you hold to his same beliefs or agree with everything he said, you cannot disagree that this man made a tremendous impact with his one lifetime. He impacted my life in so many ways: 1) It was at Liberty where my faith became my own and not just something I “inherited” from my upbringing. 2) Liberty is where I was exposed to and eventually called to full-time ministry. 3) I many life-long ministry friends at Liberty 4) I had an incredible time serving on ministry teams–YouthQuest and Sounds of Liberty–and traveled all across the country and even to Brazil with these teams. 5) I had the opportunity to get to know the Falwell family on a more personal level than most students as a member of the Sounds of Liberty. 6) I met my wife at Liberty. I could go on!

After news reached me of his death, I began to reflect on the impact he had with his one lifetime and I clearly remember asking God, “Am I where You want me to be to make the most of my one lifetime?” It didn’t take long for God to clearly impress upon me that, no, I wasn’t currently in the ministry position that would have the maximum impact for God’s Kingdom. However, He didn’t reveal what that next assignment was going to be for 18 months! It was a very difficult, soul-searching 18 months, needless to say! I wish I could say that I handled that time period with great faith and without sinful attitudes, but that would not be true.

Fast forward to today… I have no doubt that I am doing exactly what God wants me to do. I see him working all around me in ways I’ve never experienced in almost 14 years of ministry. He has softened my heart and given me a passion for those who don’t yet know Jesus and are all around me. He has led us to help plant a church that is attempting to go against the consumeristic Christianity that is so prevalent in our American culture. He has given me an “apostolic” type role (a leader of leaders and trainer of trainers) through our involvement in Missio. I can see how He has lined everything up… well, almost everything. After serving as a worship pastor for over 14 years, I can’t go back to that profession, at least not the way it has become defined in the typical American Church. To spend 40-50 hours a week producing a weekend worship service that gets consumed by an audience but has little if any life changing affect on them is not how God would have me spend my one lifetime. He has called me “to live like Jesus and to lead others to do the same” (browns mill church mission statement). The problem is that that is the only way I know how to make my living and my resume has 14 years of church music on it. So, the one last thing that I’m praying, waiting, seeking and begging God for is how He is going to meet our daily bread needs? I have a career–my career is that of executive pastor of browns mill church and to train other church planters and coach them in planting missional communities across the country. These two things are not able to pay an income at this time.

I can identify with Abram and many other Biblical heros who followed God’s call into the unknown. It is scary, risky and frustrating, yet surprisingly fun, exciting and adventurous! There’s no other way to live! I told God that if I were writing this part of His Story, I would bring the funding in so that I could devote all of my time and energy on browns mill church and training church planters through Missio. However, God rarely operates in the logical (at least human logic). His ways are higher than our ways. Please join me in praying that God would either provide a job for me (soon!) or bring funding in for browns mill church and/or Missio that would allow us to put all our time and energy into these two promising ministries. Thanks for reading!