Embracing the Tack

[After years working with college students on California campuses, my friends Joe and Allison Priola have begin a new ministry called Cru City San Diego. Their focus now is on young adults who are navigating jobs and families and all the responsibilities that come outside college. Joe writes here on what a change this has been for Allison and him, and how they find God carrying them across the waters.]


Tack [tak; verb]: Tacking, or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel, whose desired course is into the wind, turns its bow toward the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other, allowing progress in the desired direction.

My father owns a sail boat. It was a dream of my mother and his once all of their boys got out of school. It is a beautiful boat and I will try to get out there on the water with him whenever I can, which is far too infrequent. It’s always a treat to spend time with Dad in his happy place. I’m not much of a sailor, but I always love being out in the water, and I do enjoy learning how the mechanics of sailing work.

When sailing, one quickly learns that getting somewhere is never really a straight line. To be honest, most of life is exactly the same way! A clear destination may be in mind, but arriving there often involves many twists and turns. In sailing the need to engage in tacking is critical to both the journey and arriving at your destination. Conditions can challenge the route. The wind shifts direction. And currents can nudge you off course amongst other unexpected factors out on the water.

The only constant is change (and God)

Let’s face it. Our lives are constantly in flux. Just when you think things are settling down and you have smooth sailing, a good rhythm to life, stuff happens – again. The unavoidable reality of change can be exhilarating and it can also be a struggle. Sometimes it can both at the same time. King David penned many wonderful poems about the hardship and the challenges of a life constantly in shift where hardship and struggle, chaos and confusion can run us aground. Pastor and theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann made a wonderful observation about these poems by identifying a rhythm that occurs in these poems about change. This rhythm revolves around the themes of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. Orientation is where things seem to make sense. You have a good wind and your boat has a good heading for your desired course. Then disorientation occurs. The conditions shift. Winds change the currents swirl. You may lose your momentum and maybe you’re your bearing because life happens. You can become disoriented. How do we respond? This is where the hard work and heavy lifting is done.

There are two things to remember in the disorientations we encounter in life. First, God is always present and very near. He tells us this. He demonstrates this. Secondly, reorientation will come. This is when God’s presence and power directs us into a new heading, and we can then realize a new sense of God’s mercies and love, as well as confidence in his guidance in the journey ahead. But as late Tom Petty once sang, the waiting is the hardest part.

Making course adjustments is vital

Tacking is necessary. Tacking allows one the ability to reposition the boat into the wind in order to best prepare to keep moving toward your end destination. For Allison and me, well, we are in the midst of a minor missional tack in some ways. Some holy disruption and disorientation has certainly taken place as we have moved from 18 years of familiarity in building movements of disciples on the college campus and are now entering into a new role to reach and disciple Twenty-somethings in our city. Yet our end destination is unchanged. Like you, our aim is to live into our God-given callings using our time, talents and treasure to make maximum kingdom impact for Christ. But we sensed God’s leading to make the appropriate tack in order to ensure we remain faithful to the journey and overall direction.

The tack can feel awkward

For the less experienced sailor the tack can feel sloppy or even confusing as it often involves some waiting. When you tack a sailboat, you can come into a drift. It can be a few seconds or even minutes. Sails flop around a bit. Your lines can slip into the water or clang against the mast. It can feel like forever, and it’s natural to ask, “What
are we doing? It seems like we lost all speed and are just sitting here? Where did our wind go? Was this tack necessary?” An experienced sailor will tell you that the tack is important. Not only that, but it’s necessary. Conditions change and you have to adjust your course in order to maintain the overall desired destination.

Wind dependent

The Spirit directs us. His breath is present and it is felt. And we are doing our best to posture ourselves as both open and expectant. This requires patience and attentiveness to the deeper work the Lord is doing in our lives and hearts “in the tack”. He is deconstructing some old patterns of life and ministry; old thoughts, old beliefs and practices of ministry, and even our pace of life needed to be addressed. The tack was necessary for us to keep going farther in the journey. We are re-learning some disciplines like greater dependency on him (rather than autopilot), re-orienting around prayerfulness in all things, better discernment of his working in us and through us, and a need to allow him to open doors and new relationships in the city. It feels awkward in the tack. Sails are flopping. Lines are clanking. There is a bit of drift. Oh, but how good and necessary it is. We are at his mercy. And this is right where he wants us. Dependent.

Stillness: be still and know he is God

Allison and I have a clear idea of our end goal – what it looks like when lives are being up-ended by God and communities are being transformed by Spirit-led followers of Jesus. And we are looking to this horizon with excitement, and we are completely confident in the directing and empowering of the Spirit of Jesus, compelling us to make disciples of all nations. The tack isn’t permanent. It is for a season. And we are readying our sails and lines in the awkwardness and stillness so that God will do a new work in us and through us. We are learning to embrace the tack – to even enjoy it! It can prove difficult, but it is necessary. And as the Spirit blows, our confidence that doing the hard work in the tack will properly prepare us for a new adventure in the journey ahead.


Allison and Joe look even cooler in person.

You can learn more about Joe and Allison’s work with San Diego’s young adults on their Facebook pages: here’s the one for Allison and the one for Joe.


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3 Responses to Embracing the Tack

  1. FW Rez says:

    Praying for you, Joe and Allison, as you begin your work of reaching young adults in San Diego.Having attempted to navigate Mission Bay under wind power alone, I enjoy the use of the sailing illustrations in discussing this leg of your journey. As you already know, there are many challenges to ministry in SD. Dependency on the Holy Spirit, as you expressed in the post, is key.

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is such a good post, with so much wisdom to ponder no matter what stage of life or vocation or faith we are in. To accept these “tacking” times as normal, necessary parts of the journey is so important. We may resist the dismantling that takes place there, but it’s always better to lean into it. Thank you!

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