Last week our family took our first cruise. Merriem’s mom & dad loaded us up, tossed us on the fun ship of the seas, and forced us to eat food around the clock as their way of saying “Merry Christmas.”

(I think it worked.)

Spoiler: we had a great time. I loved eating, I loved sitting around and reading, I loved eating, I loved spending some rare quantity time with my kids, I loved eating.

But it took me approximately 2.1 hours after boarding the ship to start feeling rather icky. And not the “Hey there, that horizon – which was quite still a few hours ago – is definitely bobbing up and down like a two year old on a Skittles rush” kind of icky. No, I’m talking about the American consumer, everything-on-a-silver-platter, sit-at-the-pool-and-let-people-bring-me-refreshing-beverages kind of icky.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being pampered. I like ice in my tea, flavored creamer in my coffee, and bedsheets that smell like a field of flowers. But if you’ve been on a cruise, you know the culture is so you-centered that it’s almost overwhelming. “What can I get you, sir?” “Would you like another steak, sir?” “You’re looking far less green today, sir.”

And that you-centered culture begs the question: Are we creating the same environment in our churches? Are we inviting people to pull up a chair and let us pamper them until we hit the next port of call, where they’ll roll their full bellies off the ship in search of another entertainment venue?

As our pastor asked in a sermon a few years back, are we a cruise ship, or are we a battleship?

A cruise ship coddles and pampers. A battleship stands and delivers.

I think we’re both. I think we have to be both. I believe that we need to meet people right where they are: in need of being served, loved, cared for, needs anticipated, and voids filled. And of course those things have to stem out of an overflow of the generosity of the gospel and they must point people to Jesus. I see nothing unbiblical, wrong, or incongruous with loving people with lavish generosity when they first step onto the ship and treating them like the honored guests that they are.

But we must also move them from deck chairs to battle gear. We have to change them from consumers to ministers. We have to help them see that just as they have been served, so they must serve.

A church that maintains cruise ship culture from the first visit until the final day is an unhealthy church.

But a church that has a healthy balance between “come and see” and “go and tell,” between “let us serve you” and “let us help you serve others,” between “cruise ship” and “battleship,” …that’s a picture of health. Bring in the broken, the unconvinced, the skeptics, the scoffers. Love them well, serve them well, honor them well. But refuse to leave them there. Equip them to serve as they’ve been served, to love as they’ve been loved. That’s where people stop asking “What’s in it for me?” and start asking, “What’s in me that God can use for others?”

Also read: Creating Consumers (Part 2)