In Amy Sherman’s recent book, Kingdom Calling, she quotes Doug Spada of WorkLife, Inc. when he refers to the church as an aircraft carrier. An aircraft carrier, of course, is a warship designed to fuel, arm, and ready aircraft for battle.
According to Spada, too many churches consider themselves like cruise ships. People come onboard, are entertained, refreshed, and pampered before heading back to the real world. Too many churches have made their priority entertainment or even spiritual refreshment without ever suggesting to their constituents that the church is at war. The reality is that people do not simply return to the ‘real world’ but to a war zone. A spiritual battle is raging around us as the Kingdom of God fights to take territory from the Kingdom of Satan. Churches need to stop thinking of themselves as cruise ships and instead as aircraft carriers, where people come to be spiritually refueled, armed, equipped, and taught to do spiritual battle for the Kingdom of God during the week. People do not just come to church to be served, but to be prepared to serve. Spada’s analogy is an appropriate one and one which the church does well to remember.
Unfortunately, the church also often falls into the trap of striving to be a battleship rather than an aircraft carriers. The differences between a battleship and an aircraft carrier are fairly obvious. An aircraft carrier has very few offensive weapons; most of the weapons found on an aircraft are defensive weapons for defending the ship from attack. The ship’s mission is not to attack but to support the aircraft with weapons to do the attacking. A battleship, on the other hand, is comprised entirely of offensive guns. The mission of this type of ship is to do the attacking.
The question of what kind of ship the church is called to be is actually a question of mission. What is the church’s mission? Is the church to be on the offensive, attacking the forces of evil? Absolutely! But is the mission of the church to accomplish this task through its members or to through its own organization? If it is discovered that an unscrupulous, villainous individual is running for the school board, should the church as an institution choose their own candidate to promote and make it their mission to see to it that evil persons are not elected as school superintendents? If it comes to the church’s attention that a stretch of highway is notoriously littered, should the church leadership engage in a campaign to end liter, organize work details, and stamp out the trash problem? Or, should the church encourage its members to become politically involved and care for the environment? The difference between these two perspectives is the difference between a battleship and an aircraft carrier.
When Jesus prepared to head back to heaven in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, He told His disciples to “go make disciples” and to “be witnesses.” For nearly two thousand years the church has understood its primary mission to be proclamation of the Gospel, of the message that the Kingdom of God has come, we all stand condemned as rebels against that Kingdom, but in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can find forgiveness for our rebellion and instead become disciples and members of that Kingdom. As we are made disciples of the Kingdom of God, we naturally live out of faith socially, politically, environmentally, morally, athletically, ethically, and so on. We are called as members of the Kingdom of God to advance the Kingdom, but the Church is called primarily to proclamation of the Gospel.
When a church starts acting like a battleship, many problems occur. For one thing, many churches quickly slip into a social gospel, where the preaching and teaching becomes less focused on the gospel and more focused on whatever social issue the church is currently engaging. In addition, a battleship can only go in a limited number of places, whereas an aircraft can go just about anywhere. What good is to make the church’s primary goal the cleaning of a highway when some of the members live in a nursing home? Rather than being told how the Gospel, the message of the Kingdom of God impacts their lives, they sit on the side lines while the church tackles pollution. If, however, the church focused on applying the Gospel to the lives of its members, these members would then spread out around the community into places where the church as an institution could never go. By acting like an aircraft carrier, spiritually refueling and trainings its members with the truth of the Gospel, the church remains faithful to its calling of proclamation through teaching and preaching, making disciples, while those disciples then go to war spreading the Kingdom of God.
For my church in particular, this is not simply an academic issue. Directly across the street from our church is a Planned Parenthood Clinic, one of the few in the city where abortions are actually performed. Do we as a church engage this issue like a battleship? We are contemplating renting the billboard next door to the clinic to advertise a free local Christians women’s clinic, but we believe from scripture that our primary calling as a church is not to eliminate Planned Parenthood but to proclaim the Gospel. Through the Gospel, we as a church encourage people to engage their own community wherever they are located and in whatever positions God has placed them. For some of the businessmen that live in the neighborhood around our church, that does mean engaging Planned Parenthood. For the stay at home mom who lives half an hour away, being a disciple of the Kingdom of God looks completely different. We as the leadership of the church believe we are called to be an aircraft carrier, spiritually equipping disciples of the Kingdom to fight on the front lines.