Images of the Church – Lifeboat Station Parable

At our Palm Sunday service, Ken Howcroft told a modern parable about a lifeboat station in relation to our view of the church. His thoughts are reproduced here.

Images of the church

We are engaged in a process of “Finding Our Way Forward”. What is God prompting, encouraging and calling us to be and do as Solihull Methodist Church?

As you think and pray about this (and fill in your questionnaires!) a lot will depend on what images or models you have of what it is to be a church. The following list of images or models might help you. Some you might want to say “Yes, it should be that” and others “No, it shouldn’t be that”. Moreover, it is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Nor are the snapshots in it mutually exclusive. A particular church may be a mixture of several of them, or of others that occur to you which are not listed here.

If we think about what we are and do at Solihull Methodist Church, and what God might be prompting us to be and do, what do these or other images help us to see?

  1. The Church is a Herald: proclaiming good news and bearing witness to God’s love.
  2. The Church is a Servant: helping individuals and communities to flourish.
  3. The Church is a Club or an Extended Family: it is a place where people can “Feel at Home”.
  4. The Church is a Sheepfold: a safe place where people can be gathered together, but from which they can go out browse or graze in the world – and from which, if they get threatened or lost, a shepherd can go out to rescue and assist them.
  5. The Church is a Service Station: a place into which people pop on their journey when they need fuel, or food or rest, or the opportunity to relieve themselves!
  6. The Church is a Supermarket: a place with all sorts of goods and brands on the shelves, with all sorts of special offers to draw people in and encourage them to consume more of the things of faith, or God’s love and grace.
  7. Lifeboat StationThe Church is a Lifeboat Station: a place and people dedicated to saving people from danger (that is the positive side to this image, but see also the modern parable that follows)
  8. The Church is an Outpost for prayer and worship, and an Outlet for God’s grace and love in our particular community
  9. The Church is “… a community of openly broken people, open to be raised to life”.
    None of us are perfect. Nor are we ‘better’ than others. We each have our weaknesses, frailties, vulnerabilities and sorrows as well as our joys, successes and strengths.
  10. The Church is a Sacramental Sign: an outward and visible sign and embodiment of the inward, invisible reality of the love between you, me, others and God.
  11. The Church is a community of followers of Jesus: a discipleship movement of people who are being shaped for worship and mission.

Or do you have other images of your own?

A modern parable of the church

This is found in various versions in many sources but its origins cannot be traced.

On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occurred, there was once a crude little lifeboat station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and, with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost.

Some of those who had been saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time, money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifeboat station grew.

Then some members of the lifeboat station became unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge for those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency hammocks with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

Now the lifeboat station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going out on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. However, lifesaving pictures and mementos still decorated the club’s walls and there was a lifeboat model in the room where official meetings were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and came from all sorts of races, countries and religions. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where shipwreck victims could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members said they wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal life of the club. Against them, some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifeboat station. But they were finally outvoted, and told that, if they wanted to save the lives of all the various types of people who might be shipwrecked, they could begin their own lifeboat station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the story repeated itself again and again. If you go there today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the coastline. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters; but most of the people drown.

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