Local church lessons from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Part 1 of 2

If a gold-mine that has produced a number of nuggets already might actually contain a few more, only a fool wouldn’t take the time to make another excursion into the shaft and dig around for more.

In my relentless pursuit of analogies and/or illustrations that might be useful for making the truths of God more understandable, I recently ventured back down into the gold-mine of the U.S. Military.  On this latest trip in, I was looking for a nugget that might help the leadership of a local church to reconsider the priority that they have assigned to what has historically been referred to as “missions”.

And believe it or not, I found another nugget!  Actually, it’s quite a bit larger than a nugget.  It was actually….an aircraft carrier… the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan to be exact!  This Nimitz class nuclear powered warship has the capacity to fully transport 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and has a crew of more than 5,600 people, (3,200 of which are for the ship itself and 2,480 that concentrate on the aircraft).

By asking the following easily answered questions about the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, and then asking similar questions about the local church–questions that I believe are also easily answered based on the bible, I’m convinced that a few challenging and God-glorifying truths might be made a little clearer.

1.  What is the functional reason for the existence of an aircraft carrier, specifically, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan ?

–Can the answer be any simpler?  An aircraft carrier exists to…..CARRY AIRCRAFT!

A carrier is brought into existence for a purpose…to carry aircraft, and then given a mission.  That mission is to launch the aircraft it carries when commanded to do so by the captain of the ship in response to the orders the captain receives from the commander-in-chief.

2.  If the U.S.S. Reagan has a capacity for transporting and launching 90 aircraft, (most with not more than two people in the cockpit of those aircraft when they fly), then what is the purpose of the other approximately 5,500 people that are on board the ship?

–Everyone else on board makes up the team that is essential for the ship to do what it was created and designed to do…launch the aircraft and carry out its mission.  Every crew member has a specific job to do, but their job is always accomplished in unison with with all the other crew members and the jobs each of them do.  Every member of the crew must understand that they are an essential part of the whole team of people that work together so that the mission of the ship can be accomplished.  Any team member that doesn’t take their job seriously or do it to the best of their ability is putting the accomplishment of the mission at risk and could actually cost the lives of others and even their own.

Less than 5 percent of the crew are actually in the aircraft that the ship launches.  When those aircraft are launched, they will be the only ones to actually engage the distant enemy that represents a government in conflict with that the government the carrier represents.  That engagement will take place as many miles away from the ship as possible.

3.  The aircraft are launched to accomplish a mission at a great distance from the ship itself, but is the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan also capable of accomplishing a mission in the vicinity immediately surrounding it’s own location?

–Yes, of course.  It carries other sea-capable craft and weapons systems that other crew members are trained to use and that can be deployed within the nearby vicinity of the ship.

4.  Does the captain of the ship ever fly off of the ship on a combat mission?

–No.  His primary role is to ensure the ship is in working order and is capable of being at the location it is required to be in, with all systems, including the aircraft, ready to do what they were designed to do.

As I was mentally chewing on these things and tinkering around with how these things might illustrate some truths that local churches would do well to consider, I had an incredibly thought-provoking conversation with a recently retired U.S. Navy doctor.

Any time I have the opportunity to speak with someone who has also served in the military, I seize the opportunity and pepper them with dozens of questions.  I genuinely love to hear about their motivation for joining, their specific occupation while they were in, and if they’re open to talking about, some of the lessons about life they may have learned during their time of service.

This doctor told me that the “mission” of a Navy physician changes when that doctor moves from duty on shore at a hospital or clinic, to medical duty on a ship.  Although every individual sailor, airmen, or Marine’s health care is important, when on a ship, that person’s healthcare has to be filtered through the “mission” of the ship and that person’s role in accomplishing that “mission”.  If I understood correctly, this doctor was telling me that even the health care needs of the crew of the ship must serve the “mission” of the ship which is the highest priority.

I honestly didn’t know that, but as I thought about it, it does make sense.  The health care needs of the crew are NOT the highest priority, the “mission” of the ship is.  In fact, every member of the crew knows that the ship does not exist to keep them healthy and that the actual accomplishment of the “mission” that they are committed to could very well be detrimental to their health, and may even cost them their lives.

Although I’m sure some of those you already see where I’m going with this, I will end this post with this thought:

Knowing why every local church exists and the mission it has been given by God is crucial and understanding that mission and making it the filter through which everything else it does is viewed should determine the way things are prioritized.


10 replies
  1. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:


    I love these illustrations as there are many layers to be pulled back and examined. Your post got me thinking about aircraft carriers and the fact that they never deploy alone. In fact a simple google search informed me that the USS Reagan is now apart of CSG-9 (Carrier Strike Group Nine), which consists of no less than 9 other ships and submarines including a carrier air wing, a guided-missile cruiser and 7 destroyers. The amount of collaboration and cooperation necessary to carry out said mission is phenomenal, not to mention the command support from the homeland.

    Pretty amazing stuff. And the majority of the people doing the day to day work are under 25 years-old.

  2. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:


    First, I love the picture you found for this post.

    You’re right, there are an amazing amount of layers to be pulled back when you start looking into the military for analogies.

    My first thought on the group that surrounds a carrier, especially the subs, is the similarity to the unseen forces that God has at work to give a local church the freedom it needs to operate as He calls it to.

    And you’re right…its incredible how many people from 18-25 are doing jobs that literally thousands of fellow servicemen’s lives depend on and in reality, a whole country too.

  3. Troy Drake
    Troy Drake says:

    Thanks for that! I was deployed for several years on an old carrier some 30 years ago (yikes!), and there are tons of illustrations that bounce around in my head because of that experience. I try to not bore the church with too many of them, but this is a really good one that I might borrow some day :o)

    • Gunnar Hanson
      Gunnar Hanson says:


      I know your comment was to be funny, but the reality is the military and politicians wrestle with funding almost nonstop…the budget of the military is a major campaigning in the current presidential election. I think this is yet another practical application as there are many people giving so the strike force can go forward…


      • Jon Langley
        Jon Langley says:

        Gunnar, I’m not sure I get it. My jest wasn’t a complaint that many people AREN’T giving, nor was I minimising the budgetary strains or difficulties of doing so.

        While the fighter pilot may be cognisant of the budgetary issues, he doesn’t have to worry about them BECAUSE his military superiors and the politicians are “worrying” or hopefully figuring them out. He can concentrate on the enormous amount of input and hand-eye coordination and all the other data being processed as he flies because he doesn’t have to worry if there’s enough fuel, or if the nuts and bolts are properly tightened, etc. There are those who serve in support of that, and those who serve in support of figuring out how to pay for it, stressful as those support roles may be.

        How all of that support (financial, technical, and ground) get’s accomplished in the application of the metaphor to the church is a matter of current conversation. In the military analogy the pilot isn’t the one stuck campaigning for funds or running the budget. He flies the plane. I was simply stirring the pot regarding the ongoing conversation about the methods and means of doing so, viz. – a “staff” position style support from a sending church (like Jeff has supported); the “little here, little there” style of support (like most foreign missionaries in CC work with); or an organised hybrid blend of the two (like the SBC).

        I apologie if you thought I was minimising the efforts of and financial strain on local churches. I was not.

        • Gunnar Hanson
          Gunnar Hanson says:

          No need to apologize. Your statement was vague and I missed the background to your comment. I would argue that pilots do worry about budgetary items and funding as it affects the amount of training they can do, etc, etc, but it isn’t really germane to the present conversation. I thought I was agreeing with your illustration in that it takes a huge team to keep that one plane in the air on the other side of the world.

          • Jon Langley
            Jon Langley says:

            Thanks for the clarification, Gunnar. By the way, from my experience in the foreign mission field and the many SBC servants I’ve met, I feel like I really appreciate the SBC model for supporting foreign missions. Do you know much about it? I know that no “model” or “system” is perfect, and while there may be issues in various areas of any system, it seems that when it comes to financial support and the ground support (logistics), the SBC model works well. What would your assessment be? Pros? Cons?

  4. Gunnar Hanson
    Gunnar Hanson says:

    I don’t really support the IMB (i.e. SBC) model. I feel it robs the local church of direct interaction with with missionaries. I believe the Bible has been commissioned to send out missionaries…not a denomination. I believe believe there is a bunch of waste and we have chosen to support our missionaries directly…

  5. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Gunnar and Jon,

    Great interaction on an important subject. I wish I could have chimed in sooner, but my son and his wife and their two kids have been visiting us here the past few days, and they will be heading out to serve in Southern Belize a week from tomorrow.

    Suffice it to say here that although my convictions about the local church are very similar to Gunnar’s and Shepherd’s Staff was created with just that paradigm in mind, I’ve also learned over the years that a few local churches joining together in a cooperative type approach can be a great addition to what each church is capable of doing.

    I’ll be more specific in my next few posts on this important subject.

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