Failure to Launch: God’s answer for perpetual pubescence

By Frank King

The Swedish Battleship Vasa set sail on its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628.

Commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus as part of a military expansion begun in 1621, the Vasa was the culmination of years spent in planning and construction.

Gustavus was a proud Swede and purposed to build a ship that would make Sweden proud.

Even though his focus was on style rather than substance, he loved taking the credit for building the most powerful warship in history.

Throughout the construction phase, Gustavus ordered changes to make the ship more powerful and more beautiful. He had the Vasa decorated with sculptures to glorify the authority, wisdom, and martial prowess of the monarch and to deride, taunt, and intimidate the enemy.

He upgraded her firing power. Large, heavily armed ships made dramatic statements in the political theater, but Vasa shouted, WE’RE NUMBER ONE!

For months prior to her launch, King Gustavus contacted royalty and heads of state from all over Europe, inviting them to witness the proof of his and Sweden’s naval superiority.

And they came. By August 10th, Stockholm Harbor was swarming with luminary spectators.

Vasa was launched and gracefully sailed out into the harbor. The captain ordered a course shift to starboard, to show off its double deck of cannon: 36 per side, each capable of hurling a 24-pound ball at its enemy.

And in that spectacular, proud, and elegant maneuver, Vasa rolled, took on water, foundered, and within minutes, sank to the bottom of the harbor, where she remained for 333 years.

Her maiden voyage consisted of 1,400 yards on the water, and 35 yards down to the bottom of the harbor. That failure to launch had tremendous impact on Sweden and its people, but primarily on her proud king.

The story teaches many lessons concerning naval prowess, but it also contains some cautions for parents.

In our rush to send our children out onto the seas of life, we may leave them similarly unprepared for the winds and currents that await them.

Our purpose as parents is not to raise Christian kids, but to disciple Christian adults. Their purpose is to become tomorrow’s Church.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, we should be preparing those disciples to launch into the seas of the world and successfully navigate those waters. Depending upon the individual, that launch may take place at graduation or later; sometimes it is delayed for years. Our disciples may launch into the harbor of a job, college, or marriage. They may join other friends in forming a household of singles.

If the proper preparation has not taken place, some young adults may suffer the fate of the Vasa, proudly executing navigational maneuvers to show off their strengths, only to find a weakness that sinks them.

The Vasa’s epic failure was followed by an official inquiry. The resultant report cited dozens of possible issues that caused the ship’s demise. The most glaring of these may also instruct us as parents.

Confusion of Standards

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The construction crew for the Vasa was divided into two teams: one for port, one for starboard. One team used rulers calculated in 12-inch Swedish feet and the other used rulers in 11-inch Amsterdam feet. The result was a lopsided ship, higher and heavier on the port side.

If we raise our children with mixed messages of moral and ethical expectations, they will founder as well. Children should know and understand our family’s standards, which ideally are based on the biblical standards of the local church.

Parents and their disciples should be able to trace individual standards to family standards to church standards to biblical standards. This way, with a careful study of the profitable standard in the Bible, they will always be able to return to those standards and to pursue God’s purpose in their lives. 

When God first called a few adults to the children’s ministry at The Door Church in Tucson, He used a young boy weeping at the altar. When we drew near to minister, he related a tragic story of conflicted standards.

In Sunday school, he learned of God’s grace and forgiveness, but at home, he saw little of that reflected. His parents taught and lived a different standard than what he heard espoused in sermons at church. His school had yet another standard for him to follow. When he obeyed his teachers, he was corrected by his parents, and adherence to parental and school standards put him at odds with the teaching of the Bible.

When we became aware of these conflicts, God directed us to minister to children, assisting them to clarify God’s purpose and will for their lives. Our children’s ministry standards were always based on our local church standards, which were drawn from biblical truth. Hundreds of children have benefited from this single meeting at the altar.

Unfortunately, that young boy was not one of the beneficiaries.

Shortly after our encounter, his parents abandoned God’s purpose, uprooted him from the church, and in a tragic act of selfishness, moved away and divorced, leaving his life in chaos. Over the years, bits and pieces of news regarding this young man drifted back to us. These included a parental suicide, exposure to a promiscuous parent, and a general lack of supervision.

The last we heard, he was serving a long prison sentence, the sad victim of conflicting standards. 

Lack of Honest Feedback
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

The king’s subordinates lacked the courage to openly discuss the ship’s problems with him. They knew that where his darling Vasa was concerned, Gustavus was not open to criticism. The ship had two major design problems, but the engineers and workman never told the king.

First, a test of the hull had found the ship to be very unstable. Once the tons of decorations were added, it became very top heavy. Sheltered in its construction bubble, the defect remained undetected.

Second, the king had ordered that the gun ports be constructed lower than recommended to allow for maximum effectiveness.

A keen artillerist, Gustavus thought of the ship primarily as a platform for his guns rather than a sailing vessel. When the top-heavy ship rolled, the gun ports were submerged, and the ship quickly filled with seawater.

Honest feedback is a great tool for making corrections in our child-rearing strategy. Ignoring this input may produce tragic results.

During a child’s upbringing, his stability should be tested. Children should be directed toward God’s purpose and given some small obligations. Successes should be rewarded with more responsibilities, while failures should be addressed and re-directed.

The goal of training them to move in God’s purpose should be considered with each adjustment, and expectations should be communicated in a two-way conversation between parents and child.

Parents should honestly evaluate a child’s progress toward Christian adulthood. Keeping children in a bubble where failure is not an option only increases their chance of a fatal failure later in life.


Lack of Authenticity

“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Gustavus decorated the ship with over 500 sculptures, most of which were concentrated high on the stern. The emphasis was on beauty and show rather than substance, and this was the cause of her instability.

Anxious to show off his accomplishment, the king also rushed the launch date, sacrificing test cruises for the spectacle of a launch in front of his rivals.

A child raised to value things or appearances over character will not fare well in the real world.

Trendy shoes or the latest smart phone may impress adolescent peers, but style rather than substance may inhibit a successful transition into Christian adulthood.

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18).

Every person in the kingdom of God is there for a purpose. Adults should assist children in discovering both purpose and the gifting God has placed within them to fulfill that purpose.

The focus should remain on a child’s gift and how God wants to use it to minister to others in the church.

If you are unsure of that gift, look to leadership in the church to see what gifts God is using.

One caution, however: although music and worship is a gift that it is readily visible in the church, it is not the only gift that God has given. Many gifts such as intercessory prayer, visitation, or encouragement may also develop to function behind the scenes as we seek to bless others.

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Allow the gift to develop slowly; don’t thrust the child into ministry until he is ready.

The family is the best arena for growing a gift. Children should be encouraged to minister to other family members as they hone their talents and seek God’s anointing.

Children’s church is another good testing ground. As you assist the child to merge his gift with those who have needs in the church, you are helping the Next Generation Church to take its rightful place.

If you travel to Stockholm, Sweden (in person or on the Web), you can view the Vasa. Rescued from the depths in 1961 and housed in a museum, it is in the process of restoration.

You can witness it as it is returned to its original condition, complete with all the decorations, the workmanship, and the glory of the greatest warship of its time which never saw battle, and the greatest failure of King Gustavus’ reign.

As you view this glorious catastrophe, be mindful of the children in your church. They are the Next Generation Church.

Don’t consign their future to the museum of shipwrecks.

They are ready, willing, and able to be taught standards, to be tested, to be redirected and guided toward their God-given purpose as tomorrow’s Church.