It is amazing how rich this metaphor about sailing can be. There are many applications for different purposes. We can imagine how specific parts of the boat illustrate ministry tools, how sailing skills suggest certain spiritual practices, etc … This richness of possible interpretations, though stimulating, runs the risk of obscuring the primary value of the metaphor, which is to call our attention to a paradigm change.

Here is one way to summarize the core of the sailing metaphor:

1. God advances his kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit: the wind, in Jesus’ words to Nicodemus (Jn.3).

2. The Spirit, like the wind, is beyond our control; if we want to serve the kingdom well, we must depend on the Spirit’s leading as far as intensity, timing and direction of our service – we do not set the times and seasons or control the wind of the Spirit.

3. Spirit dependence as a way of life and service is in conflict with the Western entrepreneurial paradigm, which is predicated on our ability to control the forces that enable us to achieve our objectives.

4. To the degree that Western entrepreneurial thinking shapes how we seek to serve God’s kingdom, it undermines our very heart’s desire to serve Christ well. However sincere and well-meaning we are, we must work within a paradigm that resists the life of dependence on the Spirit’s guidance.

5. A change to sailing can free us from the pressure to control God’s work and put us in a place of surrender to his control.

6. I have used the metaphor of contrasting powerboat and sailboat simply to show how the pursuit of the same objective can have radically different characteristics when pursued from different paradigms.

7. In the classic sailboat, the motive power is outside the boat, and we need to develop skills related to understanding and working with the wind; in God’s work, as in sailing, the force that enables the church to serve Christ is beyond our control. The Spirit will empower our work, set timetables and direction. We need to learn to discern the Wind, and understand how to set our souls (sails) so as to catch the Wind.

8. The powerboat image, by contrast, with its motor and fuel tank, seeks to accumulate and store power within the boat so that the operator can determine when, how and where to go. The wind is not necessary.

Any other application of the metaphor may indeed offer helpful insights, but it needs to be used with care so that it does not distract us from considering the need for radical paradigm change.

[Note: at the top of this entry, just below the title, you will find some words in blue. Please click ‘leave a comment‘ to view and enter your own comments. I would love to know what you think.]