Eclectic Spirituality


I guess it happens when you start to get a bit older! I find that the things that feed me spiritually have widened so much in recent years.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love to sit down with a good bit of Oswald Chambers or a bit of Brengle or other such writers in the evangelical stream of things. Never having been one who is a fan of ‘liturgy’ in a formal setting (esp in corporate worship), I’ve found some surprising gems in two areas in recent months.

I have been dipping into the Siddur, the orthodox Jewish prayer book. Part of the insight here is that some of the prayers to be found are ones which have been around a VERY long time, such as the amidah which Jesus would probably have prayer regularly and who some say is the root of The Lord’s Prayer. Anyone who has ever prayed through, for example, the evening prayer in the siddur will have found great blessing in the God of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps!

The second is a more recent purchase. Celtic Daily Prayer produced by the Northumbria Community. This book came on my radar after a visit to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) earlier this year. It caries some ancient and modern prayers, meditations, readings etc in keeping with this hub of celtic Christianity in the UK. What I like about this is the understanding it brings of God as much bigger than just the recipient of our daily prayer list! There is room to consider the vastness of God, God as Father, Son Spirit and the responses of his people to that over the generations.

Having said all that, a vigorous Salvationist spirituality is my default mode. Yet how good it is to remind ourselves that we stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants throughout the whole path of Christianity and Judaism as we’ve all tried to engage with God.

Authentic Discipleship

“We must still prove our discipleship by our love one for the other. It is not enough to wear the uniform, to profess loyalty to Army leaders and principles, to give our goods to feed the poor and our bodies to be burned. We must love one another. We must make this the badge of our discipleship. We must wrestle and pray and hold fast that we do not lose this.

The Army is so thoroughly organized and disciplined, so wrought into the life of nations, so fortified with valuable properties, and on such a sound financial basis, that it is not likely to perish as an organization, but it will become a spiritually dead thing if love leaks out. Love is the life of The Army. ‘If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.’ But if love leaks out we shall lose our crown, we shall have a name to live and yet be dead. We may still house the homeless, dole out food to the hungry, punctiliously perform our routine work, but the mighty ministry of the Spirit will no longer be our glory. Our musicians will play meticulously, our Songsters will revel in the artistry of song that tickles the ear, but leaves the heart cold and hard. Our Officers will make broad their phylacteries and hob-nob with mayors and councilmen and be greeted in the market-place, but God will not be among us. We shall still recruit our ranks and supply our Training Garrisons with Cadets from among our own Young People, but we shall cease to be saviors of the lost sheep that have no shepherd.”

– Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle, OF

Pleasant Surprises


I was greatly encouraged by the post that dropped onto my mat this morning. Alove’s regular mailing included their new D:Pack, a nice shiny booklet highlighting discipleship in 2009 and beyond with some great, practical and earthed resources and strategies.

Alove, which has been around for a wee while now has, in my opinion, been struggling to get beyond ‘concept’ and ‘hype’ and so you’ll understand why I was encouraged to see something solid beginning to appear which will resource people at the grass roots level.

However, not just excited about that. I’m encouraged by the things that were promoted:

– cell groups. Face to face discipling is a much needed thing across the whole Salvation Army in the UKT, from children to old comrades. We need to get people gathering intentionally around Jesus to get to grips with the call of Jesus on our life.

– LTGs (Life Transfrormation Groups). These are smaller (leaderless) groups that encourage two or three people to get together, read scripture, pray for each other, and keep each other accountable. As a young Christian growing up in the Army I was desperate for this. Bring it on!

– social action projects…emphasising the need to reach out in practical ways with some ideas

– and finally, Soldiership being promoted as “Radical Discipleship: The Life of a Soldier” At lase, we are seeing Alove chosing to paint positive picture of soldiership. Here’s hoping more and more young people stop being deterred by poor pictures of soldiership around them and decide to do it real to show us all what it should really look like.

You can get a copy of the D:Pack from the Alove website (I think). Worth a read and certainly worth putting into action where you are.

A Five Step Strategy to planting

Get ready for some stuff thats so simple and relatively uncomplicated that it might just blow your mind!

Floyd McClung offers five simple steps for planting. As we build the Kingdom we need simple and biblical strategies for doing that all emcompassing task of making disciples of all nations. Here is what he suggests:

1) Pray. This is not just a five minute “Lord, we fancy doing this, will you bless us?” thing. This is specific prayer, warfare prayer even. This is praying up a storm for the lost…tying up the strongman to get ready to plunder his ‘treasure.’ We pray as we walk, we pray fervently, all through the night and at ‘all times.’ We pray for God to send us divine appointments, people with whom we can say, yes, thank you God for placing me on that persons path. Pray for the community, ask God for his heart for it. Pray for effective means of discipling and building the Kingdom. Pray that you’ll find the ‘people of peace’ Jesus referered to and that you can start building with them. Pray.

2) Meet. This is a MASSIVE plea for Christians everywhere to get out of the church, away from all the stuff and get out amongs people. Remember, you’ve prayed earnestly that God will give you divine appointments…now we have to put that into action and go where God leads. Get out of the cloisters, debunk from the barracks, go AWOL from the band practice and maybe even step away from over indulging in ‘fellowship.’ Fellowship happens better when we’re engaging in God’s plans anyway!

Build your relationships with people, your oikos (as the bible calls it…literally, your household). Build this stuff expectantly. I can already hear the screams of ‘oh, thats so un-authentic…you can’t make friends just to make them potential Christians.’ Well, if you have a problem with that, take it up with Jesus. He had no problem with this stuff AT ALL.

As an Army, a great way to do this stuff is through serving. Here in Torry, although we are going ‘under the fence’ in lots of ways we are also stepping up in simply meeting the needs of people. We can be a literal help to people, it brings us into relationship. Understand, we help them whether or not we ever even get round to mentioning God, but we build relationship with them through serving them from a heart of love.

3) Make. Yeah, make disciples. Invest in people. Notice in Matthew 28 we’re told to make disciples of all nations…well, the evangelism process is part of discipleship. We notice well that none of Jesus’ disciples that he called were asked to accept him as Lord and Saviour before they could follow him. It certainly was part of it later on though, and lets not miss that out. But lets focus on making, investing, and speaking into peoples lives that we meet.

We become like a person introducing a friend to our Friend. One begger telling another where to find bread. All that stuff.

Floyd points out that Jesus gave us 7 ‘discipleship’ commandments, and when ther right time comes, we introduce this stuff:

1. repent and believe
2. be baptized with the Holy Spirit
3. forgive
4. give
5. pray
6. gather with others
7. make disciples of all nations
(build this in early as part of their DNA like someone helpfully did to me….it doesn’t leave you, you know!)

Oh…and remind them that there is a cost to following Jesus.


4) Gather.
Yeah, get people together. Pull the ones together who are seeking spiritually, those who are open. This is the beginning of things. Again, don’t necessarily wait for them to ‘say the prayer’ or somesuch thing. Food is a great way to do it…people love to eat together. And get this, Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in his name, he’s there. This is Jesus’ bare minimum for ‘church’…two or three. From that minute, you’re on your way. It begins with gathering, although you’ll feed into that as you go.

An example is our youth ward/cell/group/gathering. They’re not Christian young folk. But we’ve gathered them, they are interested, and the discipleship process has begun.

5) Multiply. Resist every temptation to contain your gathered group. Set if free. Build in the concepts of expansion right from the beginning. Train people up as you go, give away leadership bit by bit…all part of the discipleship process. Develop people step by step. Then, like Paul, you’ll be able to move on quickly to start afresh!

OK, so along the way there are going to be issues and complications….sure, thats life. But keeping those five in mind just give you pointers for planting your outpost in your living room or you gathering at the cafe or the pub/restaurant. Get stuck in, fight like a warrior and lets get the job done.

Try it…its probably dynamite!

Changing Shape, Changing Mission

The shape of our corps changes from tomorrow…the first key shift as we usher in our ‘Under the Fence’ strategy (see below).

Last Sunday was our last weekly public meeting based on the old ‘build it and they will come’ paradigm. From tomorrow, we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into being a cell/ward corps. We’re calling our wards ‘Life Groups’ and we’re multiplying them throughout the community and beyond.

Our little band of 5 who’ve attended our Sunday evening stuff up until now will form our first Torry group. Two weeks ago we established our youth cell with a group of interested teenagers from our drop-in which is going well so far. We have a little group which draws women from our lunch club which will take on cell format loosely. We have a group looking to start in the outlying area of Mastrick as an ‘outpost’ as we have soldiers up there and we are now making firm plans to start something a couple of miles down the road in a town called Stonehaven, another ‘outpost’.

Beginning the first Sunday in March, we will hold monthly celebrations to bring the groups together for a meal, worship and to just be a bit of glue to hold things together.

We are a corps of small groups who happen to have the occassional meeting, rather than a corps with meetings who happen squeeze in small groups. The difference is subtle but significant. The aim is to put discipleship to the forefront, to increase our reach and effectiveness and to build up a significant group of people before moving on to stage 2 of the strategy.

I know you are praying with us. We’ll keep you posted.

Accountability in Mission Leadership

Many plans for how we see Torry develop were firmed up as Tracy and I took our strategy to the Divisional Strategy Council. It was good to have the input of the various divisional directors/officers, not only in terms of their affirming the plans, but in terms of the good positive suggestions in areas we were still working out details on. This sorta thing is good evidence of synergy between corps officers and DHQ working to a good advantage.

I’ve often discerened in ministry an approach that seeks to ‘keep the head down so as not to attract attionion’ sort of thing and maybe every now and again thats tempting, but I am a firm believer in officers being accountable in mission terms to their leaders. I’ll never forget the first time I had a visit from my DC when I was a Lieutenant in my first appointment in Glasgow.

I had made all the preparations of making sure all my books and rolls were up to date and available for inspection….only to discover that DCs didn’t do that sort of thing any more. This, you understand, was not what I’d read in Os + Rs and really from that point I’d made the decision to be open and transparent in terms of what I’m planning in mission terms. I just feel its good policy.

Much more so in our private lives. Growing up as a teenager and new to faith altogether, I craved someone to come alongside and provide a strong mentoring approach as I worked out ‘how faith works’ and how it should impact my life. In many ways that didn’t really happen, although there were a few that I could always turn to in emergencies! The concept of discipleship is best served by the Rabbi/student relationship that Jesus models with his own talmidim (disciples). They watched what he did, how he worshipped, prayed and interacted and was able to say ‘follow me.’ Paul, also, took this approach and was bold enought to say ‘follow me as I follow Jesus.’

I make no profession that I’m absolutely perfect in every way (or any way for that matter), I’ve failings for sure, but much rather than have an attidude of ‘do as I tell you’ as leaders, we much more want to be in the place of saying ‘do as I do…learn from me as I learn from Jesus, and together we’ll go further.’

Can I encourage us all to ask in what ways are we accountable in our spiritual life and our service in the Kingdom? Ask God first, and then act on what you find.

Parade Ground Battle Ground

The difference I’ve heard many a time is the difference between a parade ground soldier such as you may see standing outside Buckingham Palace and a soldier, for example, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The parade soldier is standing guard ceremonially in the possible occasion that the ‘enemy’ may confront him, but can spend the time looking pretty because he’s not out to look for a difficult shift. Actually, the armed police at the gate are the ones really doing the real protection job. When the soldier changes shift, he returns to the relative safety of the barracks.

The soldier fighting in ‘the trench’ has to be aware of his enemy coming from anywhere, at any time, and is there to secure the nation under threat against the usurped power of bands of loosely networked assassins. He doesn’t have time to sit pretty. Even in his rest time his weapons are by his side.

Interestingly, the parade soldier and the engaged soldier have the same training, have potential access to the same weaponry, and are both active in the army.

The difference is that the location and role of one soldier makes it pretty much unnecessary for him to use his skills, training and weaponry at all. He is simply standing guard over the establishment and the people who are part of the establishment. Potentially, however, the soldier may actually be deployed the next week to the same environment of the other soldier.

The challenge is this…if we accept at all that we as The Salvation Army have to maintain parade ground soldiers at all, do those who are occassionally deployed in that regard actually have the ability to fight in the trench the next day? To what extent do we have warriors as opposed to ceremonials in our ranks?

When I turn my mind to military bandsmen, what you have there are musicians who have a very minimal military training, because they’re very rarely, if ever, in combat. Their role is often ceremonial. I think that only Scotland can claim to have offensive weapons in their military bands in the form of the bagpipe…many an enemy would run a mile at the sound…however, I digress. Will we ever see the return of the non-ceremonial warfare fighting Salvation Army band? I, personally, live in hope, but I’m not sure if its founded on good ground or if its just wishful thinking.

Flicking through reports in many editions of the Salvationist its perfectly clear to see the distinction between ceremonial Salvationism and militant Salvationism. Having said that, ceremonial Salvationism tends to get more space. In one report, a band plays at a civil function, in another a group of Salvationists raises money for new chairs, in another there is hob-nobbing with city officials.

In contrast, there is the reports of a young officer couple who I know personally (younger than me) pioneering a corps in a land in desperate poverty and no concept of what the Salvation Army is, innovative creative arts programmes to introduce children to faith. Perhaps news of a new soldier who was saved through the Army who hasn’t been brought up through the ranks or transferred from another church. But as I said, militancy difficult to spot in the Salvationist!

So…parade ground or battle ground? Soldiers or warriors? Status quo or trailblazing? Sheep-stealing or soul-winning? Beautiful bands or bazooka bagpipes?

Army Shape

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.

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!