Carnival Cruise Lines offers cruises to nowhere out of Norfolk, Virginia. You pay for a ticket, pack your bags, board a boat, and cruise to nowhere. You live on a boat for a few days—a boat that is going nowhere. In fact, here is a screen shot of the publicized itinerary for an upcoming cruise. Notice the lack of ports on the map:
My friend and colleague Todd Adkins says that many churches are like cruises to nowhere. A group of people get together and there is nowhere in particular that they are going. Of course, there is great value in the community, as God uses community to mature His people, but in many churches there seems to be no plan to actually go anywhere together. Here are three ways some churches are like a cruise to nowhere:
There is no vision for the journey
Our sanctification, our becoming more and more like Christ, is a lifelong journey. We will not arrive at our destination of fully formed Christlikeness in this lifetime. But a journey does not need to be unintentional and haphazard. We should be moving toward maturity, moving toward Christlikeness.
A church should paint a picture of what discipleship looks like. She should give people a view of the journey of becoming more and more like Christ. Instead of leading a church to wander aimlessly in a plethora of directions, wise church leaders define and describe a journey of discipleship for the people they serve.
There is no path or plan
In many churches there is absolutely no plan undergirding all the messages about discipleship, about becoming more like Christ. In every research study I have been a part of (from my first with Simple Church to my latest with Transformational Groups), the vast majority of church leaders do not have a plan to disciple people over time. They do not see how to nor do they strategically position all the programs they offer as steps in a pathway toward maturity.
Unlike a cruise to nowhere, a traditional cruise provides a plan and path for the people onboard. The ports along the way serve as markers along the journey. A local church must do more than define discipleship with broad, visionary language. She must also provide steps or opportunities for people to move toward Christlikeness.
The church (cruise) exists for the church (cruise)
On a cruise to nowhere, the cruise exists for the cruise—not for the ports along the way, not for the sites one will see, not to transport people from one excursion to another. You board the boat just to be on the boat. In the same way, churches without a vision or a plan for discipleship are likely to be the same churches that exist simply to exist. The lack of strategic thinking around discipleship and leadership development also manifests itself in a lack of thinking about mission, about serving those outside the church.
Instead of existing just to get more people on the boat so that more will be on the boat, a wise church leader realizes that the church also exists to serve those outside of her. As William Temple articulated, “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.”
I am sure that cruises to nowhere are fun, but a church should actually be taking people somewhere—taking people toward maturity in Christ. Don’t settle for leading a church to nowhere.