Posted by: Philip Rushton | July 29, 2014

The Parable Of Lake Sacajawea

When I drove to Longview for my first interview with the church, the search committee provided me with directions that took me on a small detour. Rather than driving straight down Washington Way, I was routed to Ocean Beach Highway and Nichols Boulevard. Those living in Longview know that this route takes you right past Lake Sacajawea.

Lake Sacajawea

Lake Sacajawea

Lake Sacajawea is the crown jewel of our community. It is a former section of the Cowlitz river that was developed into a spectacular 4 mile lake that boasts over 300 types of trees, a beautiful walking trail, a Japanese garden, numerous flower gardens, fountains, and a great space for outdoor concerts and events. This lake is the reason why Longview made the Forbes top ten list of cutest towns in America a couple of years ago.

Perhaps Google maps chose to send us on that route; however, I have my suspicions that the search committee intentionally included the detour so we would have a good first impression of the town! Either way, the detour worked! As Julie and I turned down Nichols Boulevard for the first time we were immediately taken with the town. We even told each other that we could see ourselves living here. We eventually bought a home a couple blocks away from the lake and enjoy walking there on a regular basis.

We have since learned that Lake Sacajawea requires a lot of investment to maintain its beauty . The lake does not have a natural input or output, so the city has engineered a flushing system that allows thousands of gallons of water from the Cowlitz river to run through the lake every day. Without this process the lake becomes stagnant and smelly. Back in the 1970’s the lake was turning into a swamp and it was projected that it would become a bog within 50 years if nothing was done.

Recently, the local government has been wrestling with how they might continue to flush the lake in the future. The current infrastructure needs upgrading, and the Environmental Protection Agency is concerned that the current lake flushing system is implicating the smelt population in the Cowlitz river.

As I was reading a recent article about the challenges of lake flushing, the situation stood out to me as a parable for the church.

This lake means a lot to our community. If it ceased to flourish our town would notice. We would lose a great venue for social events, property values would go down, and our town would not be as beautiful. This had me wondering if the same thing would be the case if our churches ceased to flourish. Would our town notice? Would people grieve that we were no longer here? Would Longview be worse off without our presence? For, you see, the purpose of the church is not to exist for itself. We exist to be a light to our world. We are called to participate in God’s work of reconciliation and renewal in our world.

Like Lake Sacajawea, though, our ability to make a positive impact in our community requires us to consider whether we have an adequate input and output. The church is in danger of growing stagnant if the spirit of God is not flowing through it. If we are not connected to God we will cease to make a difference in the world. Similarly, if we hoard the gifts of God for ourselves and prevent them from flowing out into our community we will also grow stagnant. We need to create avenues for ministry to take place outside the walls of our church.

In order to impact our community we also need to acknowledge when our infrastructure needs to be updated. The current flushing system at the lake is is getting expensive and is breaking down. Sometimes the same thing happens with the church. Old models of ministry do not always match the realities and needs of our time. Some of our infrastructure is expensive to run and is proving to be less effective. There is a lot of concern about the decline of the church in American culture. Statisticians warn that if we do not address the cultural challenges of our day we may very well become a “stagnant bog” in the next fifty years. I am not as pessimistic as some people are. The church has endured challenges for thousands of years and has proven to be resilient and adaptable. Nevertheless, our ability to function as a beacon of light in our world require us to acknowledge the challenges we are up against and find creative solutions for how we can contextualize the gospel in a new cultural setting.

Jesus desired his community to be a source of light and hope to the world around it. My prayer is that in the next fifty years the church will continue to be something that our world would miss if we ceased to flourish.


  1. Excellent thinking and a clear call to action, maybe some specific suggestions?

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