The Surfer, the Sea, and Missional Transformation in the Small Church Environment: Chapter Two

I posted this two years ago.  It might be helpful to folks who are trying to figure out this whole missional thing.  One of the most important things I’ve learned over the past twelve years is that nothing is an exact fit in any two faith communities except hope.  Hope fits everywhere.  So if there’s something here you can use, use it.  If not, our thoughts and prayers are with you in the journey.

Chapter II – Beach Parties

Man, I love a beach party as much as anyone else.  There’s nothing better than chilling with friends after a day of surfing.  Awesome stuff.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with roasting a pig and kicking back and sharing stories with fellow surfers.  The problem only arises when we want to wear the label of “surfer”, when we wear the right rash guard and carry a nice board, but we skip the surf and only go to the parties.  We might look like a surfer, but going to the parties and wearing the right stuff doesn’t make you a surfer.  It might even make you a Barnie. Surfers know the difference.  Usually, everybody can tell the difference, and we’re only really fooling ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong here.  Surfers LOVE to party! They even have their own brand of music, and it’s probably not what you think it might be.  Here’s the thing: surfers surf.  It’s definitional. And the party is a celebration of the fact they have seen the pure moment and lived to tell the tale.  It is the place where stories are shared, truths are debated, methods explored, and lessons are taught and learned.  And the party is the place where the dings and wounds from bad wipeouts are honored and healed.  The beach party isn’t the point – it isn’t what makes a surfer a surfer.  The beach party celebrates the week’s surfing; it doesn’t replace the week’s surfing.

Worship in the missional environment is not limited to what happens on Sunday morning.  Worship is the totality of the offering.  It is the totality of what is offered up with our lives throughout the week.  I don’t speak for all of the movement of Christ, but for me, Sunday morning is the Beach Party! It is the time to celebrate the experience of mission.  It is the gathering of people who spend the week in the mission to celebrate what we have seen and experienced, and to thank the author of that experience for the opportunity to participate in the mission and to have survived another week of it.  It is the chance to give God the glory for the waves of mission that God has set before us.  It is the chance to lick the wounds of too many wipe-outs to name, and to find the encouragement from other missional people to get back out there and try it again. Yes, we have our own brand of music, and it probably isn’t what most people think it is.  And yes, we love to party. But the party isn’t the point.  The mission is the point.  Following Christ every day is the point.  It is what makes a Christ-follower a Christ-follower.  It is definitional.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a very applicable adage in the world of surfing.  Play is necessary.  In an important way, the work is play.  It’s fun.  It’s dangerous fun, but it’s fun.  Surfing is physically and mentally demanding.  It makes you tired. Rest and relaxation are crucial to keeping an edge, and are crucial to keeping a balance.

Surfing isn’t just an activity.  It is a lifestyle.  There is a rhythm to it, a pace.

If all we do is surf and we never get out of the water to celebrate and to heal, then we burn out, lose the edge, and eventually quit because we just have nothing left to put into it.  Exactly the same thing can be said about the mission.  Yeah, it’s awesome and it’s fun.  But it also makes us tired.  Play is necessary.  It lets us recharge the batteries.  It allows us a moment to reflect and learn from our mistakes.  It lets us process what we did right and what we did wrong so that we get better and better every time we paddle out.  The beach party lets us sit down with fellow surfers and gurus and learn from them, and lets them learn from us.  Surfers are always both teachers and practitioners – gurus also surf, and also learn from others.  The same is true for Christ-followers.  Learning is almost always communal, or at least partly communal.  And all teachers are also learners and practitioners. Why take the scrapes when we can learn from someone who already has them and can tell us how to avoid getting them ourselves?

I’m not sure whether or not this point fits here, but I’m a little sketchy anyway, so I’m going to just put it here.  I don’t put on a suit and tie to go to a beach party after a day of surfing.  First of all, I spent all my money on a surfboard and gas to get to the beach, so I don’t have a bunch of money left to spend on a suit.  And the last thing I want to do when I go somewhere to unwind, to learn, to celebrate, and to heal is get all dressed up and have to worry about what I look like. I don’t even comb my hair.  I don’t do “hassle” on my downtime.  I either wear what I was wearing at the beach anyway, except maybe throw on a T-shirt and some flip-flops so I can get into a store or a restaurant, or I throw on some comfortable jeans and hoodie so I don’t freeze in the night air.

Worship in the missional environment shouldn’t require Christ-followers to put on a suit or dress, unless the Christ-follower feels called to do that for some reason that comes out of their own sense of self.  First of all, they’ve spent all their money on food for the food pantry or clothing for the homeless.  They don’t have a bunch of money to put into a suit or a dress that they wear for an hour and a half once a week.  T-shirts and flip-flops should be good enough.  If it’s good enough to get you into a store or a restaurant, then it should be good enough to get you into a worship service.  If you just got finished painting a house for a senior citizen, then you ought to be able to walk into church wearing the jeans and the Carhart that you wore in the mission.  Christ-followers don’t need any more “hassle” than the mission itself already puts in their path.  They’re tired and spiritually hungry, and the last thing they want or need is to do anything that makes them more tired or hungry.  If the party’s a hassle, then it’s not a party.  It’s a hassle.

Too Much Time Planning Means Too Little Time Surfing

I know that some people naturally have the gift of hospitality. Others have the gift and skills of organization, and they should be allowed to use them.  But planning a beach party can get out of hand if we try to control every element of it.  The best beach parties are throw-togethers where everybody brings something to pass around, and everybody contributes something.  Sometimes it comes together as though every detail was labored over, and sometimes it comes together as a hodge-podge. The partiers provide the music.  They either pull out their ipods and hook them up to speakers, or they play it themselves on whatever instruments are available – an old uke or garbage can lid will do just fine.  I have even heard Wagner and Bach off somebody’s then CD player at a huge party once, and it was amazing.  But everybody comes with an open mind, because surfers are naturally open-minded.  Surfing makes them that way.

If we tie everybody up making arrangements for every detail of the beach party, then nobody has time to surf.  It’s cool to do a big shin dig with a lot of organization every once in awhile, but surfers surf.  It’s definitional.  If surfers have all the time in the world on their hands, then they might have time to surf and plan the party.  But if a surfer has to surf or plan, the surfer will choose to use their time in the water.  It’s just the way it is…or more correctly, it’s just the way they are.

I think that the same things can be said about Sunday morning worship services that can be said about beach parties when it comes to tying up too much time with making arrangements.  Most working people only have about four hours per week to devote to the living out of their faith in focused ways.  If we say that a worship service is about an hour long, then that’s already an hour that can’t be spent in the mission.  If we spend three more hours taking care of every detail of the worship service, what time is left for the mission?  What time is left for following Christ into the mission that God has called us into?  Christ-followers follow Christ.  It’s just the way they are.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t put some thought into our worship services.  For some Christ-followers, that’s precisely where their gifts and interest lie.  I am simply saying that time is limited, and if a Christ-follower has to choose between organizing a worship service and feeding the hungry or caring for the orphan and planning a worship service, they will usually choose following Christ into the mission.  Christ-followers follow Christ.  It’s definitional.

Surfing costs money. Parties cost money.  If a surfer has to choose between fixing a board so he can surf the next day and buying new curtains for the beach house so it looks nicer for the party, the surfer will fix the board.  Surfers surf.  It’s definitional.  Most surfers don’t even notice whether there are curtains in the window of the beach house anyway.  Their minds and hearts are on surfing.  It’s not that surfer’s don’t appreciate a sweet place to party and kick back.  It’s just that it isn’t at the top of their agenda.  Surfing is.  We can party on the beach.  It’s free. In fact, because it’s on the beach, a lot people show up who wouldn’t otherwise have because they simply walk right into the party.  All we have to do is make sure we clean up our trash.

Intricate and elaborate worship services cost money, too.  Small churches don’t have a lot of money.  If they are really doing things right, every penny they have has to bear fruit for the Kingdom.  Mission costs money, too.  Following Christ means giving of our treasure to help those in need and to reach the lost for the Kingdom.  If our funds are limited and we have to choose between spending limited dollars on the elements of elaborate worship spaces, sound systems, musical instruments, and ornamentation; and spending limited dollars on following Christ into the mission, Christ-followers will choose to follow Christ with their dollars.  Christ-followers follow Christ.  It’s definitional.  We can worship in parking lot or a cornfield.  In fact, because it’s right there in the midst of the mission field, a lot people show up who wouldn’t otherwise have because they simply walk right into the party.  All we have to do is make sure we clean up our trash.

Sometimes the Best Party is Small.  But a Big Party Now and Then Keeps You Rockin’

Who says every beach party has to be at the pavilion with a crowd of hundreds of people in order for it to be a good time?  Some of the best beach parties I’ve ever been to were just a few close friends swapping stories and trying to understand the big picture huddled around a small fire roasting three-month-old marshmallows. Word.  The intimacy means everyone connects to everyone on a really personal level.  Maybe someone whips out a guitar and plays some cool tunes.  Maybe somebody recites some poetry they read recently.  We all talk about our wounds, our learnings, and the pure moments of truth and clarity.  And we all walk away healed, refreshed, and reconnected.

But…every once in a while, it is awesome to cut loose in a stadium venue among thousands of people.  If we had to create the venue every time we wanted the experience, forget it.  It would never happen.  So we just pile in the pick-up, buy some tickets, and go and rock in somebody else’s stadium.  Doing that every once in awhile doesn’t mean we’re going to start surfing in somebody else’s break.  It doesn’t mean we won’t be hanging out together anymore.  It just means that every once in a while it’s cool to rock out somewhere that we couldn’t do for ourselves.

Worship in small churches is kind of like the campfire gig.  It’s intimate.  Everybody who comes can hear and be heard, and can contribute to the experience.  We always get healed, energized, and reconnected.  But small churches need to understand that sometimes it’s cool to shake it up, too.  It’s okay to pack it all in the van, buy some tickets, and go rock in somebody else’s stadium together.  You don’t always have to have the beach party at your house.  Once in awhile it’s cool to let somebody else clean up the mess and let us just disappear into a sea of people in somebody else’s arena that you cannot, and do not need to, create.  There’s nothing wrong with an “Away Game” once in awhile.  Sometimes, the big gig is just what the doctor ordered and it’s just what will keep you rockin’ in the mission. And I am not saying that a Christian rock concert at Miller Park is everybody’s thing, either.  Maybe your van load is headed for the cathedral to rock with the coolest choir on earth.  No matter the sound or the stadium, road trips can feed your soul.  It doesn’t mean that your members will stop coming to your church.  It doesn’t mean that your fellow Christ-followers from your tribe will stop following Christ. It just means that every once in a while it’s cool to rock out somewhere that we couldn’t do, and don’t need to do, for ourselves.

I got into surfing because a surfer invited me to a beach party when I was about eleven or twelve.  I had an amazing time at the party listening to the stories and just getting into the vibe of the people there.  It was electric!  And here’s the important thing: they didn’t invite me to come the next party.  They invited me to come surfing with them the next day.  So the next day I showed up at the beach, and we got in the water.  The rest is history.  But the point is that they invited me to participate in what they did, and it wasn’t partying.  It was surfing.  Sooner or later you have to leave the party, put the beach at your back, and paddle out.  That’s what surfers do.  Actually, it is what they are.

Max Ramsey (Copyright 2-1-10)


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