Sailing Into The Future was the theme chosen for the 136th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, to reflect the Cape Breton heritage where it was held. The nautical theme was maintained and referred to in the daily worship times and by numerous report-givers. The theme hymn for the assembly was Will Your Anchor Hold? I couldn’t help tying the theme and the hymn together and it gave the strange image of a ship sailing out of the harbour while dragging the anchor. The picture gets worse for not only is the ship slowed by the dragging anchor but the ship actually begins to go in circles as the anchor line tied to the rock holds the ship from moving out of the harbour.
I don’t want to speak negatively about assembly. In truth, it was a profitable time of fellowship and a joy to meet old friends and new and to discover some interesting and faithful ministries that are being carried on across the country. I have been attending every assembly for the last 15 years as part of my work with Renewal Fellowship but the same question strikes me year after year: If assembly never met would it make any significant difference to Canada and the world we live in? That strange image that came to mind of ships and anchors may be an expression of the situation we find ourselves in as a church.
In this image, importantly, the line is not attached to the Rock of Jesus, but to the rock of tradition (the way we’ve always done things). We spend much of our time going in circles, and much of our effort in trimming sails and fine tuning engines or swabbing the deck, but the ship just keeps going around and around and we don’t sound the alarm. It seems we don’t even mind too much because we have never actually decided where it is we want to go. As someone put it, if you don’t know where it is you want to go then it doesn’t really matter which route you take to get there. In our case it doesn’t much matter if we keep doing the same things year after year. We keep getting the same results — declining membership and declining financial support. There may be leaks in the boat but they don’t threaten to actually sink the ship, for a while.
The new image we need is one where Christ is the compass — directing where we should go — and the Spirit is the wind that takes us where God has told us to go. But to live in that image means we need to give more passionate attention to where the compass (Jesus) is pointing us. We will need to be moved by the wind of the Spirit and we will need to listen intently to where the ship owner (God) has told us to go.
We need two things to overcome our deadly apathy: The first is to put greater effort into discerning where the ship owner is sending us. Can you imagine spending the bulk of our time at assembly praying, listening to scripture and in the most profound earnestness seeking the Lord’s orders? I don’t mean the orders about maintaining the ship but the orders to go places and do things like we’ve never imagined before. The second is to have such a passion for the cause that we train and prepare our young people so they can participate with full excitement that this life and death issue requires. There is no program or quick fix that is going to change things around for us. Our only hope is to heed the call, to seek renewal, and to commit ourselves totally to seeking first the kingdom of God believing as we sail on that “God has not promised us a quiet journey but a safe arrival in Jesus Christ.”