“Turning the Tanker”

Church Membership Donald A.G. Burling Fellowship Isleworth Congregational Church Outreach

by Donald A.G. Burling

My title is borrowed from Phil Andrews’ article in last month’s newsletter. I have never taken the helm of a big ship, but I have had command of a small motor cruiser on the Thames, and even on that there was an appreciable delay between turning the wheel and any change of course. The greatest danger was of turning it too far, or for too long, and being unable to stop the turn when it began.

It is as well that you, some of you at least, are aware of your problem. Not that it is peculiar to you. All over our land there are churches struggling with declining numbers and buildings that are too expensive to maintain.

Does this matter? If people no longer want churches why not let them close? Yet if what we believe is true, we are still surrounded by people who will at some time have to stand before God the Judge of all. We have the message of salvation; should we not at least be concerned to keep open places where people can go to get help?

Seventy years ago churchgoing was expected as a sign of respectability; now it is almost a sign of eccentricity. Only God can bring about moral and spiritual revival, but there are things we can do; we can pray, and we can do our best to show a good example to others.

But first we need to ask ourselves – do we really want revival?

Many years ago, another person and I used to spend our Saturday mornings giving out tracts and preaching with a sketchboard in front of the Ivybridge shopping parade. The result? I do not know.

It is said that wealthy old-time travellers on their way to India who wanted a cabin on the cooler side of the ship had their luggage marked “POSH” – Port Outward, Starboard Home. Clearly such people would not want to have the ship turned round. Revival can be disturbing; we may prefer to have things ticking over as they have been. But if that means not only churches closing down but people ending up in hell who might have been saved, we will have all eternity to regret it.

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