Aqua Church:
Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today’s Fluid Culture

by Leonard Sweet, Group Publishers, 1999, 269p.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

Aqua Church is more than a description of the challenges the postmodern church faces. It is a manual or workbook filled with information, concepts and practical suggestions that can help the contemporary church not only to survive, but to thrive. Aware of the fluid nature of contemporary culture, Sweet draws on navigational images found on board a sailing ship. Indeed, the entire book is an extended metaphor in which the reader is a novice sailor learning the skills required to help “sail” the church in the turbulent sea of change that surrounds it.

It is not a “how to” manual that calls leaders to imitate specific models. “Instead of maps…you will find leadership arts that will help you navigate your ministry.” As Marshal Shelley notes on the dust-cover, Sweet “…discerns today’s invisible forces that make leadership more like a voyage than a march. His navigational aids help keep us on course.” It is Sweet’s conviction that if the church is willing to get its feet wet in its attempts at incarnating ministry in postmodern culture, we may “…actually help the church capture certain features of the faith lost or muted in modernity.”

Besides insisting that the Christian mariner of today must be guided by the North Star, Jesus Christ, and the compass of the Scriptures, Sweet offers ten specific skills or arts needed to lead well in the context of the contemporary church. Each of these arts are essential, although readers will naturally select from these ten a set of arts that seem most significant to them. For me, the chapter on risk-taking was significant. In it Sweet notes that “we must shift from program and planning modes of movement to preparedness modes of locomotion.” Equally stimulating for me were the chapters on “vision” which he defines as the ability to read the present times, “collaboration” in which people are empowered not employed, and “creativity” which helps to eliminate the imagination deficit found in many churches.

Each chapter is followed by a short description of a church that makes good use of the leadership art discussed in it. As well there is a section entitled “Personal Log” containing follow-through questions and exercises for the reader, and a section called “Ship’s Log” containing ideas and exercises to be processed by leadership groups.

This book is not an easy read. The reader will have many occasions to stop, reflect, internalize and perhaps disagree with what is being said. But as Mike Slaughter suggests on the dust-cover, it “…is a must read for Jesus leaders who risk navigating uncharted, postmodern seas.”