The Life Saving Hut: A Parable

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In his book, Transforming Leadership, Leighton Ford looks at the life of Jesus and draws leadership principles for us to consider. In the book, he tells a parable that has always impacted me. I have included it here:

"Once upon a time there was a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occurred. On that coast was a little lifesaving hut, very crude and with only one boat. But there were a few devoted members who gave themselves day and night, at the risk of their own lives, to rescue those who had been shipwrecked.

Soon this little station became famous because so many were saved. Others wanted to become associated with this very famous enterprise and gave time and money and effort to buy new boats and to train more crews. After a while some members were unhappy with such a poorly equipped center, so they enlarged the building and put in better furniture. The lifesaving station became a popular gathering place and the members used it as a club.

As time went on, fewer members were interested in the dangerous lifesaving missions and instead hired crews to do the work. But lifesaving motifs were prominent in the decorations and there was even a liturgical lifeboat in the room where they had initiations!

About this time there was a large shipwreck. The hired crews brought in the cold half-drowned and dirty people - some with dark skins - and the club was messed up. The property committee had a shower house built outside, where victims could be cleaned up.

A split developed among the members at the next meeting. Most of them wanted to stop the lifesaving activities which were a hindrance to their social life. Some members insisted that lifesaving was their priority. The majority prevailed and the minority was told they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did. As the years went by the new station went through exactly the same changes as the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History repeated itself, and on the coast today visitors find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore.

Shipwrecks are still frequent. But most of the victims drown."

Leighton Ford goes on to write the following words in reflection on the parable:

"Unfortunately, the parable is an all-too-vivid satire of the cycle by which missions become movements, movements evolve into machines, and machines end up as monuments."