I am a boat owner; a sometime sailor. My family has learned to enjoy the mystique and the excitement and the serenity of the sea. We have spent weeks every summer for years living aboard our boat, Moonshadow in the San Juan Islands of Washington State and in the Queen Charlotte Islands of Canada.

When you own a boat, you have what boaters call “A hole in the water that you throw money into.” Boats need to be repaired; often. The sea and the weather take a huge toll on the little floating objects we call boats. Storms arise and beat at hulls and sails. Electrolysis eats away at all things electrical. We use up provisions and run low on fuel and run from storms and in all of these cases, boaters learn to love “The Harbor.”

The Harbor is both a place and a concept to a boater. It’s a place of safety and comfort. The Harbor is a place of provision and repair, a place of rest and restoration. It’s a social place, where friendships are made, continued and renewed. The Harbor is a place of “commonality”: Everybody in the Harbor has a boat, and boaters share a camaraderie non-boaters know  or care little about.

By now you should be getting a clear picture of “Harbor” in relation to “church.”
Let me quote further from Mary Lindow in her recent communication entitled, “Obsessed with Sanctuary” – and this, by the way, came to my inbox before she and I had communicated with each other. At her writing and mine,she’s in Australia, I’m in America. She writes:

Sanctuary. A place of refuge, a safe harbor. Asylum, shelter, a place of safety. A holy place set aside for worship and rest.

The Lord is allowing man to have both the joy and shock of coming to the end of his means of prodding and producing until he falls into a heap at the feet of the One Who has the key to the place of hope and rest!

He, The King of tranquility and Divine Purpose has the place of Sanctuary carved out in a definite place. THE PLACE OF WORSHIP.”

Did you “hear it?” Did you “catch it?” Sanctuary. A place of refuge, a safe harbor. Asylum, shelter, a place of safety. A holy place set aside for worship and rest. A Safe Harbor. “The Harbor.” The place where broken and shattered boats can come when the storms of life have blown against them. When cancer strikes and when divorce infiltrates, there is a “Safe Harbor” to return to. When children rebel and find their way to drugs or alcohol or crime and nobody seems to understand or care – there is a Harbor.

When the “pink slip” finds your inbox and income dries up; when a thousand things go wrong that you never expected or planned for – there is a Harbor of Safety, a place of refuge, a shelter from the storms, a place where other “boaters” have experienced some of the same things and are waiting to help you get your boat in order.

And there is a Captain of our salvation waiting to take the helm of your life and show you the way through the shallow places and the rocky places and the places where currents tug and pull at your craft to carry you away from your intended course. There is a Master of the Ship Who has already charted the course for you and Who longs to take control of the wheel of your life and the compass of your destiny. And we find it all in The Harbor.

So what does a Harbor look like? Is this “THE ANSWER” for the Emerging Church? Is this the ONLY WAY to have church?

To begin, I would not claim that I have “THE DEFINITIVE ANSWER” for the Emerging Church. I am only offering the bits of knowledge and understanding that my thirty-four year journey to get to a place of understanding in God has provided me. I don’t think my answer is an “ONLY” sort of thing. But it is “a” way and “an” answer.

And what does a Harbor look like? First, there is no “cookie-cutter-this-is-how-you-do-it” answer.
Some church denominations have produced templates for their congregations to follow, believing that in conformity there would be unity. History and the nature of men have shown us the weakness of such attempts.

The Bible however reveals to us patterns of worship. There are elements that must be part of our spiritual “assembling together.” We’ll discuss these later, because I want to attempt to describe the nature and the composition of Harbors.
Here are some “bullet-point” descriptions of a Harbor:

Harbors do not necessarily meet on Sundays, and probably do not meet during morning hours. Some rationale: Most people today work at least five day each week. In the best of settings, Saturday and Sunday are the only “non-work” days of the week for many families. On Saturday, the yard must be mowed; the kids have “practice,” shopping must be done, changing the tires on the car; on and on the list goes until Saturday is largely taken up with “catching up.” Sunday traditionally has belonged “to God.” This means that at 9:45 on Sunday morning, Johnny is in his Sunday School classroom, Beth is in hers, and mom and dad are in the “adult class.” At 11 AM it’s time for the “Big Show” – Sunday morning worship. In some traditions, after the 11 AM service, you’ve done your duty and may go home and rest or whatever. In some traditions, church begins again at 6 PM with the “Evangelistic Service.” This is the service and the time when church folks believe that “non-believers” will come to church and may thus be evangelized. I personally conducted these services for more than twenty-five years – but they never produced what we intended because “non-believers” don’t want to be in church on Sunday nights (or really, on any other night, for that matter!). The “church” – with its facility and program and service can’t reach the lost! The “Church” is meant to be “among them.”

Wouldn’t be interesting to see the reaction of your neighbors if suddenly you stopped piling into your car on Sunday morning, wearing your Sunday Best and rushing off to “church?” Perhaps if you are close enough with a neighbor he might ask you if you are aware you are missing something. What a grand opportunity to tell your neighbor “We stopped going to church and have become the church! You’re with “church” right now! And hey, since we aren’t “going” to church this morning, how about if you and your wife join us for a nice, relaxed brunch?”

You never know, your neighbor might just be curious about somebody who is following Jesus and at the same time enjoying life!

We like to say, “Harbor Happens.” Sometimes a Harbor happens without intention. It just develops. I was waiting for my car to be repaired one day, and saw a coffee shop nearby. I’d rather sit with coffee in an overstuffed chair beside a fireplace while waiting on my car any day than to sit in a plastic chair listening to air-hammers and drills, so I walked in and sat down.

As time went by I noticed the various customers coming and going, and saw that the girls serving coffee knew almost all of them by name (and by personality and coffee preference!).

I approached the counter and said, “It looks like I walked into a church and not a coffee shop the way you talk to these customers.” The young lady said, “Wow! That’s what it really is! We’re Christians and we believe God has put us here to touch these people’s lives!”

I told the ladies about “Harbor.” Soon we were joined by a young man who had recently completed a four-year program at a Bible College and had been hired by a large church as a youth minister. He had then resigned after realizing that he was being asked to mostly occupy an office, attend staff meetings, oversee programs, cool hot parishioners, baby-sit young people, become a bus driver for events and otherwise use his time for almost anything but the ministry he envisioned when he walked across the stage and received his Bachelor’s of Arts in Ministry!

When we talked about Harbor that morning, this young man became absorbed by the concept. He then said, “Wow! I’m involved in Harbors without even realizing it! I’m not “in the ministry” anymore. I just hang with people, like here, in this place and talk to them about God and about His love and His mercy.”

Sometimes, “Harbors Happen.”

Harbors are not “conducted” by a “Conductor” (a pastor in the traditional sense).
Harbors exist mostly in homes. Sometimes a Harbor might meet at a Starbuck’s or some other coffee-house (I’m partial to Austin-Chase coffee, since, as an Austin who is “chasing” after God the name naturally fits me!).
Harbors are not intended to replicate a traditional Sunday morning church service.

The elements of Harbor vary and change with existing situations.
An explanation: In one Harbor, I received a call from the host early on in their experience. He said, “I blew it last night! It was a disaster!” I asked what happened and he related to me this story. “Well, a woman came last night who was obviously depressed and upset when she arrived. She was in so much pain that we didn’t do anything I had planned to do. We just ministered to the lady all night. Some of the women had experienced what she was going through and they talked to her. We all laid hands on her and prayed for her for a long time, and when we finished, it was time to go home! What do I do?”

At this point in the conversation I asked, “So tell me what you did wrong. So far you have only told me what you did right!”
The host replied, “Well I had planned to share a teaching that God gave me and I didn’t get to do it.”

Harbors aren’t places where we have “planned agendas” so much as we gather to be in the Presence of Jesus and to hear from Him or to sing to Him or to praise Him or to be quiet with Him and to do what the Holy Spirit urges us to do at any given time.

We don’t have any certain “order of worship” as traditional churches might have. Our “order” is His order – in whatever shape that may be.

Harbors meet weekly – at different times to suit the needs of the members (the Sabbath was made for man, not the opposite)

Harbors consist of between 2 and 21 people. (When a Harbor reaches about 22 people, it’s time to “divide and conquer.” We ask a new host to take a number of people and begin a new Harbor in another home).

Harbors meet together every 4 to 6 weeks at a central location for Celebration. This location is usually a hotel ballroom or banquet room. We try to conduct these meetings on a Sunday, and we begin with a large meal, followed by visiting and socializing and singing and worship and sharing words and prophecy and encouragements. It is during Celebration that the Apostolic Voice is heard alongside the Prophet. It is here that Paul’s teaching is realized in the larger gathering, “how is it brethren, when you come together, each of you has

Harbors incorporate the full panoply of God’s ministry gifts: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. We do not practice deleting words from God’s word. We take the Whole Counsel of God as His will and purpose. So we don’t eliminate the positions of Apostle and Prophet. Modern church tradition places most of its emphasis on the role and position of “pastor.” Teachers are given credence as are Evangelists, but how many Apostles and true Prophets of God have you known? Not many. Yet they exist. Mostly they have been hidden by the hand of God – partly for growth and maturation, but also because the church would kill the prophets and abolish the apostles were they to be revealed before their time.

In a Harbor, regular folks – people who are on a journey to know God comprise the Harbor. From week to week they meet, allowing God to use them as He desires. They grow and learn; they make mistakes and find themselves both apologizing for error and asking forgiveness for sin. Community results. Family develops. Relationship begins. From time to time, a person known to have a pastoral gifting comes to the Harbor. The pastor’s main purpose is not to administrate, counsel, preach, initiate programs or any of the myriad jobs today’s Corporate Pastor – almost literally a CEO – does.

Instead, the pastor does what a pastor (among sheep, a shepherd) does. The pastor ensures the sheep have good pastures to feed from. He makes certain there is adequate water and that wolves that may be attacking are dealt with. He checks the “body” for viruses and for infestations of bacteria. He exists to ensure both the health of the flock and that the general direction of the flock is toward more “green pastures.”
And then, the pastor takes his leave. He does not meet with a Harbor each week, but is a sort of circuit-rider, going from home to home, Harbor to Harbor so that when the pastor has attended your Harbor, you may not see the same person for a number of weeks.

In like manner the Teacher comes, provides a teaching, and goes. The Evangelist stops by to remind us of the Great Commission and of our responsibility to reach the lost. The Evangelist has a special gifting and anointing and provides the Harbor with needed emphasis and anointing.

During Celebration, the Apostle and the Prophet come into play. These are servants, not masters. Each of the ministry gifts and especially these two are foundational – like the foundation in your home. It’s there. It’s vital, and it’s largely unseen. The foundation allows a superstructure to appear above it. When we drive through a “Street of Dreams” we don’t say in awe “Look at that foundation!” We see the superstructure, the house that sits on the foundation. So the Apostle and the Prophet are beneath, holding up and making possible the ministry of the larger house.

Harbors have Hearts. I’m often challenged by current church pastors regarding finance and the Emerging Church: It goes something like this. “How would the church be financed if we put into action what you suggest?” Now this is meant to be a rhetorical question because these leaders think we’re talking about some wild-eyed, hippy-communal kind of crazy venture.

Recently a pastor listened to my description of Harbor and said, “Oh, that’s a nice niche’ to get into...”  Pastor, I love you, but it’s not a niche’ – it’s the Church! And the Church has a heart.

Let me help you. The Bible encourages rather than discourages Christian financial giving. I won’t conduct the teaching here, but Jesus had much more to say about money (because it’s such a powerful barometer of heart-temperature) than He taught about heaven or hell. Let’s cut to the chase: You can’t leave the traditional church and shout “whooppee, I’m free! I never have to be part of an offering again!” That’s not biblical nor is it reasonable. We must be givers if we belong to Jesus.

So, in Harbor, people may freely give, although there isn’t an emphasis on giving or even necessarily an “offering time” when Harbors meet. There might be a box by the door where people can contribute. This has worked well in many places.
“But what do you do with all that money?” 

When I led a traditional church, and was known by title rather than by name, I was faced with an annual budget that I was largely responsible to create, recommend and when necessary, adjust. I can tell you that I literally wept at times when I thought about the percentage of funds that went from God’s people straight into accounts to pay for a mortgage and mortgage insurance. We had insurance for fire, for neglect, for property, for people - for earthquakes! We paid huge utility bills – we had giant rooms to heat and cool and light year-round whether the rooms were always in use or not (The church is mainly empty most days of the week; something that has always troubled me).

We had staffs to pay, secretaries, receptionists, janitors, yard maintenance people, maintenance men.  We had chairs to replace, carpets to purchase – the list seemed to go on forever. And then a blessed missionary would come to us and talk about the people of Nepal or Nicaragua or the Philippines. He would tell us that for just a little money he could feed or house or clothe or teach these people. And we would say something to the effect of “Bless you, brother, here’s $150 per month to support your work.” What would have happened had we been without mortgage and insurance and property and we could just have said, “Here’s $150,000 to get the job done!” I’m not suggesting that money equals ministry, but as a friend said to me once, “If you think money isn’t important and that you don’t need money for ministry, just try to walk onto one of your flights without a boarding pass and see where your ministry goes.”

Money enables ministry. But money is too often tied up in the “things” of the church and not in the “heart” of the church. Harbors release money to do the work of the ministry. 

There is more, but the “more” will wait for another time.



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