The main body of a church building, the part where the congregation normally sits is the nave. The term nave comes from the Latin word navis meaning ship, it is where we also get the name navy.
The reason the main body of the church is called the nave, is because the vaulting of a traditional church building often looks like the upturned hull of a ship.
It is also because in early Christian art, the church was often portrayed as a ship or boat. A ship is not designed to be a static object, that doesn’t go anywhere, but instead it is something that is designed to be dynamic, to travel across rivers, lakes and oceans.
This is why the image of a boat or ship, was a good image for the church. Because Jesus didn’t come to create an institution, which is often what we now think of when we talk about church, but a movement that would transform the world.
For the early Christians, who faced persecution, the image of the church as a boat was a compelling one. It was an image of the church tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution, that would finally reach a safe harbour with its cargo of human souls. They drew on the imagery of the ark saving Noah’s family during the flood, and Jesus protecting Peter’s boat and the apostles on the stormy Sea of Galilee. The image of the boat became a great symbol during times when Christians needed to disguise the cross, since the ships mast forms a cross in many of its depictions.
Thinking about the church as a boat, there are two images I want to explore with you today, which we could apply to the church today. The first is the image of the cruise ship, and secondly the image of the lifeboat.
When I worked for the Mission to Seafarers in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to visit many different cruise ships whilst they were in port – I suspect it is probably the nearest I’ll ever get to going on a cruise ship holiday!
On a cruise ship, the majority of people on board are passengers, who have paid good money to sit back and enjoy the cruise while they are waited upon hand and foot by the hard working crew. When you go on a cruise, you want to be able to relax and unwind and let others do all the work, whilst you enjoy the facilities the ship has to offer, the food and entertainment, the gym and spa facilities, whilst you watch the world slip slowly by.
Now whilst this is fine when going on a cruise holiday, it starts to become a problem when we start treating the church as if it were a cruise ship.
When we start asking questions such as:
- Do I like the music they play in the ballroom?
- Do I like the captain and his crew?
- Is the service good?
- Am I well fed?
- Are my needs met promptly?
- Is the cruise pleasant?
- Am I comfortable?
- Will I cruise with them again?
A better image of what the church should be like, would I suggest, be a lifeboat.
A lifeboat has a very clear mission and objective. It is there not primarily to serve the needs of the people in the boat, but to save lives. Everything on board a life boat is stripped back to the bare essentials, so that it can fulfil its purpose. On board a lifeboat every person has a job to do, and is equipped and trained to do this job. Everyone is expected to pull together. There is no room for idleness on the lifeboat, because it has a clear mission, which is to navigate lives stormy waters and rescue people.
Which of these two images, the cruise ship or the lifeboat, do you feel best represents St Martin’s?
The problem arises when we can treat the church as if it is a cruise ship, there to serve the needs of those who have paid to join the cruise. For example it is often said that in a typical church 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, and that if you want something done ask a busy person. The trouble is that this is both unhealthy and also unsustainable.
This was a problem the church in Acts faced. As the church grew, the demands on those in leadership also increased, until a dispute arose between the Greek speaking believers and the Hebrew speaking believers, because the Greek speaking believers said their widows were being overlooked in the daily food distribution. The disciples could have taken on this role themselves, but they realised that to do so, would mean that they would be distracted from their primary purpose of proclaiming the Gospel. So instead they called the church together to choose seven men, who were known to be full of the spirit and wisdom, to take on the responsibility of pastoral care within the church, so the disciples could continue to focus on prayer and ministry of the word.
Because they equipped and encouraged people to be involved in the ministry of the church, the church continued to grow at an astonishing rate.
I’ve talked about the image of the church as a boat, but another image used in the New Testament to describe the church is the body.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 writes: ‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. And so the body is not made up of one part but of many…. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’
We are each part of the body of Christ, the church, and therefore each have a part to play in the life of the church. It doesn’t matter how young or old we may be, whether we’re single or married, employed or unemployed, male or female, each of us has a part to play in the life of the church, and each of us is called to serve.
This is one of the themes picked up in our reading from Ephesians, where Paul talks about the role of prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to ‘equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.’ (Eph 4:12) One of the problems with the church today, is that we have clericalised the church, and expect a few professionally trained people to do everything. This is no longer sustainable, and is unhealthy. Everyone single person in the church is called to be equipped for works of service. Paul goes on talk about how the church, the body of Christ, grows and builds itself up in love, so that ‘each part does its work’.
So the question we need to be thinking and praying about is how does God want me to serve him in the church? As you do this, ask yourself, what are the things I am passionate about? What is God laying on my heart? Be open to what God might be calling you to.
In April we will be holding our Annual Church Meeting, and we are looking to fill some important roles in the life of the church. We are looking for a new Church Warden, people to serve on the Church Council and three new people to serve as Deanery Synod representatives. We are also looking for more people to be involved in helping to run our children’s Sunday groups, and help in our parent and toddler group. We also urgently need to find new leaders to help take on the running of our very successful Guides groups, and in a couple of months we will be starting a new calling out process to fill the various vacancies on the Ministry Team.
We also recently asked the congregation in a questionnaire if there were other ways you might be able to help with pastoral care, providing lifts to church or to appointments, visiting people at home or in hospital, taking communion to people in their homes, and so forth.
A few weeks ago in the church newsletter I told the story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.