Back to Jesus

I wish I could remember where I read it now, but the phrase that has been in my mind the last couple of weeks is ‘If the church stops talking about Jesus, it really has nothing much to say.’   It spoke to the very heart of the essence of where I feel I am at the moment.  I’ve had years of relatively calm scepticism about the thing we call ‘church’, and, in many ways and like many people, I’m not always overly inspired.

Yet, year by year, month by month, day by day, my passion and intrigue about Jesus grows and grows.  What that is doing, unsurprisingly, is giving me an increasingly fresh perspective.  I pretty much live by Deitrich Bonnhoeffer’s conviction that, “the renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism, which has only in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this.”

This, I find, captures so much of the essence of the transformation needed:  if people focus on becoming like Jesus, the church will be renewed.  I know how simplistic that sounds, and life is never so simple, but as Alan Hirsch says, “If you focus on discipleship, you always get the church, but if you focus on church you don’t always get disciples.”  This, to me, remains the key lessons the church has to grasp as we continue to move into this 21st century.

A few weeks I spoke about whether the minutes of our church meetings, councils, synods, etc, if opened up to honest scrutiny, would either support or deny the evidence of the church as being the body of Christ, caught up in him and his cause.  I think up and down the country and in other nations, the church can so easily become about something else, even well intentioned things.  If ‘Back to Church’ Sunday’s were renamed ‘Back to Jesus’ Sundays, it would still sound as cheesy, but it may actually be closer to the desired effect:  Follow Jesus

Here’s the thing…you can talk till the cows come home at an institutional/structural level about discipleship and present as many challenges on church community as you like, but what actually changes is the joining of hearts similarly fired to live an alternative future in the now.  Right now, I continue to engage with inherited churches (even if sometimes I do wonder…) because fundamentally I believe that renewal is possible.  I believe Jesus can turn the thing round.  I believe that he can be the height, the pinnacle, the foundation, and all those sorts of words to the church.  It can all be about him again.

As I face the new challenge of setting out alongside another church community, my heartfelt desire is to continue to do all I can to preach Christ, share Christ, minister Christ, point to Christ, invite Christ and honour Christ in every way I can with the desire of fanning into flame that desire in others.    It isn’t true, I find from experience, that all people in our churches automatically want to have that focus for a variety of reason.  The renewal of the church will be a nice byproduct, but will always pale into the back ground of the experience of Jesus afresh as he shows us what the ‘God-in-community’ has to say not only to the world, but to the movement that bears his name.

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Boundless

Back after a brief blog break…it happens now and again but never for too long in my 10+ years of blogging. meinuniform2This week my Facebook feed has been filled with yellow, red and blue.  The Salvation Army’s ‘Boundless’ International Congress, celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the founding of The Salvation Army, has been taking place in London.  Inevitably, that evokes all sorts of memories and stuff, but also reconnects me with many things that are absolutely still fundamental to my call and the ministry I engage in wherever I am.  Good to celebrate those things, always.

Being a former officer and an ex-salvationist is an awkward condition to be in. For me, and I’m quite sure for many others, leaving the Army doesn’t just feel like a ‘moving on’, but it feels like an unpleasant divorce.  One party less than amicable, the other party hurt, and yes, feeling shunned at each attempt at return or reconciliation.  I’ve lost count of the small conversations ‘up the chain’ I’ve had that have felt as close to ‘shunning’ as it is possible to get.  It still, five years on, exposes that juxtaposition of the Army that welcomed me in off the street as a teenager in contrast to now, where it feels as if one is blacklisted somehow.  It will take me a long time to get over that.  It is hard to say if the day will come when that wall comes down, somehow.  Yet, this is the historic underbelly of the movement:  many of its shining lights, including some of Booth’s children, were and are ‘disowned’ and left estranged (not that my light is particularly bright, you understand).  I don’t know what it is about the movement where that persists. ‘

Boundless:  The Whole World Redeeming’ is a tremendous theme for a congress.  Its a mission rallying cry that very few followers of Jesus would fail to send off a resounding ‘AMEN’ to.  I’d like to see a THQ or IHQ department charged with the mission of sitting down with people like me and saying ‘how can we redeem this one? how can we lessen the pain? is there a path to transform this thing? how can we work on this humanly, with less cold and distant bureaucracy, to at least lessen the sting of estrangement?’  This, after all, is often a big part of the work of a corps officer…patiently building relationships with former salvationists, seeking to restore them to faith and engage them once again in the work of mission.

But until then, I’m one of the many, many, hidden Salvationists…still carrying the gifting, gracing and callings of an officer-soldier into new places, new experiences and new opportunities in God’s Kingdom, knowing that what is impossible with man is very much possible with God. I pray God’s richest blessing upon The Salvation Army, for a real strengthening and renewed sense of mission and calling lived out with a holy passion, as it moves into its next 150 years of following Jesus.