The church my mother goes to…


My Mother and I at my sister’s wedding

Couple of weeks ago I was talking with my divisional commander about ‘church.’ It all started with a conversation about my mother. Now, my mother does not go to church. The reason for that is simply because she isn’t a Christian. More than that, my mum is a product of some tough life experiences, she is what you can call a diamond in the rough. I say diamond because she has some great qualities surrounded by a whole load of rough stuff.

The other reason my mother doesn’t go to church is that she’s grown up with the idea that people who go to church think they are better than her. One of the ‘characteristics’ if you like of people from places like me and my mum is that in spite of having nothing, you don’t let people look down on you. Her experience of people who go to church is just that. The reason that might be is because, as I say, she can be rough.

Back to my conversation with the DC…I was saying to him that I think the ideal church would be the church that my mother would join. You see, the kind of Christian community that my mother would join would be the kind of community that could look past a person’s culture, character, guarded emotions, language, general manner and outward appearance and see the need at the heart and be willing to refuse to let the outward dictate who is worth bothering with.

The thing is that my mother is not unspiritual…she’s been to spiritualists, tea-readers, mediums, woman’s masonic groups and all the rest. The problem with my mother is that there has never been a church bold enough to embrace her. Part of this is a geography thing…the only evangelical church in our village is a very middle class Brethren assembly. The other part of it is that the vast majority of churches aren’t ready for my mother.

But don’t lets fall into the trap of thinking my mum is some sort of extreme monster. No, she is fairly typical of many women in the town I grew up in and actually a bunny rabbit compared to women her age I encountered during our time in the East-End of Glasgow.

William Booth talked about the submerged tenth. I’m not so sure that poverty is the measure of that ‘submerged’ people today…its more likely accurate to describe the submerged as the people that church culture has totally lost contact with. What’s more, I reckon that the figure is much more than a tenth.

Where else should The Salvation Army be but in the places where the submerged live?

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Vision Alive

I read again in Floyd McClung’s book ‘You See Bones – I see and Army’ the quote “the person with a vision is never at the mercy of people without one.” I was in a coffee shop, having driven the 100 miles to our nearest car servicing garage, and nwow filling up the 5 hour wait with a good book.

The quote just stopped me dead…my heart started to beat fast, and my spirit quickened. I remember the very first time God gave me a real vision of what he wanted from his Army. It must have been about 9 years ago at Roots when the main celebration was still in the Theatre place.

Andrew Grinnell was leading the congregation in ‘The World for God’ and the screen was filled with images of early Army footage…Salvationists marching, old Booth preaching, and all that sort of stuff. Captain Geoff Ryan had just preached, telling stories about the revolutionary Salvationist stuff happening amongs the soldiers in Russia and they were now handing out calls to either pack your stuff and move to Russia or to pack your stuff and move to Manchester to help start the new Eden stuff.

It was a vision of a passionate, aggressive, winning Salvation Army with a radical commitment to discipleship and to the poor.

That evening’s worship changed my life fundamentally. It changed my view of the Army…for the first time I got it. In spite of my crazy conversion, the Army (or the corps) were slowly winning in converting me into a nominal bando. The invite to Roots was a step in God’s divine plan. It blew me away. I can trace my ‘discontent with the status quo’ back to that very evening. Since then, that vision of that kind of Army has been pumping away in my heart and all along I’ve been struggling and striving to make it happen…not in Russia or Manchester, but where I am.

I confess openly that I often fail in this. Sometimes I feel the vision is too big, too huge and subsequently impossible. I’m guilty of often look at the ‘status quo’ and getting the distinct feeling that it has won…that is until God awakens yet again the passion, the vision, the discontent. McClung’s book is dynamite. It’s dangerous reading.

Vision must be shared and shared and shared. It must be sold and communicated and published and refined and shared again. It’s about injecting people, awakening them to discover the DNA of who they are. When people discover this, it just explodes one way or the other.

As Stephen Court was saying on his blog recently, we can be slow to create new wineskins for a wave of the Spirit’s blessing, and God often has to make new skins elsewhere. I firmly believe that the largest threat to any Salvation Army revolution is our tendency to squeeze it into old skins. We try and manage stuff and keep hold of it, package it or legislate it.

My prayer for the Army in these day’s is that we’ll have the willingness to recognise that ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ Its crucial that Salvationists in this Territory ask God for his heart and direction and then begin to lead it and live it wherever they are. It can only result in the salvation of the lost…it can only be good.

Church

I got into a conversation with a Canadian earlier. This Canadian lives a part of Canada where, from what I can pick up, are several decent sized Salvation Army corps, a couple of social centres and one or two charity shops. The said Canadian enthusiastically shared that she volunteered at The Salvation Army.

‘Great’, I said, with as much enthusiasm I could muster. I go on to ask her if she is a Christian.

‘God no!’ she answers. ‘Wouldn’t want to have anything to do with religion.’

‘Why work with The Salvation Army then?’ I ask her.

‘Well, they are a good secular organisation who help people.’

The conversation proceeded relatively typically..gave her a few websites to look up to have a look into what The Salvation Army really is. I hope I haven’t gone and lost them a volunteer, but how ridiculous is it that even our volunteers don’t know what we’re about?

The question that pops to mind is why is it that the general public, even those who have a working knowledge of The Army, don’t know what we do? The common response to this over the years has been about publicity campaigns.

I was looking through a folder of official minutes the other evening looking for something and came across one issued a few years back entitled ‘Boosting The Salvation Army’s Image as a Church’ or something to that effect. Its main thrust was that we were to include the words ‘The Salvation Army is a Christian Church and registered charity’ at the bottom of headed note-paper. Well, thats really going to get the news out.

We’re good at throwing marketing tactics at our missional problems. I was at a seminar recently at Territorial Congress on church transformation, or something like that. I sat and listened to the usual talk about how the Army is declining. Then I sat and listened to the proposed solution to this. Basically, it was 1980’s church growth principles with a new name…a ‘Field of Dreams’ theology, you know, ‘build it and they will come.’

I put my hands on my head and assumed the ‘despair’ position.

In the UK, we’ve seen an influx of Natural Church Development promotion. NCD is basically a church audit programme. Its designed to help people be a better church, a more polished church, healthier even. A plan is then produced to improve the church based on ratings and scores produced by its members. For example, if the soldiers say the worship is rubbish, the report says ‘need to work on worship.’ Its technical stuff, I’m sure you can imagine.

The Salvation Army in many quarters seems bent on elevating the efficiency of our structures, programmes and ministries (mainly to ourselves). Meanwhile, the emphasis on discipleship, radical discipleship, is alien to a large number of people to put a uniform on their back week-in, week-out.

The future revolution for The Salvation Army will be about caring much less about structure/programme and much more about people. In coming up for 8 years of corps officership/leadership in one form or another, I can look back and say with confidence that programme, the maintenance of it and sometimes the preservation of it has been the most time consuming, soul-destroying task I’ve ever had to endure.

When you build an organisational structure at the end of the day, all your left with is a structure which very soon will become a burden. When you build disciples of Jesus Christ, passionately committed to the cause, you build an Army set for taking over the world beginning right where they are.

The world will soon discover exactly what The Salvation Army is when it is full of covenanted warriors exercising holy passion to win the world for Jesus. Bring it on Lord!

Clearing Clutter

Its been a busy week or so on the Clark front. Had some good friends to visit for the week and had a good time with them.

On top of all that, we’ve been doing some Spring Cleaning. I discovered some boxes that we hadn’t unpacked yet since we moved….about 5 or 6 boxes. As I sorted them through I thought to myself, why on earth did I bring these things 600 miles from Bristol to Wick?

Some of it were just bits of useless stuff. Some of it were weird little items of nostalgia. Some of it was useful maybe 5 years ago, but we’ve outgrown it.

I’m guessing that there is some pretty good spiritual application in all that. We don’t just do that kinda stuff physically, we hold onto stuff from our past for all sorts of reasons which we should either be leaving behind or getting away from the false security of.

Spiritual housecleaning should be a regular activity for individuals and corps. When was you’re last clean out?

Have a pray about this….

As I said in my last post, I’ve been praying and asking God to speak to me through my dreams. Its perfectly normal for God to do this…he often did it in the bible. Joel (and later Peter) prophesied that God’s people would dream dreams and see visions. Here is a dream I want to share…it seems to have wider implications. Maybe God will use it to help your pray.

I saw a bull, very angry and it was in a field. However, the bull did not charge at everything and everyone. It seemed calm in several situations, but responded violently when three items in particular were held in front of it.

It charged when a copy of the Disposition of Forces (addresses and names of officers and where they are appointed) were held in front of it.

It charged when a Salvation Army accounting sheet was held in front of it.

It charged when a policy manual from The Salvation Army General Insurance Company (SAGIC) was held in front of it.

The bull was disarmed when these items were removed from its reach and then no longer violently attacked these items.

Then I saw a bridge that had been damaged. People had been on the bridge at the time of the collapse and were in the water. Those who had been saved from the ravages of the bull were then able to rescue those in the water.

Those who have ears to hear will hear what the Spirit is saying to the Army.

Amazed

Oops….I forgot to let you know I was on furlough (holiday)…but I’m back now.

We’ve had a good couple of weeks away with plenty of opportunity just to sit back, reflect, think, read, talk, pray, think and read some more, pray again, have a bit more talk…all with the odd ice-cream and latte thrown in for good measure.

I’m back in Wick here this evening, having just rounded of preparation for tomorrows meetings, just trying to piece it all together and…well…make sense of it.

I’ve had the chance to re-visit several places and memories, many of which make up who I am, and where I’ve been and come from. I’ve had chances to affirm who I am, what God is doing, and what God is going to do. We’ve been engaged in corps ministry in various capacities (as assistants and as COs) for coming on 10 years now. Its taken that 10 years to really establish a lot of things and to get to a point of clarity about what God expects of me. The main thing is that God isn’t asking me to be something or someone I’m not…thats probably the most liberating thought anyone could have.

I’ve also been totally bowled over again and what God has accomplished in my mere 12 or so years as a Christian. I spent a week at home with my mum and step-dad. As I slept in the room I used to inhabit, I just marvelled at what God has done in my life. As I walk down streets I used to walk down with my wife and two kids, I’m amazed again. As I revisit places I’ve ministered in, I’m amazed again.

When I think about my own spiritual life, I’m continually amazed with the levels of revelation God just continues to pour out in a variety of ways. You’ll imagine my joy when I hear that my young sister and her husband are expecting a baby. They’d been having problems conceiving (no doubt because of the masonic influences over their life and marriage through her husbands involvement) and I’ve been battling in prayer for her and them. In fact, the last word of prayer I had with the Lord on the matter was the last word because I’d had a sense a couple of weeks ago that he’d answered…and surely, he had. Praise Him! Pray for the safe health and development of the baby.

A while back I asked God to use my dreams to speak to me and he has being doing that to paint some strong messages that are helping in intercession for our situation and appointment at the moment. I mean, some of the stuff he is saying is just overwhelming and so clear.

Yes, God is pretty amazing.