Tugboats, Tankers, Cruiseliners and Lifeboats.

Remember Phil Wall?  I do.  Used to lead the ‘mission team’ in the UK, also CSM at Raynes Park Corps.   His influence was massive on me in my earlier Army days, particularly through the early Roots conferences at Southport.  Literally changed my life and the flavour of my Jesus following.  He got us all fired up for the gospel and a radical brand of Salvationism which was much rarer in the UK then than even it is now.

I remember one particular year….might be Roots, maybe somewhere else…..around the late mid-late 90s where he painted the picture of The Salvation Army as being a massive oil tanker forging its way through the ocean.  These things, once they are moving, take an absolute age to stop….ie around 25 – 30 miles before they come to a halt.  And then the effort comes to get them to go a different way.

Phil said ‘Who will be tugboats for Jesus….pulling The Salvation Army back into alignment with where God would take it?’  Tugboats for Jesus.  We all stood-up/kneeled/prayed/worshipped/surrendered/sang our commitment to be tugboats for Jesus.  I went back to my corps and started tugging….so they cut the ropes, to one extent or another.

OK, I thought.  If I can’t tug it, I’ll try to get onboard and steer at least one part of it.  So, they let me train to be an officer.  I did some decent tugging and steering at college and after commissioning, I steered some mini-tankers.  Well, we turned a few degrees in some places, more in others, less in some.   Soon enough, we ended up with a scene from ‘Guys and Dolls’:  “SIDDOWN…..YOU’RE ROCKING THE BOAT!”  …and the people all said siddown….siddown you’re rocking the boat.

Booth’s Vision of the drowning multitude

There are days when I’d wonder if the boat was worth it.   There have been days of late when I just got off the boat altogether and joined the crew of a cruiseliner instead!  The cruiseliner is lovely.  The captain is steering, everyone is having a great time.  But then, every now and then, I stand and look out into the sea and there is a different thing going on out there.  Vast swathes of people drowning in sin and circumstance.

The cruiseliner begins to lose its appeal.  The tugboats seem distracted, the oil tanker just doesn’t seem interested and is sometime powerless to do anything….its course seems so predetermined.

So, a different boat is needed.  The lifeboat, neglecting the need to be any of the other kinds of boats, doesn’t concern itself with the same stuff the others do.  Its much more content to be at sea whenever there are those in need.  Its often under funded, unseen, with a much smaller crew than the other boats, but the biggest difference is that it saves lives.

My theory is this:  if we man the lifeboats, we will save enough people to build more lifeboat crews.   Soon enough there will be more people manning the lifeboats than manning the other ships and the seas will be fully manned.

I want to be a lifeboat captain.  I’d advocate that Jesus manned a lifeboat crew. They missioned, rescued, saved, healed, but when they weren’t ‘at sea’ they ate, built community, were trained up, slept and prayed. He only went near the cruiseship (temple) to remind them that there was a mission to be done out at sea (see Luke 4 for example)

To change the metaphor:  “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”  CT Studd.

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