The following is a guest post written by David Welford. The only islands I’ve ever been to are the Florida Keys. – Anthony Baker
I have a natural affinity for islands. I grew up on a small island called Guernsey, and moved to the rather larger island of Great Britain when I was eleven years old. Since then I have visited many islands, my preference being for the smaller variety.
Newfoundland, while interesting, was just too big. Guernsey, measuring just eight miles by five, was perfect. But then I am biased in favor of my childhood home.
There are smaller islands close to Guernsey that are wonderful for a day visit, but living permanently on a very small island poses certain challenges including food supplies, schooling, and social interaction.
Last week I visited Madeira for the first time. Madeira is a Portuguese island that rises steeply from the Atlantic Ocean and has a population of roughly 280,000. To me that is a lot of people, but the island itself is small enough to get around.
Madeira is very rugged and very green. Everything seems to grow in abundance despite the gradients, and everywhere I went the land seemed to have been terraced to maximize the space available for crops.
Accessibility to islands like Madeira is not always easy. There is an airport in Madeira but until the runway was extended a few years back the safety reputation of the airport was not good. There is a small harbor where cruise ships call, but there is no ferry service.
For some reason Madeira has an attraction for the elderly, and I was one of the youngest passengers on my flights to and from the island. I guess the young head to more exciting places.
In some ways churches resemble islands. There are small and large churches, and there are churches that only seem to attract the elderly, while others appeal to the young.
A certain commitment is required to visit church, and significant journeys can be required because fewer churches seem to be inhabited these days.
In some churches there is evidence of abundant growth, but others resemble the desert islands that are visible from the south coast of Madeira where nothing grows.
Problems also occur when churches become exclusive – a bit like islands that fall into celebrity ownership, with Necker in the Caribbean being a prime example. The only way to visit Necker is as a guest or employee of a certain Sir Richard Branson.
While certain types of island attract many visitors, it seems that few churches have much to offer to the world these days. I find myself increasingly drawn to the New Testament model of church where many small islands of faith appeared in an ocean of unbelief and opposition, and grew because friends and neighbors could see Jesus in the lives of their friends and neighbors.
I am aware that this post poses questions without providing answers, but as my thoughts travelled between islands and church I found myself challenged about church in general, the church I belong to, and the home group I attend once a fortnight.
I think the main challenge is to continue being challenged and asking questions, rather than trying to work out what type of island my church might be. But, if my church is not a place where Jesus can be found and disciples are being grown then it is no better than a desert island, regardless of how many inhabitants it might have.
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NLT)