I’ll never forget August 3, 1995. The family and I were in Destin, Florida with good friends.
We vacationed here regularly during the child-rearing years. We did the same thing every summer. We had our place to stay, our spot on the beach, and our list of restaurants we loved.
The image has never left me—the water was literally “rocking” in the commode! I was searching for a “safe” place for us in the condominium.
Hurricane Erin was making landfall on the Florida panhandle. For most of that week, we followed its route from its origin in the Atlantic Ocean across the Florida peninsula, projecting along with the “experts” the path it would take. All along, convincing ourselves that this year would be like every year. We could expect our experiences in the past would prove to be so again.
The weather channels predicted a Texas coast event. However, all residents and tourists were encouraged by local authorities to evacuate. Despite the warning of Southeastern Conference basketball expert, Joe Dean, the night before at a local restaurant, we still decided to stay put and do nothing.
At 2 a.m., Erin turned due north, straight toward Fort Walton Beach, leaving us just to the east of landfall at 8:30 a.m., August 3.
We were scared, all day long. Hurricanes come early and stay late. They aren’t like tornadoes. Suffice it to say, though shaken, we were not hurt. A section of the roof from our condo struck our van. Thankfully, it was still drivable and we made it home.
I will never make that mistake again.
Today’s church finds itself in a similar position. Warning signs are all around us. The winds of change are literally “rocking” the things with which we are most familiar. We can no longer ignore or simply talk about it any longer.
Statistically, the signals could not be clearer. Sunday morning church attendance is in decline. Denominational structures are weakening. The church’s influence in society is waning. At best, there’s growing ambivalence about our place in the larger community.
What are we to do? The church can be encouraged today by this familiar story, particularly the courage of Peter. The text reads:
So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink. . . Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. (Matthew 14:22ff)
It takes courage to break out of whatever ruts we might find ourselves in. Just like Peter, if the church is going to change we must take decisive, sometimes uncertain, steps out of the boat onto the water and forward into the unknown.
At the Center for Healthy Churches we’re committed to a process that meets every church where they are. We believe every church has within all that is needed to face the stiff challenges of an unknown future.
We believe every church has—
the courage to become,
the courage to remember the stories that shape them,
the courage to see the present needs around them, and
the courage to dream of a God-sized future.
It begins with and is sustained by a period of spiritual discernment— a practice of concerted and consistent prayer for God’s will and not our own. It continues with people growing in faith, striving to be all God has called them to be. It’s about being committed to Jesus even in the teeth of the storm. It’s about joining together in collaborative focus on the best of who they are. It’s about bringing core positives to bear on the current needs of the community around them. It’s about making authentic connection with any and all outside the “boat.”
No one is saying that this is simple work. No one is saying that we might not “sink” like Peter. But fortunately, we too have Jesus’ redeeming presence and support, His hand reaching out to us, if we sometimes fail or lose our way.