Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“A Crude Lifesaving Station” (a modern day parable of and for the church)

The most popular post of this blog is the directory of Baptist churches, missions and ministries in the Philippines. There are some 3,000 churches and missions all over the Philippines, and every Sunday there are probably dozens of churches celebrating their anniversaries.

Aivasovsky Ivan Constantinovich storm on sea 1899 I would like to share with you a classic modern day parable written way back in 1953 by Thedore Wedel. As you read this selection, the meaning and significance to the goal, purpose, function of churches and the danger of a church losing its focus become very clear. I first read Chuck Swindoll’s version of Wedel’s parable in his book “Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life” many years ago. Posted below are Wedel’s original version and an adaptation by Pastor Dave Miller of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, USA.

“A Crude Lifesaving Station” by Theodore Wedel

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and their money and their effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Now some of the members of the lifesaving station became unhappy, in time, however, because the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable, suitable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. And so they replaced the emergency cots with beds, and they put better furniture in the now enlarged building, so that now the lifesaving station actually became a popular gathering place for its members. They took great care in decorating it beautifully and furnishing it exquisitely, for they found new uses for it in the context of a sort of club. But fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, and so they hired lifesaving crews to do this work on their behalf, and in their stead. Now, don’t misunderstand, the lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decoration and symbols — there was a liturgical lifeboat (symbolic rather than fully functional) in the room where the club initiations were held, for example — so the changes did not necessarily mean that the original purposes were totally lost.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold and wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty people and they were sick people, some of them with black skin, some with yellow skin. The beautiful new club, as you might imagine, was thrown into chaos, so that the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where these recent victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside the main clubhouse.

At the very next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities for being so unpleasant, as well as for being a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose, pointing out that, indeed, they were still called a lifesaving station. But these few were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. And so, they did just that.

Now as the years passed, the new station down the coast came to experience the very same changes that had occurred in the older, initial station. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station had to be founded to restore the original purpose.

Well, history continued to repeat itself, so that if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a great number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!”

A Crude Lifesaving Station (adaptation by Ptr. David Miller)

Along a dangerous seacoast, shipwrecks often occurred. Grieved by the tragedies, a small group of people gathered together to establish a lifesaving station. They built a little hut, bought one small boat, and set out to save lives. They kept a constant watch over their coastline, and went out selflessly, day and night, to rescue those in need. This little lifesaving station became famous because they saved so many lives. Those whose lives were saved joined in the work, and folks came from all around the area to be a part of this noble project. They donated their money joyfully, gave of their time and effort willingly, and grew dramatically. They were able to purchase new boats and train new crews, so more people were saved than ever before.

Over time, though, some of the members of the lifesaving station became concerned that the hut was so crude and the equipment was so basic. They believed that a larger, better-equipped station would help them to accomplish their work more effectively. They built a large new station, replaced the emergency cots with comfortable beds, and filled their new station with functional furniture. In fact, the lifesaving station was now so nice and so comfortable that it became a popular gathering place for the members. They decorated and furnished the station exquisitely. They met and discussed the importance of lifesaving; they developed programs to teach their children about lifesaving. And they grieved together at how many ships were running aground.

But the members found that the maintenance and upkeep of the lifesaving station left them too busy and tired to go out on the boats. So, they hired crews to man the boats. Because the members still cared deeply about lifesaving, they held classes on lifesaving, sang songs about life saving, and gave demonstrations. All of the decorations in the station supported the lifesaving theme. They even had a large lifeboat at the front of the station as a constant reminder. Comfortable in their modern lifesaving station, and encouraged by the results of the professional lifesaving teams, the people felt good about themselves and more people continued to become a part of their lifesaving club. Every now and again a dispute would arise about which brand of boats was better for lifesaving, or about certain techniques and methods for the crews, but the lifesaving club continued to promote the concept of lifesaving.

Then, one day, a crisis came. A large ship foundered off the coast, and the hired crews made an heroic rescue. They brought boatloads of cold, wet, dirty, half-drowned folks into the lifesaving station. As you can imagine, the beautiful new lifesaving station was thrown into chaos. The rescued people made an absolute mess of the place. They dripped mud and water everywhere, soiled the sheets of the beds, and left the place smelling like dead fish. There were children who did not behave well and a few young people who did not show proper respect for the beautiful lifesaving club. Most of those rescued were foreigners, not of the same social standing as those in the lifesaving club. A few members were offended and vowed never to return.

So, the life-saving club did the only thing it could. They set up a shower-house outside the station. They mandated that rescued people must wash up and put on clean, proper clothes before they were allowed to enter the clubhouse. At the next club meeting, a sharp division occurred. Some members felt as if the lifesaving should be stopped, as it was so unsavory, disruptive to the club, and destructive to the station. Some of the original members and a few that had been rescued in the early days argued that they could not abandon their lifesaving purpose. Eventually, the majority won out and the lifesaving operations were suspended for the good of the club.

A few folks still believed in lifesaving, so they went down the beach and established a new lifesaving station. They did not have the money for a fancy clubhouse, so they erected a tiny, crude lifesaving station with one old boat. But many lives were saved. Soon, people began to join with them, excited about saving lives. They trained volunteer crews to save lives off the coast. The task quickly grew beyond their ability, and they hired the crews from the old lifesaving station and put them back to work. Some of the members began to wonder why the old lifesaving club had such nice accommodations, while theirs were so sparse. So, they erected a new lifesaving station. Eventually, like the first, they suspended lifesaving operations for the good of the club. A small group split from them and started a new lifesaving station, small and humble, farther down the beach.

Over and over again, the process repeated itself. Today, if you go to that place, you will find the coastline populated with large, ornate, beautiful lifesaving stations.

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