Is the Church a Clubhouse or a Lighthouse? A Cruise Ship or a Battleship?

A bow view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) firing its Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber guns off the starboard side during a fire power demonstration.

OK, so the title asks two focal questions plainly enough. Let’s begin with the first,  “Is the Church a clubhouse or a lighthouse?”

Many, it would seem, want the Church just to be a friendly place where people can gather. Many of these same people get angry when the Church shines the light of truth on something. They declare that the Church should just be open and inviting. They object when She is challenging and points to the demands of the Gospel.

But the Church has to be more than a clubhouse otherwise She is no different from a bowling league or the Moose Lodge. She is most certainly meant to be a lighthouse, a warning of danger giving light to those in darkness. But in doing so, She is also risking that some who are accustomed to the darkness will complain of the Light of Christ She reflects.

Here then is a focal question: clubhouse or lighthouse? Of course there does not need to be a radical dichotomy here. There are surely social aspects of the Church wherein She builds community. But mission needs to be first and it is our mission to be light that actually builds community since we are focused on one goal, not merely individual interests.

Another and even more provocative image is in the video below from, which asks if the Church is a cruise ship or a battleship.

Many, it would seem, surely think of the Church as more of a cruise ship: one that exists for my pleasure and entertainment. “Peel me a grape!” seems to be the attitude that some bring to Church.  The video does a good job of pointing out how many think of the Church as a cruise ship by listing the questions many ask of a luxury cruise liner.

  1. Do I like the music they play in the ballroom?
  2. Do I like the captain and his crew?
  3. Is the service good?
  4. Am I well fed?
  5. Are my needs met promptly?
  6. Is the cruise pleasant?
  7. Am I comfortable?
  8. Will I cruise with them again?

It is true that our parishes ought to work very hard to make sure the faithful are effectively served and helped to find God. Good sermons, excellent and obedient liturgy (including good music), a beautiful Church, and dedicated clergy and lay staff are all important. God deserves the very best and so do His people.

However, it also follows that the world does not exist merely to please me. No parish we attend will ever be exactly the way we want it. No priest preaches perfectly every Sunday. The choir does not always sing my favorites.

Some people stay away from Mass calling it “boring,” or saying they aren’t being fed. But in the end, it’s not about you! We go to Mass to worship God because God is worthy, because God deserves our praise, and because He has commanded us to be there. God has something important to say to us whether we want to hear it or not. He directs us to eat his flesh and drink his blood whether we like it or not. We must eat or we will die. Holy Mass is about God and what He is saying and doing.

The video goes on to suggest a better image for the Church—a battleship. I was less impressed with the questions given in the video comparing the Church and a battleship, so I’ve added my some of my own as well.

  1. Is the ship on a clear and noble mission?
  2. Is the ship able to endure storms at sea?
  3. Does the captain submit to a higher authority?
  4. Are the tactics and moves of the enemy well understood by bridge crew?
  5. Does the bridge crew have proper training and experience?
  6. Are the general crew members equipped to succeed?
  7.  Is the general crew well trained in the available weaponry?
  8. Does the general crew cooperate with the captain?
  9. Are they taught to be disciplined and vigilant?
  10. Are they rooted in (naval) tradition yet well aware of current circumstances?
  11. Are they at their posts?
  12. Do they take the battle seriously?
  13. Does the ship have adequate first aid and medical help?
  14. Is the crew properly fed?

Some dislike any military imagery in reference to the faith. But pugna spiritalis (spiritual battle) is a simple fact. We are besieged by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are called to engage in the battle and, by God’s grace, to persevere through to victory.  Our weapons are the Word of God, the Teachings of the Church, the Sacraments, and prayer. We cannot win on our own; we must work together under the authority of the Church, which is Herself under God’s care and authority. We are rooted in the wisdom of tradition and, guided by the Pope and Bishops, we are to apply that wisdom and our training to these current times. Peter’s Barque has endured many storms yet has never sunk. She is a sure, steady ship on a clear and noble mission.

8 Replies to “Is the Church a Clubhouse or a Lighthouse? A Cruise Ship or a Battleship?”

  1. Thank you Rev.Msgr , for the reminder , that whether we like it or not , battling the enemies of our salvation , the prowling lions, is part of loving – God, self and others . – articles such as this , on the reality of hell is also a needed reminder ; would those flames be the love and adoration that we owed God and to help us and others, to raise as oblations of gratitude but did not , from idolatry of self and its ways , thus has accompanied one now , as flames that have to stay with one with no other place to go …the beasts of anger and hatreds ..the spiders of manipulative ways that entered into pacts with the enemy and all with whom the enemy has pacts , through unholy relationships , thus grabbed what has been owed to God , His Church and the other ..

    The Sacred Heart and The Immaculate Heart intercede for us ..what a comforting thought ..that same would help our hearts to open up, to let the ligtt in ,to discern what need to be driven off and what need to enter in , inorder to be with the Hearts always !

    and at every Holy Mass , the infinte merits of The Lord are raised up,in the manner most pleasing to
    The Father … to rectify our debts.. to free us from the enemy webs and pacts, which come as often as we agree to the ways of the enemy , so that we are helped , away from such and into heavenly realms of praise and gratitude !

    May we be blessed esp. after every Communion, to beg The Lord , to command off the enemies of our salvation , from the depth of the hearts and family lines of all in our lives too , so that we can be filled with His Spirit , to be in touch with Him, for the joy being able to praise The Father with the angels and saints even here !

  2. The analogy reminds me of one of the prophetic dreams of St. John Bosco where the Churches are represented as a vast armada under attack on a stormy sea. It’s a mark of these times that many don’t want a challenging Church because they don’t perceive salvation as a battle with sin. There’s a complacency and acceptance of our condition that’s so easy, effortless. Churches that are all comfort and no cross steer us toward presumption and spiritual sloth. To be fair I think we all naturally gravitate toward comfort, self included, but that is the flesh surrendering to the world. It’s so easy to focus on the comforting hopeful Bible passages and gloss over the others that demand something of us. Strengthening the spirit for battle is what the Church Militant was designed to do, but the prince of this world wants us asleep at our post. If we understand we are in a fight for our eternal lives then we grateful receive the difficult training the Church provides. This is why fire and brimstone preaching is necessary, without it we are not well motivated to act.

  3. Were you in my head last night? I was thinking the very same thing in response to a person I know likening being on a particular website to going to church. Thank you for saying it so eloquently when my brain was screaming in incoherent agony over his statement.

    People today often forget Who is at the head of the church and believe it is their (man’s) obligation to fill the seats on Sunday. It’s a classic Judas mistake, not trusting God to bring the faithful. In the end, however, the following truth remains:

    If you build It, they will come.

  4. After reading your post, then seeing the video by Igniter , I think they really missed the boat…..(sorry! ) and should have used some of your questions to better contrast the two concepts It would have made a more powerful presentation.

  5. Navel seamen, when at battle stations, often wear personal armour similar to that of the infantry; although somewhat modified ot their particular needs. Such things as life jackets, which infantry sometimes, but almost never, wear.
    Should all regulars, in the clergy, and reserve/militia types be aware of, and trained in, the use of the Armour of God?
    Ephesians 6:10-18; as well as Psalm 140:7 and Isaiah 59:15-17 for further reference and historical depth.

  6. This is a good article but the fact remains that if people see the Church and the Faith as a nice cruise that caters to what they want than that is what they are getting from their priests and Bishops in their parishes. This has been going on in the West mostly for over forty to fifty years now since the Council. The cruise ship is more apply called the Church of Nice which simply focuses on people and how its all about them the people of God. The other is what Pope Emeritus Benedict called it a few years back the Church Militant and he said that’s what. It is fighting against the world the flesh and the Devil. That’s all there is to it. It’s about saving souls not how many parish activities you are in. I am a praying member of the Legion of Mary but that’s not my whole life. It is the Church Militant that stands up and boldly but clearly and lovingly speaks the TRuth without caving in or compromising.

  7. Dear Msgr, this is an outstanding post. Every Christian I know could be placed into either of these two ships. It really does address one of the most basic distinctions of our era, and goes a long way in understanding why so many of us today seek to accommodate to the world or the flesh. “Some dislike any military imagery in reference to the faith. But pugna spiritalis (spiritual battle) is a simple fact.” But even for those of us that recognize the battle, and are willing to engage, there is the art of joy that seems so elusive. How to be joyful, while knowing and behaving in a manner that recognizes the simple fact that I am in a protracted battle with myself, the world, and the devil. For many, how to be joyful when he believes that he is in the battle alone, without a captain (priest), or commander (bishop) to give him local guidance on the field of battle; indeed, to know that you’re in a sea battle, but alone clinging to a piece of floating debris. Conflict inspires sorrow, fear, anger, and loneliness. It’s tempting to become the”sourpuss”in this frame of mind. It’s also easy to lose hope, but, perhaps, therein lies the antidote, that in prayer and ascetical practice we find the hand of God who is our hope and our salvation. As for the clergy who do get it, it must be a supreme challenge to convince the laity and clergy on the cruise ship to “jump ship” and move into the battle.

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