On a dark gloomy Sunday morning around 6 years ago big swells, high tides and some people desperate for abalone combined to create a chaotic and tragic situation at our local beach.
The Yanchep Lagoon is generally seen as a beautiful, calm spot to go for a swim, but it is also a place of significant currents and genuine danger for those who are unaware and have little water awareness. When the swell is up (like in the pic above) its just plain treacherous and best avoided unless you are a strong swimmer.
On that morning my friend Scott and another co-lifesaver were the only two on duty. No one should have even set foot in the ocean that day, but the lure of abalone was too strong for the 70 or 80 people who hit the water – some fully clothed – armed with screwdrivers and knives to pry the shellfish off the rocks. Many lost their footing quickly on the jagged reef and were swept off – in need of rescue. The two men on duty worked without a break to do their best to make sure people were safe and by the end they were exhausted physically and emotionally.
In that one hour they completed 13 rescues and for their efforts they were awarded bravery medals but it’s a story that most in the community would be unaware of. In the midst of the 13 people rescued one man went missing and was never found. Tragedy…
If there was ever a group of people who are loved and valued by the community they are part of then surely it would be the local Surf Life Saving Club. Stories as dramatic as the one above are rare, but live savers exist because people get into trouble and need saving.
On Sunday at our Yanchep Church gig I shared a bit of why I believe the Surf Club is a fantastic metaphor for who we hope to be as a church. There are some strong parallels between their presence and activity in the community and the kind of people a church ought to be.
What can a church learn from the surf club?
1.Clarity of Purpose – The SLSC know what they are there for. Its not difficult. It’s to save lives – to be there for those who are going under. When Jesus was on earth he said ‘I have come to seek out and to save those who are lost’. His mission was ‘salvation’ in its most holistic sense. Any church that is going to serve its community will have ‘saving lives’ front and centre of its mission – otherwise it probably aint a church…
2. Presence and Stability – The life savers are always there – rain, hail or shine over the summer months. They don’t bale on difficult or miserable days. They are a stable presence – a sure thing in a fickle world. I have driven past the lagoon on some terrible days and seen the guys there in their hut and felt for them. But it’s what they do – they ‘turn up’ regardless of weather or how they feel.
3. They read the conditions – The SLSC know the water. They know what’s going on and how to navigate the tricky currents, the tides and the reef structure. We need to know how to navigate the cultural currents in our society. There was a day when we would have started a church by sending people out knocking on doors. We don’t do that now – people don’t appreciate a visit from their church. The cultural climate has shifted in so many ways and reading that is part of being effective rather than swimming against the tide all of the time.
4. They are loved and valued by the community – The SLSC are loved and valued because of the service they provide and they would be missed if they disappeared. Wouldn’t it be great if the same could be said of the church? One of the questions we have to consider is what would it look like for people to love us and want us in the community?
5. They are prepared – these guys have started training already for the coming season. They keep themselves in shape and ready to respond. The comparison is pretty obvious – we want to be a bunch of people who live lives of faith so that we are able to lead people into that journey also.
6. They do it often unappreciated – Another SLSC friend told me stories of people they dragged up onto the beach who simply walk away without a thank you – sometimes to get into trouble again… If you lead a church then you’d know that this is just how it is.
7.They only rescue those who want rescuing – They sit on the beach and they wait – and they watch – until there is a need and then they respond. They aren’t swimming out to people not in need trying to drag them onto the beach. They aren’t performing CPR on people who don’t want their help. In the language of faith we would say its responding to the spirit as we see him drawing people in. Seeing someone in trouble is one thing, but until they acknowledge their need to move into their space to ‘rescue’ will be seen as an intrusion.
8. Rescues are done with grace & kindness – when someone’s in trouble then chances are they know they have done something stupid. They already feel dumb, so a rescue that preserves a bit of dignity is important. My friend told me that people getting rescued often feel shame – they know they have stuffed up. So he told me that rather than sitting on the beach and waiting for the ’emergency call’, they watch people constantly and when someone enters the water looking like they are going to get in trouble, they drop the ski in and paddle alongside them – near them. When the call comes its a simple invitation to hop on board rather than a full scale mission. I loved this picture of watching, being alongside and responding as needed.
John wrote of Jesus as the ‘word who became flesh and moved in the neighbourhood’ – how God became one of us. The one ‘full of grace and truth’ – the same one who came to seek out and to save those who were lost…
For many people life hums along nicely – they feel no need of any ‘salvation’ or the like – their life looks more like the image above, but one day there may come a time… when the wheels fall off, when life no longer makes sense, when hope is lost…
And then isn’t it good to know there are good people right there, prepared and ready to help, willing to leave their own comfort and do whatever it takes to show the way back to life again?
That’d be the church doing what it does best.