December 3, 2021

Introducing the Why

For our one-year wedding anniversary Natalie and I decided to go on a cruise, something neither of us had ever done. In early September we set out on a Royal Caribbean seven-day sail that included stops in the Bahamas, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten.

The ship itself was . . . big. Occupied by more than 6,000 passengers and 2,300 crew members, the vessel had at least 20 restaurants, a Broadway theater, an ice-skating rink, and a boardwalk that could make any oceanside town jealous. And that’s just the beginning.

What really made the aptly named Allure of the Seas unique was the staff personally assigned to each traveler. If you’ve been on a cruise, you know it’s much different than staying at a hotel. Each stateroom has the same attendant throughout the entire voyage. Not only does this person clean and freshen your room, they’re available to assist with everything from dry cleaning to restaurant advice. As a bonus, each night fresh towels are provided in the shape of exotic animals (think balloon animals, but with towels).

The dining room features a similar personalized setup. Each couple is assigned to a table of six, attended by the same waiter and assistant waiter every evening. What’s neat is that you really get to know the workers on a personal level. For example, in chatting with our headwaiter, Kemar, I learned that he’s planning to leave Royal Caribbean after seven years to open a restaurant in his native country of Jamaica.

On our last night in the dining room Kemar asked for feedback on the dining room service. Thinking I was delivering a compliment, I told him that the service had been “really good.”

As politely as ever, he expressed his gratitude for my kind words, but added something I’ll never forget. “Mr. Phillips, for us ‘really good’ is not good enough. We want your experience to be excellent in every way possible.”

Setting the Bar

As I filled out the guest satisfaction survey later that night, I gave Royal Caribbean high marks. Our experience was truly excellent, but not for the obvious reasons. The food was good, but I’ve certainly had better. The stops were nice, although our preplanned snorkeling excursion in St. Thomas was rained out. The ship was great, but even a self-contained city at sea has its limitations.

What made our adventure so memorable and worry-free was the staff stationed throughout the ship. Every crew member on board was helpful, pleasant, and prompt, from those we interacted with every day to those we encountered just once. Most important, from departure to docking each staff member seemed to have a shared but personal mission to ensure that our experience was truly excellent.

Their calling, on behalf of Royal Caribbean, is not unlike the charge given to us. Paul says it plainly: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20).

In light of such a clear mandate, here’s my question, posed both to you and back at me: When visitors step inside our churches, do we feel personally accountable to ensure that their experience is truly excellent? If not, shouldn’t we? After all, we’re after much more than repeat business and tips; our endgame is to be conduits for the Holy Spirit to save souls.

The mission of an ambassador is to perfectly represent the wishes and values of the one on whose behalf he or she is sent. Imagine the power that would exude from our churches if each of us came on Sabbath morning with this sole focus. It might change the way we build our programs, maintain the grounds, and dress. More important, it would affect the way we act toward those we don’t recognize, those who look as though they don’t belong, or those who are obviously struggling.

In the cruise industry there’s something called the Crown and Anchor Society, an exclusive membership level for repeat guests. The “crown society” I want to join is in heaven. If I live as God’s earthly ambassador, perhaps others will want to come too.