I’ve never been on a cruise. I imagine tropical cruises to consist of sunburned tourists bumbling around a tricked-out floating resort, stuffing themselves with shrimp cocktails and overpriced margaritas. I picture the patrons being orbited by solar systems of nameless, overworked crew members. Every facet of the journey, from the token stops at “authentic” local markets to the five-piece band playing ceaselessly in the dining room, is arranged to cater to the patrons’ every whim.
Now, I know not all cruises are like this. But the thought of twenty-four-hour decadence leaves me cold.
My pastor’s recent analogy keeps cycling through my mind. Look at the average American church and the average American churchgoer. Everything from the classes to the sermons to the building is designed to please the consumer. We come to church expecting to be fed—physically with coffee and cookies, spiritually with a rousing sermon. We come expecting to be entertained by talented musicians and a skillful preacher. We come expecting to meet and greet, to shake hands, to exchange pleasantries, to leave when we’re ready to go.
When did the average American church become a cruise ship?
What if, my pastor’s analogy continued, the church is meant to be a battleship? Church needn’t be a stripped-down, colorless affair where everyone wears matching uniforms as we march into war. But a battleship has no room for passivity. Everyone plays a role. While battleship passengers must still be fed and nurtured, the emphasis isn’t on catering to them. The battleship is on a mission; the people on the ship exist to further that mission.
And our mission is to breathe blessing into this screwy world. Our mission is to be so full of Jesus that we can’t hold him back. Our mission is to cannonball our joy into every heart we encounter. We’re a battleship of smiling faces, genuine tears, open hearts. We’re battling against darkness on the side of light.
Now, I’m not saying that churches can’t have coffee bars. I won’t claim that sitting in comfy pews is somehow unchristian, or that expecting to be moved by Sunday’s sermon is wrong.
But what’s our priority? Do we come to church to eat—or to feed? Do we complain if the music isn’t just right—or do we worship our little hearts out anyway? Do we shop around for the church that feels most comfortable to us—or do we find a church where we feel challenged and useful?
As Pope Francis recently stated, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.”
Battles are risky; we can’t expect to escape unscathed. But don’t we owe it to our Savior to try?
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.