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May 27, 2001
by Tony Grant
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of John chapter 17 and follow along as I read verses 20-26. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches." (RV2:29).
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Voyager of the Seas
The Voyager of the Seas is the biggest cruise ship in existence --25 percent bigger than any other cruise ship plying the seas today. She is almost three and a half football fields long and stands fifteen decks high. She weighs in at 137,276 gross tons, has room aboard for 3,843 guests and seats 1,890 persons for dinner. She sports an ice-skating rink, an in-line skating track, a rock-climbing wall, a lengthy promenade, a five- story theater, a $12 million art budget and a crew of 1,181. She cost $700 million to build.
So why build the biggest luxury cruise ship in history? Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean, the ship's owner, wanted to expand market share, that is why. He and his company did not just want to cut into some other cruise line's business. They wanted to build a ship to attract "non-cruise people"---folks who would never in their lives consider taking a cruise.
Fain knows that only 11 percent of Americans have ever taken a cruise, and that of those, 94 percent say that a cruise vacation is as good as, or better than, a vacation on land. Think about that--a ninety-four percent approval rating. Chocolate does not get that kind of approval.
But that rating is only by the 11 percent who have been on a cruise. The question is: how can cruise companies attract the other 89 percent who have never climbed aboard? That is the nagging question that Fain believes he has answered. Royal Caribbean commissioned a survey of 1,000 Americans about their vacation preferences.
They found that people want options. Americans want a vacation that gives them latitude. They want beaches and museums; they want gourmet cuisine on Sunday and pizza on Monday; and they want to hike in the afternoon and to gamble in the evening. Royal Caribbean decided to give people what they want.
This brings us to a major point. If you want to expand your market share, whether you are a cruise ship company or a church, you must know what people want, and you must have the ability, the drive, the vision, and the money to give it to them.
We are not in the cruise business. We are a church of Jesus Christ. But a valid question to ask is: Why are we here? Any business has to constantly ask itself what are we doing and why are we doing it. The church is not a business, but still those are valid questions. Why are we here?
A Church That Does Not Look Like a Church
In today's text, the church's reason for being is linked to glorifying God by expressing our fundamental unity with and love for one another. God has designed the Voyager Church to be a vessel of love that puts God on display for all the world to see.
But the question is how? How do we display God and Christ to the world? In a business sense, that is what Royal Caribbean wanted to know. When RC peered hard at the market, they realized that people would take a cruise if they could live as though they were not on a cruise.
People want to take walks in the park, so RC gave them a park. But they want to stroll on the beach at sunset, too. So RC gave that to them. They want to choose between a number of fancy restaurants for dinner, just as though they were downtown. So RC coughed up fancy restaurants.
Lesson? A church does not need to look like a church to be a church. I have been I York for 20 years. From time to time I have heard people outside our church say your church does not look like a church. Several people have told me that they thought this building was the town librarywhich indicates that they do not go to the library either. Actually I have always thought that was a kind of a compliment, because I like libraries, but still it amazes me how many people in York SC do not know that there is a church of Jesus Christ on the corner of Congress and Madison streets. We have something of an identity problem. That is a problem we need to work on.
But we should keep the problem in perspective. Plenty of churches do not look like churches. Think of all the store-front churches in our cities and towns. It is amazing how many churches there are in the United States. Some of them have interesting names. I heard about a church called the Potluck Assembly. I guess they specialize in potluck suppers. Another church is called the Little Bit O'Bible Church. They think that most churches have too much Bible. The Theology-Free Church. A lot of people might agree that the church spends too much time arguing about theology. How about Seldom United Church? As you might imagine there is a story behind that name. A family named Seldom gave the land on which a church was built that united several small congregations. Thus, they wanted to call it United and they wanted to honor the family that gave the land, but they did not think how it might sound when they put the two names together. My wife and I were driving down 321 toward Chester the other day when we noticed a church named "Mount Do Well Baptist Church." That is an interesting name. I do not like it, but then they did not ask me.
The church in America has many aspects. We think of suburban mega-churches, churches that look like corporate campuses complete with reflecting ponds and workout gyms. There are churches in shopping malls. At one time we even had an ARP church that met in Knights stadium over in Fort Mill. So the church is trying to meet people where they are and is trying to give them what they want.
What Does the Community Think?
Let us talk about RC again. RC did not discover what people want by accident. They did their homework. Lesson? Do not assume that you know what your community is all about. Have we brought people into the church to evaluate the ministry of this church? Have we sent teams into the community to poll the unchurched as to why they do not go to church? No, we have not. It is an unfortunate truth that we do not know what our community is thinking--because we have not taken the time, the effort, and the money to ask the 5000 people of York SC what they think
In v17 of chapter 17, Jesus prayed that his disciples might be sanctified in the truth as they went into the world. Yet, the Voyager Church so often seems unwilling to sail out of harbor into worldly seas. As a result, many churches are rusting in harbor - if not sinking altogether. They are leaky, creaky old vessels that look more like Noah's Ark than the Voyager of the Seas.
Changing Cultural Conditions
Another lesson? The Voyager Church must adapt to changing cultural conditions.
True story. The Queen Mary now sits at a dock in Long Beach, California, and enjoys life after sailing on the high seas as an exclusive restaurant attraction. The Queen Mary has a fabled history. The ship was built in Scotland and launched in 1934. After Her Majesty Queen Mary presented her personal standard, it embarked on its maiden voyage on May 27, 1936. It took only a record five days to reach New York. The QM has four propellers weighing 35 tons each, a 140-ton rudder and weighs 81,234 tons. In its glory days, it carried 1,957 passengers serviced by a crew of 1,174.
During World War II, however, the QM underwent a transformation. The ship became the "Grey Ghost" when it was camouflage-painted and its portholes blacked out. Because its four, 40,000 hp turbine steam engines could outrun German U-boats, it became a military transport. During the war, it traveled more than 600,000 miles and carried over 800,000 troops. One historic journey to New York in May of 1943 included passenger Winston Churchill and 5,000 German prisoners of war.
Today it is no longer possible for the QM to function as either a luxury liner or transport carrier, and so she survives as a floating restaurant attracting thousands of tourists every year and exposing them to her past, present and future glory. She is no museum; she earns her way in yet another adaptation.
The church is in danger of becoming a museum to the glory of a bygone era. Sometimes folks seem more interested in talking about past glories than in about our glorious future, and our glorious present. The church today can have that same glory of God of which Jesus speaks in v22 saying, "The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one."
In the gospel of John, "oneness" is a central symbol. Jesus and the Father are one, and Jesus desires all who come to faith to be one. There is to be one flock and one shepherd. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus wore a seamless robe (19:23-24). In chapter 21, during a miraculous catch of fish, John makes specific mention that the net is not torn. The fish are people coming into the church. The net is the church. The untorn net and the seamless robe show the wholeness, the oneness, of the church with God.. When Jesus prays that the disciples will be one, he asks that they may all live in God, as Jesus lives in God.
While "oneness" is to be desired, it is contrasted with unbelief and/or distance from God. Unbelief is the state of being lost or scattered or separated from God.
The oneness of those who believe in Jesus has two important features. First, they believe in Jesus. That is, they have a full appreciation of who Jesus isthat he is One with the Father, that he is God incarnate. Secondly, those who have faith are commissioned to witness to other people. The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus. The Holy Spirit does this through believers.
Let us conclude then by relating this back to our cruise ship. The church is not our ship. The owner and designer of the ship is God. The captain is Jesus Christ. And we are the mates on deck. We don't need a newer and bigger ship. What we need is a crew whose hands and hearts are ready to turn, or return, to God, and to make this congregation a shining light for the glory of God in York SC. Amen.
Source: Fishman, Charles. "Fantastic voyage." Fast Company, March 2000, 170ff.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 07/18/01