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Anchors

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 313

If, as early church tradition described, the church is a boat and the main edifice in which the people worship is the nave, then it goes without saying that the church should also have anchors.
 
It does. In fact churches, like other organizations, frequently have several anchors.
 
What Is An Anchor?
 
An anchor, according to William and Nurit Cohen, is "any kind of symbol that evokes a certain response, even though it may have little obvious connection to the response it stimulates" (Cohen and Cohen, The Paranoid Corporation: And Eight Other Ways Your Company Can Be Crazy. New York: American Management Association/Amacom, 1993. p. 22). 
 
Cohen and Cohen list the following anchors in organizations: persons, ceremonies, names, actions, physical symbols, organizational attributes, standard ways of operating or conducting business, and traditions. These same categories of anchors are also found in the Christian Church.
 
* A Person. In the Christian Church, Jesus is the most obvious example. In the local church, this can include the pastor, the founder(s) of the congregation, and/or key leading personalities (former pastors, music directors, Sunday School teachers, etc.). These individuals can be  living or deceased, living locally or no longer in the area, members or former members. 
 
* A Ceremony. The most obvious is the main worship experience. Other examples are annual events and ceremonies to honor individuals. Special worship services such as those on Christmas and Easter are prominent "anchor" ceremonies as are sacramental observances (baptism) and religious rites (weddings, funerals, confirmation et al).
 
* A Name. The church's name is often a "sacred" anchor. Whether the official name or a slogan, the special vocabulary which identifies the church is a powerful anchor.
 
* An Action. Repeated, customary, and expected actions are also anchors. Common "anchor" actions expected of pastors include the length of sermons, the manner in which hospital visitation responsibilities are taken care of, and being "pastoral" in the manner in which a church is accustomed relative to teaching, church discipline, ministry to youth, etc. are but some examples of action anchors.
 
* A Physical Symbol. Slogans, logos, vision statements and other distinctive physical items are physical anchors. Bibles and hymnals are anchors. So are the old altar and baptismal font and the corroded candle holders. Don't forget that Great-Grandpa and Grandma Jones' old, faded-out picture of Jesus given in memory of their stillborn child only 90 years ago still hanging in the narthex, is an anchor, too.
 
*  An Attribute. Certain church attributes "The Metropolitan Church," "The Old Historic First Church," "The Small Church In The Country," "The Missionary Church," "Pastor So-And-So's Church" are also anchors. Size, past or present success, geographical location, economic status, can all be anchor attributes.
 
* A Way Of Doing Business. How a church treats and views its members--and how they view themselves in the fellowship of the church--is an anchor. "The Friendly Church," "The Church In Which Everyone Knows Everyone Else," and "We're Family In This Church,"  are just some examples. Regularly undermining the elected leadership, sabotaging decisions, repressing conflict, over-reacting to disagreement, scapegoating pastors releasing them on an almost predictable timetable are some negative examples of "A-Way-Of-Doing-Business" anchors.
 
* A Tradition. These include those things which are "always" done each year. The pastor sings "Silent Night" at the Christmas Even candlelight, food is served to the homeless on Thanksgiving, the family service in which the children sing a special song, etc. are all examples of tradition anchors.
 
What Anchors Do
 
Anchors have many functions in the church, both positive and negative.
 
1) Anchors are the "stuff" that gives an organization its identity, its equilibrium and its staying power. Congregations which have endured for decades do so because they have a variety of multiple, enduring anchors.
 
2) Anchors set the tone, mood and vision of the congregation. Anchors explain why churches and other organizations tend to perpetuate the same behavior over decades. Their anchors just don't change.
 
3) Anchors give justification for maintaining overt and covert behaviors and give legitimacy to tacit behaviors based on formal anchors.
 
4) Anchors are the objects which organizations and its members tend to fight about. Whether it be a building program, building relocation, new staff configuration, a new style of worship, or doing things differently, conflict at some level is sure to emerge because anchors are involved.
 
5) Anchors help build identity. Anchors help people feel rooted in their church and its traditions. Anchors help them identify a specific church or program as "theirs." Many Christians, for example, keep a special place in their heart for their original "home" church in which they grew up, were confirmed, married, etc. 
 
6) Anchors help allay fear. Anchors are the symbolic representations that as they have endured and succeeded in past trials, they can endure present ones and overcome them, too.
 
7) Anchors minister to the "soul." Many who tenaciously cling to ancient forms of liturgy are but one example of this. For some, medieval chants, solemn processions, use of special liturgical items such as censers, processional crosses, etc., and the accompanying liturgical rite are not just "the" right way. They minister to the deepest part of the soul. Whether one prefers ancient or modern worship or anything in between, one of the deepest functions of anchors is to make connection to the deepest resources of the heart and soul.
 
Pulling Up Anchors?
 
When a captain orders the anchor to be pulled up, things start happening. The ship starts to move. The early going is very precarious and requires the full attention of nearly all crew members and the assistance of multiple tug boats to nudge, pull, correct, and coerce the ship in just the right direction until momentum is established and the going is safe.
 
In many ways the moments immediately following the pulling up anchor probably one of the most intense phases and critical phases of shipping. Some of the most unprecedented shipping disasters have occurred in ports within minutes of pulling up anchor. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in the 1980's was one such example.
 
Pulling up anchors is serious business. It is not without consequences. Whether anchors are pulled up intentionally or unintentionally, the early going is extremely precarious, especially in the church. As in a real ship, pulling anchors in the church
* requires the support of competent, dedicated and focused leadership.
* requires that the captain and the ship know their destination.
* requires that the captain and leaders be aware of the perils of the early...and late...going.
* requires nudging by critically constructive participants and the ability and willingness to make corrections to establish momentum.
 
Once at sea, the ship and its entire crew, must have the confidence to know and remain faithful to its destination even in storms. Of course, the storms can be great. In spite of the best planning, efforts and intention, there are no guarantees.
 
When the ship is finally out to sea, it's still not smooth sailing. The only things it can depend on are whatever resources it has stored, remaining afloat, staying on course, and daily persisting in unquestioned confidence that progress is being made even when the seascape looks identical to the previous day and the day before that....
 
Anchors A-weigh!
 
Perhaps the greatest moment for the captain is when the anchor is pulled up. It is at this moment when the captain's leadership and the crews' identification with the voyage begins. It is at this moment when the captain goes from being head manager to navigator/leader.
 
Pastors, as change agents, are also called to pull up anchors. This specifically includes those anchors which hinder or threaten the mission of the church to "make disciples." Pulling up the anchors and shouting "Anchors A-weigh" can either be their greatest moment...or their last. It can be cause for great joy or greater desperation.
 
Principles For Pulling Up Anchors
 
Since the task of pulling anchor is so precarious, pastors and Christian leaders must respect the importance of anchors to organizations and their adherents. Here's some guiding principles for pulling up anchors.
1) Before pulling up anchors, check the condition of the ship. Some are unfit for sailing. Some have just gone through the shoals and are leaking badly. Others may float, but need considerable work. Still others need to have things settled on board in port first before even thinking about setting out to sea. Some, however, are all set just waiting for the captain to say, "Anchors A-weigh!"
 
2) Timing is important! Don't pull the anchors up too quickly. Necessary support many not be available. Conditions may not be amply safe to move forward without peril.
 
3) Don't get impatient. Anchors pull up very, very slowly. The passage from the dock to the bay to open sea is a slow-going task. Don't rush it or else you'll crash.
 
4) Have a crew you can trust. They have to be there to be useful. No-shows and fair-weather crew members just won't do. They must be accountable. And, since they're volunteers, they must also enjoy it.
 
5) Keep encouraging the crew toward unity. This is done primarily by continuing to give your "I have a dream" speech.
 
6) When navigation is uncertain, send out the dinghy first to do some testing of the waters. It's best to discover that there's a problem when only some of your resources are at risk.
 
7)  Don't pull up anchor without telling anyone. Pulling up anchors is not to be done in secret. It affects everyone. Avoid as many surprises as possible by avoiding secrets and publicizing the itinerary.
 
8) Be careful which anchors you pull up. Every ship has multiple anchors. Pulling up the wrong anchors or pulling them up in the wrong sequence can be detrimental to the goal of getting out of port safely...or at all.
 
9) Expect storms. Once the anchor is pulled, every ship is vulnerable. Every captain and ship knows there will be storms and non-anxiously anticipates and leads through them. Though exhausted afterwards, the storm-torn captain gains greater confidence in himself and the crew as their skillful prowess increases with each storm they experience.
 
10) Expect the unexpected. Whether good or bad, every voyage is different. Expect the unexpected--it's part of the thrill of the voyage.
 
11) Put Down The Anchors. After the voyage is done, the ship will put the anchors down again. But the anchors may be new or modified. Or they may simply be the same anchors, just put down into a different location. Ministry leadership means not just pulling up anchors, it also means coming back into port and putting anchors back down again to prepare for the next voyage.
 
12) Trust God. Since you really don't have much choice in trusting any other power of this magnitude (God is the only God there is!), trust God to be in control. After all, He is. Captains just have to recognize and remember that frequently.
Anchors: The Good And The Bad
 
The principles for pulling anchors are quite simple. That's the good news. The bad news is that pulling anchors is dangerous business. It disrupts people. It takes them out of their "home port" safety zone. It incites fears. It arouses uncertainty.
 
Perhaps the most difficult thing about pulling anchors is that it requires trust. That's precisely why God calls pastors and Christian leaders to a ministry of change-agency. Anchors can be hazardous. Handle it the wrong way and it can knock you out--dead!
 
Anchors can also be used in ways to enhance renewal, too. Because, as Cohen and Cohen said, they "evoke a response," the prudent leader will recognize the powerful use of anchors to inspire, uplift, unify and motivate.
 
Anchors Help Bring Control
 
Whenever an extra degree of control is needed, anchors can help. Knowing the anchors in your ministry--and what emotional responses they evoke--can be a powerful way to positively influence a congregation toward a desired behavior or goal. As leaders appeal to these anchors, they help the ministry by reaffirming it's identity while also inciting those values most necessary to take it out to sea for another voyage into the wonder of God's working.

A Thumb As An Anchor

In one of the most remarkable examples of conflict intervention, Rev. Erwin Kostizen, then Vice-President of the Michigan District-LCMS, used a powerful anchor to bring peace to an extremely conflicted congregation. He used his thumb.
 
He held out his fist in front of his chest and, pointing his thumb to the ceiling, described how this thumb was hurting. Drawing on the anchor of the Body of Christ, he described how the Body can't just cut off the hurting thumb without causing further harm. Instead, the Body of Christ must minister to that hurting thumb with the loving and healing words of reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
 
The response among the group of over 100 highly-reactive, ready-to-attack, individuals in the crowd was a stunning silence. As they gazed at the thumb, they had to put away their hot emotions and their out-of-control feelings. They were called to remember their anchor, Jesus Christ, with whom they were joined in the Body of Christ.
 
From that moment on, a congregation which experienced several months of Level IV conflict and the exodus of hundreds of members, began to experience the first steps of peace and reconciliation. It was the powerful working of God conveying the power of anchors through one gifted for a ministry of conflict intervention.
 
Your Most Important Anchor
 
If, as Cohen and Cohen claim, anchoring techniques link desired behaviors to established symbols, then it is most imperative that pastors continually link themselves to the most important anchor: Christ. He's the one anchor one never pulls up, especially when on is in ministry.
 
Hebrews 6:17-19 records discusses how Christ is the anchor for our soul.
"Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (NIV).
God's anchor to us is that His purpose toward us never, ever changes. Though the circumstances and events of ministry are often unpredictable even in the best of times, God confirms His promise so that we, too, may "take hold of the hope offered us and be greatly encouraged." This is our hope. Christ is our "Anchor for our soul, firm and secure."
 
No matter where your voyage of ministry might lead, never--ever--pull up anchor from His port!
 
Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:57 PM