And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Several years ago, I was blessed to go on a 4-day cruise with my family. There was no particular program or schedule on the ship. Passengers could eat whenever they wanted, use the pool at all hours, it was buffet style meals, so we could eat all we wanted, since that had been included in our ticket. The only things on the schedule were docking at ports of call and movies and shows on the ship. What a great concept—pay your fee, enjoy yourself as much as you can, no responsibilities whatsoever. Wake up and sleep as you will.
A military battleship is the exact opposite of the cruise ship. On the battleship, the objective is not relaxation but a life and death mission. Everyone on the crew has a job, everyone must work together, and their ability to do so is not only crucial to a successful mission, it is fundamental for their very survival.
The church in many instances resembles a cruise ship. The priest becomes something akin to the cruise director with those who help becoming activity coordinators. Much of the work falls under the job description of the paid staff or core volunteers, so there is no responsibility other than church attendance (and for many occasional at that) borne by the members.
A healthy parish needs to resemble a battleship. Because the mission of the Church is life and death. When members of the community work together, the message of salvation spreads and leads those who are within the community and those outside of it to eternal life. When members of the church community do not work together, when the community resembles a cruise ship rather than a battleship, not only is the work of the church in jeopardy, but so is the salvation of the members of the church who do not spread the good news, and the people outside the church who don’t hear the message.
People on a cruise ship are relaxed, tanned and well-fed. Soldiers on a battleship are sleep-deprived, grungy and edgy. No one would consider time on a battleship to be a vacation.
The life of a church is also not meant to be a vacation. It’s life or death combat with the evil one. The life of a Christian is also not meant to be a vacation. It is a life or death battle for eternal life or eternal condemnation.
In the words of Fr. Aris Metrakos, “There are few things as satisfying as being part of a focused, disciplined, hard-working team that knows its mission, understands and fulfills its responsibilities, is well-trained, and strives constantly to improve its knowledge and skills.”
People on a cruise ship are consumers. They consume the food, drink, sun and fun provided by the cruise line. Sailors on the battleship are producers. They work together to protect and defend freedom. There is no one who is along for the ride. Everyone has a job and everyone’s job affects the success or failure of the mission.
If a Christian is to live out his or her role as an apostle, one who helps spread the message of salvation, he or she must identify more with a sailor on a battleship than a tourist on a cruise ship. If a church is to fulfill its mission to baptize all nations and to seek and to save the lost, then it must resemble a battleship, not a cruise ship.
When a soldier completes basic training, they are given a commission, a specific job in the military—whether it is on a ship, on a plane, on a base, on the ground; whether it is as a fighter pilot or an aircraft mechanic. Everyone gets a commission, and every job must be done well for the military to succeed.
When each person is baptized into the body of Christ, they also receive a “commission.” It is called “The Great Commission.” This commission was first given to the Apostles by Jesus Christ. And this commission is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19-20) This is not a great idea or a great suggestion. It is a great commission. And it is commission given to every Christian and every church. We are soldiers in the army of God. We are sailors on a battleship. We are to be producers of disciples. The mission is a matter of life and death for all of us.
Lord, thank You for dying on the cross for me. Thank You for opening for me a path to Paradise. Help me to remember that I am a soldier in Your army, that my role is to spread Your saving message to all people, both by my words and actions. Help me to recognize that this is an awesome responsibility, but that You have given me gifts and tools that I can use to be successful in fulfilling it. Take away from me any tendency to be lazy or complacent when it comes to my spirituality. Help me to have a sense of purpose and urgency in all that I am doing. Protect me in the “fight” and lead me to salvation. Help me by Your grace to lead others to You as well. Amen.
The church is a battleship, not a cruise ship. Its members are sailors, not vacationers. Our primary role is to be producers, not consumers. The objective is eternal life for all. The battle is real.
**Much of this reflection was adapted from an article entitled “Is Your Parish a Cruise Ship or a Battleship?” by Fr. Aris P. Metrakos, written in 2006.