Going Down With the Ship

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Church, Leadership, Ministry, vision

Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino

Sucks to be this guy right now!

He broke one of the maritime laws and expectationsthe Captain goes down with the ship (OK…actually the law doesn’t state that the Captain has to go down with the ship but it does state that he has to be the last one off the vessel)!  And what did Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia do?  He abandoned ship while 1000s were left on board a sinking vessel!

-De Falco: “You go aboard. It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ‘abandon ship.’ Now I am in charge. You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me? Go, and call me when you are aboard. My air rescue crew is there.”

-Schettino: “Where are your rescuers?”

-De Falco: “My air rescue is on the prow. Go. There are already bodies, Schettino.”

-Schettino: “How many bodies are there?”

-De Falco: “I don’t know. I have heard of one. You are the one who has to tell me how many there are. Christ.”

-Schettino: “But do you realize it is dark and here we can’t see anything…”

-De Falco: “And so what? You want go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!”

-Schettino: “…I am with my second in command.”

-De Falco: “So both of you go up then … You and your second go on board now. Is that clear?”

We now know that Captain Schettino never went back on board of the sinking ship.  And, the cause of the sinking ship?  Captain Schettino’s error.  He disregarded the charted and approved course and in an attempt at a little show-boating – he ran into a large rock.  And then…he stood on the safety of the shore watching over 4000 individuals (some of whom did not survive) scramble to survival…women, children, elderly, etc.  Coward.

I couldn’t help but wonder how often this happens in ministry.  I know there isn’t some universal code where a Pastor promises to “go down with the ship [church]” but I wonder if there should be.

How many times does a Pastor enter into a congregation and begin to make changes – sets a new course, alters a previous vision/mission, ruffles some feathers of those who are either in leadership or long-standing members?  I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes, it is the VERY thing a dying or plateaued congregation needs and God is calling for.  BUT – when it happens, the ship may begin to sink.  It may “take on water.”  Attendance sinks.  Giving sinks.  Bank accounts/finances are exhausted.  Congregational morale sinks.  Increased conflict occurs.  Tension and difficulty arises.  And what does the Pastor do?  Often, they leave and move on to another church.  One that doesn’t feel like it is sinking.  And in so doing, they have “abandoned ship” and left a mess for some poor overly loyal staff member to clean up, or a lay team to figure out how to rescue any remaining survivors.  Meanwhile, he/she is off to a new assignment sipping coffee on the deck of a new boat far removed from the disaster he created.

If you want to be bold and proclaim a new direction/vision in the “name of God” I’m cool with that.  But then you need to commit that you aren’t going to “abandon ship” when it looks like things may be sinking.

The only exceptions I would commend are two:  1) is if the rescue effort, or the righting of the ship, cannot occur because of the inept presence of the Captain.  In that case, for the sake of the ship [church] – the Captain needs to leave the ship. 2) Because of the congregational polity – you were never considered the Captain to begin with.  From the beginning you were a “hired hand” and not the leader of the boat.

(left) Captain Smith of the Titanic (right) Bernard Hill playing Captain Smith in the movie Titanic

  1. Here is a resource I would recommend to help navigate the great complexity (which by the way…my blog post does not contain a ton of qualifier or examples that could be given…I know it is presented in a very black/white fashion…truth be told – I know this is a very intense and emotionally charged issue) of pastoral departures and when it is the right thing to do: http://amzn.to/yPaqUi

  2. Sarah Wilken says:

    I am sure at one point when one is calling someone a coward they will use the term Schettino instead of coward. Example: “Come on man, go talk to that girl! You are such a Schettino!”. In fact I think I am going to start that trend now.

  3. the other ed says:

    Is that Colonel Klink behind the captain? That hat is fabulous!

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