In our previous post, we asked, “What caused the Titanic to sink?” In this post, we want to ask the “who” question, as in, “Who was the one most responsible for the disaster?” This is also known as the “blame” question. Now obviously, the captain should shoulder the bulk of the blame (after all, he was the captain); and his executive officer did absolutely nothing to help save the day, but neither of these gentlemen would be at the top of my list. My number one target to blame is the ship’s radio operator, Jack Philipps. Long before there was a crisis with an iceberg, Jack was dealing with a crisis of his own. See, the day before the Titanic sank, the radio went out, and that meant he was way behind. Thankfully, the radio had been fixed, and that was a very good thing. Now back in the day, radio operators on ships were private contractors who were paid according to passenger messages sent and received. In other words, all ship-to-ship communiques concerning things like weather updates, iceberg sightings and ship gossip did not put any money in Jack’s pocket. And now he was faced with sending out two-day’s worth of messages in a very short amount of time. Jack was feeling overwhelmed. Passengers on the Titanic wanted to know why their messages had not been sent and why they had not received any answers back yet, and they were being rather irate and irrational about it. And the stress was getting to Jack. But now, he had reached the closest land station (Cape Race, Newfoundland) and was busy transmitting all those messages in Morse code as fast as he could. However, in the midst of all this transmitting, he kept getting interrupted by another ship. So here he was, in the midst of dealing with this huge backlist of messages, when he received a message from a nearby ship. He could tell the ship was nearby because it was extremely loud and disrupted and garbled his outgoing messages. The time was 10:30 pm. The other ship was the SS Californian, and it was close. It was just over 12 miles to the north. It had radioed the Titanic to tell them that it had decided it was too dangerous to continue cruising in the dark. There were simply too many icebergs in their shipping lane. So, the Californian radioed the Titanic to tell them they had come to a stop, that they were going to wait for daybreak, and to warn the Titanic about all the ice they were seeing. Like a good neighbor, the Californian was there. But when Jack received this message, he was beside himself. The Californian had completely drowned out (I know, bad choice of words) Jack’s message to Cape Race. And so, Jack angrily replied to the warning by saying: “Shut up! Shut up! I’m working Cape Race!” Ten minutes later, the Titanic struck the iceberg. Here’s the life lesson: When someone is warning you of imminent danger, don’t be rude. Instead, guard your tongue, put on some humility, listen carefully and then threaten them, saying that if they don’t stop the ship immediately, you will run up and down the deck yelling, “We’re all going to die.” Jack did none of those things. The messages went on, but the ship went down. That’s right, the stinker Jack Philipps was the Titanic sinker.  

Last week, we began a conversation on how we can avoid sinking our communities by following seven ministry practices. We talked about guarding our tongues, embodying humility and listening to one another. But there are four more disciplines to practice in order to keep our fellowship sailing along smoothly.

Fourth (hey, look! We are keeping the same numbering system from last week). . . . Fourth, see the needs around you and meet the needs you see. That sounds simple enough, but there are problems. Frequently, when it comes time for us to serve, we often think helping people is beneath us, especially if those needs are menial. Yes, I could help someone rake leaves or go to the grocery store for someone, but is that the best use of me? Should I really let the needs of my neighbor interrupt my plan for my day? Let me ask you: which is a better use of my time: driving my neighbor to a doctor’s appointment or writing a sermon that will change peoples’ eternity? Said like that, there is no argument, but let us reword the question: Which brings the greatest return: doing what I want or following Jesus? 

And here’s the interesting thing: when you read the gospels, you discover that Jesus constantly welcomed each and every interruption that crossed his path. In fact, it is quite clear that Jesus saw interruptions as God’s invitation for him to serve someone. Here Bonhoeffer says:

“It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work
so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them.
They think they are doing God a service in this,
but actually, they are disdaining God’s ‘crooked yet straight path.’
It is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand
where it can perform a service
and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage,
but allow it to be arranged by God.
We must always be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”

Paul says it this way (Galatians 6:9):

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

The opportunity to do good works is all around us, but we still hesitate to do them and we hate being interrupted. Nevertheless, this is the way marked out for us by Jesus. His whole ministry was marked by one interruption after another and, in each case, God showed up. But let’s face it, in our busyness and self-absorption, we often find it difficult even to see the needs around us, but God calls us to stop, look and then welcome the interruption by serving the people around us in love. If we fail to do this, our fellowship will suffer. 

Fifth, bear one another’s’ burdens. Paul writes in Galatians 6:2: 

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 

Sometimes Bonhoeffer says things perfectly. Here he says, 

“The law of Christ is a law of bearing.”

Make no mistake here. Jesus is not just inviting us to care for one another. It is his law that we do this. We are to bear the burdens of those in our church and carry their afflictions. And we endure this hardship, not necessarily because we want to, but because it is Christ’s law that we love one another.  Bonhoeffer spells it out concisely. He writes:

“The burden of men was so heavy for God himself that He had to endure the cross.
The Bible can also characterize the whole Christian life as bearing the cross.
To experience the burden of the other is to enter into the fellowship of the cross.” 

Christian community is nothing more than the place where we bear one another’s’ burdens in Jesus’ name. It is the fellowship of the cross. It is the place where we give ourselves up and die to self so that we can be raised to new life. It is the place where we love one another, where we accept one another, where we serve one another, where we encourage one another, where we are patient with one another and where we pray for one another. But much of the time, we are so absorbed with our own needs that we forget that we are members of one another. And when we are so consumed with ourselves and our needs, our fellowship will suffer, but when we commit ourselves to bearing each other’s burdens, our communities will flourish.

Sixth, proclaim God’s Word to each other. There’s an old adage that says, “I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.” When we live out the first five points in this post in front of our neighbors, it should demonstrate to them that we care (and if we don’t, we need to add truly caring to the list). And once they know that we care, they should be ready to receive God’s Word (if we present it with kindness and sensitivity). Bonhoeffer writes:

“God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word
in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings.
Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them.”

We need to speak God’s Word to each other, but this is a heavy responsibility. We must speak the truth in love, with humility, with grace, with patience, with understanding and by covering the whole conversation in prayer. In the end, our philosophy of ministry can be stated like this (from Larry Crabb):

“Truth presented in the context of a caring relationship
brings about change.”

If truth is missing, then there will be no change. If there is no caring relationship there, no matter how much truth we present, there will be no change. But when God’s Word is spoken into the life of someone who knows, loves and trusts us, change happens. Our calling is to speak God’s Word into each other’s lives and a failure to do so will cause our fellowship to suffer.

Last, realize true authority is only found in service. Jesus says (Mark 10:43):

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Bonhoeffer started off this chapter by focusing on the disciples arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest. We’ve come full circle. To be great means we invest ourselves in service.  Bonhoeffer writes:

“Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service.
Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry
of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out.
Every cult of personality that emphasizes
the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person
is worldly and has no place in the Christian community;
indeed, it poisons the Christian community.”

And then, he writes:

“Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only
in the service of Him who alone has authority.”

There is only one real qualification for leadership in the church: is the candidate known by their service? True greatness is found in giving ourselves away. All desire for authority, power, prestige and fame comes from the evil one. God is only looking for people to lead his church who love to serve others. True Christian authority is all about serving others. Anything less than that will cause our fellowship to suffer.  

Seven practices provide our churches with clear sailing: guarding our tongues, embodying humility, listening to one another, see the needs around you and meet the needs you see, bear one another’s burdens, proclaim God’s Word to each other and then prove your true authority through your service.  Any community that hopes to thrive will teach these seven traits to their people, especially to their new members, and strive to implement them routinely. After all, without them, everything we do will end up sinking. But with them, it will be clear sailing. In other words, the application of these seven practices will make a titanic difference in the church.  (I’m going to focus more on being willing to be interrupted by God. Which one are you going to focus on?)