We often have the idea that the church is like the Love Boat. We sit and eat, sit and eat, sit and eat, and Kathie Lee will sing "If they could see me now..." If this is our idea of church we will become spiritual fatsos and fall off the boat. Church is a life boat, not a Love Boat. We're the rescue crew searching for those without Christ. We retire to the love boat and forget the life boat.
Too often we emphasize the retirement plan that, by the way, is out of this world and forget about the business plan. God has made the church the local outlet for saving mankind. We are to be about the Father's business.
What is the Father's business? Remember two words — empower and empire. If we are not careful, we build an empire. "This is my church. Don't mess with my empire." God tells us to empower as many as we can to be in the life saving business. As a pastor of small churches throughout his life, my dad had members who built empires. For example, there was a church treasurer. At first, he was excited about ministry and the life boat. After several years though, the money became his money, not God's money. He watched over his money and said, "You can't spend on ministry, you have to spend it on...."
We need to empower people to make God's plan work. I had the idea to start Saturday night services at our church. The staff loved it — they had to, they were on staff. The first year wasn't too successful. In fact, it bombed. I realized we needed to empower others to make it work. We invited a group of people to my home where we fed them, fattened them up, and made them happy. They thought they were on the Love Boat — sit and eat, sit and eat, sit and eat. Then I asked them to do something for me. I asked them to switch to Saturday night worship and Connection classes. I wanted them on my team. Once we had a group of people committed, Saturday night attendance steadily increased. They were empowered for success.
God has entwined the spiritual and the physical. As an infant, we have to be fed by others. When we grow we learn to feed ourselves and, as adults, we have children and feed them. That occurs in the spiritual life as well. First you are fed, then you feed yourself, and eventually you feed others. I have noticed that when you only feed yourself, there is a negative side effect. Not only do you become fatter but you also start to complain about the food. I'm sure you have heard comments like "not enough meat" and so on. And, of course, the blinding flash of the obvious is that if you have too many fat people on the boat it will sink.
What is the key? Remember the word "empire." The Empire State Building is an impressive structure built layer upon layer. It is a great building, but there is a limit to the number of layers we can build. However, when we empower people to build in other places, we quickly see the difference between a building and a city. The difference between addition and multiplication is also the difference between empower and empire. For our churches, it is the difference between having a building and touching a city.
So, Pastor, it's simple. Just tell the people to do what they learned as a child. "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," but do it gently if you expect to move down the stream. I think you will discover a life boat is the best kind of love boat. The food is better because of the specialty bread — the Bread of Life.
P.S. I used the word "fat" as a spiritual term not as a physical term. But if the term offends, you may replace it with "nutritionally enhanced."
Charles Lowery is founder and president of LIFE, Inc. and is in a full time speaking ministry. You may contact LIFE, Inc. at 505-798-0800 or www.charleslowery.com.