Church on the Oceans: A Missionary Vision for the 21st Century

Martin Otto

From the first page, author Martin Otto had my full attention. He spoke about the multiple kinds of church from the Mega-church to the house church and many in-between. He then asks, "what about people who make their living at sea? . . . Do those people not have a right to worship Jesus Christ in a church? . . . Where is their church? (page 1)

I have been a church planter for many years; I have consulted with church planters, and have taught church planting. Though I love church planting, as I read this book I discovered my vision to be landlocked. Churches amongst seafarers on commercial vessels, who knew? Until now, not I.

This book of 16 short chapters informs about many dimensions on the issue of church planting and nurturing among the seafarers of the world. A seaman will often be at sea for 8 - 10 months without returning home. He may be at his home for 2 months and then back to sea. If the seafarer is a Christian how can he or she grow without a fellowship of believers? If not a Christian, how will he hear the gospel or see the witness of a living Christian fellowship? This book gives a call to action to reach the 1.3 million people who sail the ships of the world.

Of course, ships make periodic calls in ports where port chaplains are doing a tremendous work of evangelism, discipleship, and encouragement. But two to four days in port is little compared to months spent at sea. Otto, himself a port chaplain in Hamburg, Germany, seeks to plant, nurture and foster the reproduction of churches among the crews of the world's ships. Once there is a fellowship of believers on board, even a small one of 3-4 people, it can have an amazing impact on the rest of the crew. Christians will grow together in their faith. A communal witness is created. It can even have a positive impact on the work environment.

The obvious need for this ministry and the lack of people involved tends to produce in the reader a vision for it. Otto saves the vision chapter for last, but the entire book is crafted in a way to stimulate a desire for this ministry. His vision includes the active participation of Christian seafarers, port chaplains, and missionaries. He shows how each can contribute to the effectiveness of the work. Focusing on the seafarer, he shows how a seafarer with a vision for the church can have a significant ministry by starting a small church on board.

In order to plant a church, on board or anywhere else, one needs to know what a church is. Otto does not disappoint with his definition taken from the New Testament with a focus on the church in the book of Acts. A church on board can be small - even 3 people. Otto wisely encourages seafarer church planters to stay with the basic essentials of the New Testament church without insisting on denominational emphasis.

Excellent features of the text include the many case studies and examples. While one chapter is labeled "Examples of Church Planting from Ports Around the World" (chapter 11), there are several relevant stories sprinkled throughout the book.

Finally, the author gives practical advice and guidelines on how to go about starting an onboard church. This advice will be helpful and encouraging to those who are engaged in this process or who desire to begin. Otto's considerable experience with his solid biblical background brings a wise authenticity to the process. Short, interesting, and easy to read, this book fills an important gap in the literature for church planters.


Originally published in the July issue of posted with permission.