Charism

I float around a fair few ecumenical circles these days.  Its a whole pile of fun, revelation and….well, sometimes just plain bizarreness!  One of the common mantras of the ecumenical scene is that any sense of different emphasis or any hint of denominational perspective or loyalty is negative.  I agree to the extent that there should be nothing which builds hostility and division.

However,  I think that if there is an insistance that every Christian community is monochrome, they miss the point on this one.  Moreover, often the claim is that they have to leave their own ‘path’ and join theirs in order to be one.

Jean Vanier, a Frenchman and theologian, speaking of a particular Christian community, says this:

“These people have been called together to be a sign and a witness, to accomplish a particular mission, which is their charism, their gift.” 

General Bond articulated a few days ago the international mission priorities for the whole Army.  It is a fantastic description of what our ‘particular mission’ is.  And friends, its not until you serve in a different part of the universal church that you realise exactly how particular that mission is.  There is definetely a ‘charism’ that is Salvationist with regards to mission that isn’t seen elsewhere.  I see this clearer now than I’ve ever seen it.

But here is the challenge:  in the context of days where in many places the Army harks back to churchy identity (with pastors and churches and services etc etc) I believe that there is a risk of us taking our focus away from our ‘charism.’  Its not that all the trappings of Salvationism are the charism, its not about bands and uniforms etc.  However, there is a real risk that the more we start to take the lead from the churches and their mission (for example, the church growth movement, the mega church movement, the Natural Church Development movement etc etc) the more we lose sight of the vibrancy of the mission that we have been called to.

How can this be?  Simply because the focus of the Salvation Army is not the Salvation Army.  The focus isn’t the health, size or wellbeing of The Salvation Army…nor indeed too much introspective navel-gazing preoccupation with ourselves.  The focus and mission of the Army is outward facing.  We are to exist as a permanant mission to the lost.  The mission of God is our rallying point.

Over the years, I’ve heard it said that its no longer appropriate for the Salvation Army to be a mission to the lost because as we’ve matured, we’ve had to necessarily develop a more predominantly pastoral ecclessiology.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  YUCK!  I mean, I could try and find more sensible words, but to be honest, who wants to be part of a Salvation Army church?  There are tonnes of places out there who do the pastoral model of church a whole lot better than we do.  Seriously!  There are tonnes of better pastoral focussed churches which mean that if you want to go somewhere and be fed and cared for by a pastor week by week, they’ll happily welcome you and make you spiritually fat.

We’re made to fight  We’re made for the last, the least, the lost.  We’re on a mission….a ‘community in mission’ as Phil Needham describes us.  You don’t come to the Army to get fed until you are spiritually obese.  You come and get trained up, filled up and then sent out on mission in the world to save it.

You know, there is no place I’d rather be at all than back in the Army as an officer.  Do you know what dogs every thought about returning?  A Salvation Army fixated on a pastoral Christendom model of church with all the clerical trappings.  It doesn’t fit the Army….or certainly the Army’s charism as opposed to what the Army is slowly becoming. 

It has taken me years to process this stuff you know and to figure out whats going on.  From my very earliest days there is something inside me which has kicked out at a purely pastoral model of officership. Why would you want a model of officership that focuses purely on one aspect of leadership gifting to the exclusion of apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets?  Every missiologist will tell you that if you have a movement led by pastors, it will stagnate.  Why?  Because you’ll have no apostles to develop strategic advance, no prophets to call us back to the Word and to our mission, no evangelists to get people saved and so you’ll have no-one to pastor or teach!!!

If you are an officer and a pastor, God bless you.  We need you a lot.  Let there be no mistake in that.

But listen to this:  “If you aim for ministry, you never get to mission, even if you intend to do it. However if you aim at mission, you get ministry as well, because ministry is the means by which you do mission.”  – (Alan Hirsch, missiologist)

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