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by Rev. Father Aris Metrakos
Pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco, California
Some leaders of our parish spent a couple of hours with professional church consultant Rev. Dr. Roy King. Roy (as he likes to be called) put parish-based ministry into crystal clear focus. He told us that 85% of all churches are cruise ships that need to become battleships.

Cruise ships and battleships. What could be more simple and clear?

Think about what happens on a cruise ship. We don’t do any work. Someone takes care of every need. Every event (except for lifeboat training) is optional. We have no responsibilities and no accountability.

Isn’t this the way most people approach Church? Developing and executing services and programs is someone else’s job. We go to services once or twice a year and still call ourselves “members.” All work falls under the job description of the paid staff or core volunteers so we have no responsibilities.

Even our duty to support the Church is mitigated through “stewardship,” which often means: “So what if I pledge $52 per year, that’s between me and the Almighty!”

Then there’s the battleship. The warship has a life or death mission. Every member of the crew has a job that must be executed at the top of his ability. Everyone must work together because they depend on one another for the success of the mission and mutual survival.

A healthy parish must see itself as a battleship. The mission of the Church is life and death. We are called to bring the Gospel to the world and to provide for those in need. No other vocation is as critical or crucial. Each member of the “crew” has a divine calling to define and fill his particular niche in the life of the parish. And when members do not work together, they jeopardize both the work of the Church and their salvation.

Anyone who has spent time aboard a cruise ship and battleship knows that the way of life onboard the two vessels are polar opposites. Cruise ship passengers are relaxed, tanned, and well-fed. Battleship sailors are sleep deprived, grungy, and edgy. No one in his right mind would vacation on a battleship.

But the life of the Church isn’t a vacation. It’s life and death combat with the evil one. And just like the cruise ship passenger that can’t fit into his wardrobe after three nights and four days of stuffing his face, “members” of cruise ship churches are unfit for spiritual warfare. Perhaps this is why so many parishes are afloat but bloated.

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.

God is calling us to find our place among the crew of a spiritual battleship.