Cultural Winds Have Shifted • We Must Learn to Swing the Boom

In celebration of my 40th birthday, my wife Linda, pulled off a loving surprise. After blindfolding me, she drove for more than an hour and in time led me down a pier. Drawing closer to its end, I heard music playing in the distance: “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me,” the singer sang.1 When

I removed the blindfold, ten of our closest friends stood aboard a beautiful sailboat tied to the dock; and after greeting me with birthday wishes, together we set sail.

Prior to that day, I had never been on a sailboat as large as that one, with its tall masts and large white sails. It was all very exciting!

Soon after we left the dock, however, the boat stalled. The problem? No wind. That’s right: We were dead in the water. Nevertheless, we made the most of the day and, more importantly, Linda was commended by all involved for going to such lengths in my honor.

Not surprisingly, sailing requires wind. As Mark Shrope writes, “...wind isn’t normally in short supply on the open ocean—until you hit the doldrums. For centuries mariners have feared this equatorial region for its tendency toward sailor-stopping calms.”2

In other words, even the biggest and best of sailboats can stall for lack of wind. Metaphorically speaking, churches stall too.

The fact is, cultural winds have shifted in our lifetime and for all intent and purposes, the collective witness of the American Church seems at the moment dead in the water. Where Americans once readily embraced the Bible, Christian values, pastors and local churches, etc., today a significant percentage of the country rejects our mission, message, and methods.


Because our sails remain fixed for past winds while we wait in hope for them again to blow favorably. But they won’t: Those days are gone. Indeed, we are no longer sailing with the wind at our backs; rather, we are sailing against it.

If true, despite otherwise well-intended activity and intentions most pastors are only managing decline (see article pp.34-36).

It’s no secret: Americans today remain stubbornly divided along the lines of color, class, and culture, religion, politics, and more. Christians, too, are often at odds with one another over these very same things. It’s a far cry from the prayer and expectation of Jesus in John 17. Such division undermines the credibility of our witness and is literally tearing churches apart. More than that, ministry leaders are today tired of the voyage and, in the wake of complexities related to COVID-19, looking to abandon ship, if they haven’t already.

Yet this is not the time to give into personal or professional discouragement; to lose faith in people or the church; to stop believing that together we can make a difference or to set aside the challenges of calling in pursuit of a more comfortable path.

Rather, we must tack to the wind.

Tacking is used by mariners to keep a ship moving when winds have shifted to blow toward the bow and the ship is heading upwind. “Tacking allows the boat to travel forward with a wind at right angles to the boat. The boat travels for a time at an angle toward its desired course, to the right for instance, then the captain swings the boom of the sail and tacks back across the desired course at an angle to the left in a zigzag fashion.”3 In this way, tacking allows a ship to make forward progress in spite of prevailing frontal winds.

“The people of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” I Chronicles 12:32

In order to advance the gospel, the church, the kingdom of God in these times, we too must swing the boom...We must tack our churches, denominations, networks, and other Christ-centered organizations to the wind... And that’s what this year’s conference is all about.

1 Dennis DeYoung, “Come Sail Away” performed by Styx, ©1977 Almo Music Corporation and Stygian Songs, www.lyricsfreak. com/s/styx/come+sail+away_20132868.html

2 Mark Shrope, “The Doldrums: Sailing’s Dead Zone,” National Geographic (2001)

3 Stephen Portz, “How Does a Sailboat Move Upwind?” Physlink (2016), www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae438.cfm.