Ministry is full of sayings. Christians speak in fashionable, bumper-sticker-friendly, cute-isms that they don't even understand. If they did, they might not use the phrase, or they would at least try to live up to it. Case in point, today's example..."Coming Alongside".
To come alongside--in Church vernacular--means to "walk together". It is frequently used in conjunction with that other skin-crawling term "Do Life Together". Who are these folks kidding? You really want to "come alongside" me and walk together? You want to "Do" my life? Really? Heck, I don't even want to do my life. My life sucks a lot of the time. I wonder where you were when I was sleeping in my car and studying by flashlight to get my Bachelors. Nobody in my "community of believers" was in much of a hurry to do any of that life with me. Oh heck no. I did that life all by myself. They didn't come alongside my Volvo when it was 19 degrees and I was shivering in the dark and sleeping in short spurts. They didn't have the slightest interest in "walking with me" as I did permanent tissue damage to my neck from the odd angle I was reading my school books as I tried to better my situation.
I suppose they weren't "equipped" for it. That's another ministry lingo favorite. "Equipped". You can equip a mule but it won't ever be a thoroughbred. You can equip a mind, but without the heart of Jesus it's just useless facts.
The phrase "coming alongside" has two connotations. One is to walk with someone...as we said before. But not in the way the average Christian uses it. To "walk with someone" is to endure their troubles with them. To take the same steps with them and feel your feet hurt in the same places. You cry the same tears, feel the same sorrow, long for the same destination. You help where you can, ease the burden if possible, and just your being there along the way makes the trip more endurable and less isolating and lonely. That is coming alongside.
The main definition of the term is nautical. A tug boat "comes alongside" a large vessel when it loses power and can't make it to port. Or when the channel is tricky and the tug captain has more experience navigating the treacherous waters. I grew up near the Delaware River. Often times, a tug or a pilot boat would "come alongside" a massive oil tanker and the local pilot would climb up a gangway and take the helm and get the immense boat safely into her berth. The term bespeaks a large ship, straining away at her destination and needing help, and a little guidance, from an experienced captain to make the last push to port. Sometimes the big ship lost an engine and had no power of it's own and depended on the tug to make it safely home. Other times the tug merely guided the final few moments of portage. The tug never came alongside to change the destination of the big boat, or to board her with ill intent. That is piracy. The tug never forces it's will on the boat it is helping. It helps the big boat by giving a final shove, or gently braking a ship as it docks.
That is coming alongside. I am out here at sea...I am trying to get to where God has in mind for me. If you "come alongside" you are NOT here to change my course or my destination. That's not your job...God has charted my course. You are here to help me navigate the waters, give me a push sometimes, or slow my thrust other times. You are not here to steer me or stop me. You are coming alongside, to get me home.
A tug usually does this by nudging gently. Or by tying a line. But there has to be contact. Gentle but firm. Guiding and well placed. You aren't a blockade. You're a tug.
We claim to come alongside each other but we never make contact. We float alongside each other, within hailing distance but never connecting. We seldom make contact with the wheelhouse and find out where the captain is heading. We offer a quick warning about the rocks ahead, then speed off to our home port, too busy to tug, and nudge, and push, and prod and guide.
I lived for four years in a car. I earned a Bachelors in Religion, and this summer I am beginning Seminary. I worked odd jobs and lived a humiliating existence at times. I worked hard, studied and graduated. And nobody in my "fleet" ever asked me what the charts held for my next voyage. Because nobody "came alongside" Not in my immediate world anyway. That's sad. But it's also why any future ministry of mine will banish all use of these overwrought phrases that lost their meaning when people stopped thinking about what they were saying and subsequently stopped living like they knew what they were saying.