I have a growing conviction about the shape of the future Salvation Army. This conviction is one that began several months back and posted here (16th Jan 07)and is expressed in picture terms as I ‘saw’ it. It has since been fuelled by reading books such as ‘You See Bones I See an Army’ by McClung, ‘Organic Church’ by Neil Cole and ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsh. These guys are just putting vocabulary, thinking and fullness into that initial vision that captured my heart.
In our post-Christendom culture, the concept of ‘build it and they will come’ we seeped ourselves in during our ‘Church Growth’ stage is increasingly useless. The stark reality in our world is that people are interested in God/Jesus but not interested in church because of all the connotations of that in people’s minds. This is troubling for an Army who are still very much in the mindset of ‘having a good
meeting.’ The whole church growth approach to being the people of God was very much driven from a marketing/consumerist approach one might find in the business world, the idea being that the slicker our music, the better our sermons, the comfier our chairs and the cleaner our toilets, the more people we are likely to attract.
Now, whilst those things are nice and perhaps even necessary, we must follow it to the logical conclusion that says that the success of the church hangs on how clean the toilets are, how many parking spaces we have and whether we have music to compete with Radio 1.
The thing is that the Christian faith isn’t about church, its about Jesus. Church happens when we gather around Jesus, not within the confines of a Sunday morning meeting. Of course, Jesus encounters us in that setting too (because Jesus turns up when believers join together) but its a setting that, from my experience of life as a Christian so far doesn’t always lend to growing in faith and discipleship.
I think there will always be the place for ‘the meeting’ amongst believers, but I believe that if Christianity is going to grow in the post-Christendom west it has to be on a much more informal stage to allow people to interact with the message, perhaps even outside the confines of a church/Army building. We need a much more face-to-face approach to discipleship and ‘church.’
We need to assume a missionary stance in our culture today. Christianity is no longer ‘the’ religion and church-going is not automatic. So, if The Salvation Army is going to be true to principles of adaptation, then it is going to start changing shape to meet the people where they are. Neil Cole suggest that we have to ‘lower the bar of how we do church and raise the bar of discipleship.’ Now, to me, that sounds like proper Army. We were always very quick to leave churchiness to promote active discipleship. Now we are in the place where we’ve become what we set out not to be. I propose the journey needs to be a going back to basics, not just Army basics, but in making ‘church’ more about Jesus, people & discipleship as opposed to function, form and pattern.
How does that look? Personally, I’ve no idea exactly how it will look in our new appointment…its a new journey for Tracy and I. I hope you’ll tune in to the journey.