Direction-Setting for a Church


Setting the Course for the Church

Destination? Direction? Decision!

On March 24th 1989, a super tanker holding 41,000 cubic metres of crude oil ran aground in Alaska. There was no storm and the visibility was good. The rock that it struck was a very well-known navigational hazard and here was even a special radar reflector on the rock. In short: the ship just wasn’t supposed to be there!

Instead of navigating the usual shipping lanes, it had gone off course to avoid some small icebergs that were in the area. The captain was asleep below, sleeping off some overindulgence. The third mate was on the bridge but failed to realize what was happening. There was a collision warning system installed but it had not worked for over a year.

The result? The second largest oil spill in history – with the oil still killing wildlife in those parts to this day!


The Exxon Valdez, spilling oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989

A ship without a clear direction and a good navigation system can easily end up on the rocks. Thankfully God has given every local church a very clear direction in the Bible, and the Bible tells us how to steer clear of the rocks!

Why so many shipwrecked churches?

Why then are there so many shipwrecked churches in our generation? Some, no doubt, are the product of unique circumstances… the perfect storm in church life… and all we can do is look on with horror and sympathy. Others however are testimony to the reality that the church leaders somehow failed terribly in their duties to navigate well charted waters. Why would those making critical decisions, choose to steer their ships towards recognised dangers?

The tragedy is, that sometime ago now, many church leaders decided that God had not managed to make himself very clear with reference to the course which a church should take! How you choose to ‘do’ church is now put into the category marked “grey areas” in many people’s minds, and the idea of defining a biblical framework for church has been written off by many as placing too many constraints on our freedom!

The end product of such thinking is that many a pastor wants to steer his local church along a path that seems best to him. He thinks he can handle his ship well enough on his own! The disaster that so often unfolds as the church spills its precious cargo is a clear warning to this generation that we can’t do without direction from God!

What a relief when you realize that you can know exactly what we are supposed to be doing at every point. To say that is not the same as saying God tells us every detail. There’s no verse that says, “You shall have a bible study every Wednesday night at 7:30pm.”

compassBut we do have some very clear principles that can guide every decision we make. Like a compass bearing for the crew, God’s Word gives us the direction – our job is simply to steer the ship along that path. We dare not deviate to the left or the right!

In the nautical world, a time-tested way of finding direction has often been to look at the stars. Even sea-lions pop their heads out of the water as they swim along at night to check on the position of the stars, taking them safely to their chosen destination. Polynesian mariners do the same thing, checking the position of the stars on the horizon so that they can navigate successfully.

Their key to succes? They’ve done their research! As well as knowing exactly where they want to go, they also know which stars they have to head towards at any time of the night to safely get them there. You can well imagine that like sea-lions, they keep checking on the position of those stars as they sail along. After all, their survival depends on it!

Two Stars to Steer By

Borrowing this analogy as a point of reference, God has given us two stars to steer by. One of them is His chosen purpose for the church – if we get his purpose for our existence clearly in our sights, we won’t go too far wrong! The other star is God’s chosen character for the church. If we only see the purpose but miss the right character, we could still end up on the rocks, but with both of these to set our course by, barring mutiny or the perfect storm… we should end up where we’re meant to be, and avoid the rocks!

We’ll be unpacking what these “stars to steer by” entail over the course of the series, and in keeping with the nautical theme, we’ll have a few things to say about the attitude of the crew members on this ship as well 🙂