My boat was sinking!
I was eight miles away from the marina, and I was taking on water fast. I was all alone, anchored down, and the boat was filling up with water. To make matters worse the closest shore was an alligator-infested, stump-filled swamp. Just as I thought it couldn’t possibly get more challenging, the battery alarm started beeping. That signal meant that the battery compartment was being flooded, and if allowed to fill, I would have no chance of starting the engine. What in the world was I going to do?
Some of you have heard me use the analogy of a hole being in the ship called The United Methodist Church. For years the UM church has been taking on water. We have been losing members, closing churches, failing to recruit enough pastors to replace those that are retiring, borrowing from our “rainy day” financial reserves, and experiencing fewer and older folks engaged in our weak, weekly worship services (if yours is vibrant, I apologize. Most are not!).
United Methodism is taking on water and some folks are content to rearrange the deck chairs or place the primary focus on our ongoing family feud over issues of human sexuality. All the while the boat is sinking, and we are in danger. What in the world are we going to do?
For 40 years I have served in this wonderful denomination. I have not given up hope, and I will not give up hope even as the water rises. The God I serve works best in low to no light conditions. I believe God will make a way, and The United Methodist Church will survive. We may take on a very different appearance, but I believe we will continue.
So, how do we get out of the current mess that we are in? I’m not just talking theory here. I’ve been on a sinking boat and survived. Here are a few critical keys:
1. Don’t panic! Because Jesus is in the boat there is no need to panic.
2. Make sure you have your life vest on and that it is secure. I made a deal with my wife to ALWAYS wear my life jacket out on the open water. I hope each person involved in the UM church is secure with the assurance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
3. Turn on the bilge pump. Hopefully your boat has one. A bilge pump is designed to sit in the lowest part of the boat and is there to pump out water. Spiritually, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our aid in all things spiritual. Some churches and some Christians try to function without the help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s job is to prevent us from being overcome.
4. Get the anchors up. You cannot move if you are saddled and strapped to one location. You will never get your boat out of trouble dragging anchors while trying to move forward.
5. Start the engine before its too late to start the engine. Fortunately, I had an advance warning system and paid attention to it so that I was able to get the boat started. Some churches ignore the signs and warning signals that God sends because they are secure in their anchors.
6. Speed it up. Centrifugal force needs speed in order to work. Typically, churches like to go slow and take lots of time. Most churches are not accustomed to moving fast. If your boat is filling up with water, the best remedy is speed. Speed will force the water out of the back end.
7. Keep going and don’t get sidetracked or tricked into thinking that all is well just because you are moving. There is still a hole in the boat, and it will require attention.
8. Pray, pray and pray some more. My goal is to be the most prayed for Bishop in The United Methodist Church. Being continually covered in prayer is essential.
9. Thank God for mercy, grace, and love. God does not have to deliver and bless us, but for some reason God does. Thanks be to God!
After a few minor repairs my boat is back on the water, and I’m ready to do some catching. I believe that The United Methodist Church is going to be okay. We need the Holy Spirit to patch us up and repair the damages so that we might be about the mission Christ has given us of catching souls.
Have a blessed holiday season and please remember to keep Christ at the center. As long as Christ is in the boat with us everything will be alright.