Back to Church Sunday

Today in the UK is designated ‘Back to Church Sunday.’ Many churches throughout the nation, including many Army corps, held what I guess could be best called ‘seeker service’ and people were encouraged to invite people back to church. I am all in favour of any initiative that engages any particular group of people to reconsider connecting with the things of God. The materials are well produced and thought-out and I’m sure that there will have been some positive results.

There are some cultural assumptions made in the designing this event which is fine if you happen to live with-in the culture of it. For example, the title of the day, Back to Church Sunday, seems to assume that a)people went to church at some point and b) they should come back. There are indeed generations of people for whom that is true, but its not a large generation. I guess too that there are some younger generations who’ve found themselves de-churched. Yet, we should never assume that whilst there are those who will respond to the opportunity to return if they are invited that all will chose to do so. People ‘leave church’ for many reasons.

There are also some questions around the theology of church. The initiative finds its roots in the ‘inherited churches’ who may or may not still have the sense of ‘we are you’re local church, it belongs to you.’ Its a valid idea, but I don’t get the sense that people own their local church, and if they do, its unlikely to be a Salvation Army corps in the sense that many locals might say ‘I’m Church of Scotland’ or ‘I’m C of E’ The second theological assuption with regards to church is that its something that you go to…there is a strong emphasis on Sunday gathering. In this regard, I was encouraged to see the approach at Glenrothes Corps where they held a ‘Back to Church Thursday’ event. Great contribution to the idea, and well done for saying it. Church, as we all know, is the people, not the building or the meeting which happens in the building and certainly not the day it meets.

Another issue is one that has become very much heightened for me both working here in Torry and through Street Pastors. In talking to tens of people in those capacities, the term ‘church’ is still as unpopular as its always been. I can recount several Street Pastor conversations where as soon as you mention the words ‘we are from churches through out the city’ immediately either walk away, freeze up, or go quiet. I’ve stopped saying we are from churches across the city. Church is still not a positive term, it carries negative connotations. Whilst many Salvos might say Army has a negative connotation in society, that doesn’t necesarily mean that ‘Salvation Army’ evokes negative and certainly nowhere near as negative as ‘church’ talk.

My wife, just back from her teaching week for her MA in mission, was sharing that one of her lecturers, Stuart Murray Williams, a prominent missiologist and church planting ‘guru’ said that he things Back to Church Sunday will be something which will work in the short term amongs a small group of dechurched people, but he doesn’t see it as a lasting strategy, for some of the above reasons, as well as the fact that people will only respond to so many Back to Church invitations. Would we be in danger of adding another annual date to people’s nominal churchianity on top of Christmas and Easter? Who knows.

I live in a community where less than 1% of people currently attend church, some families ‘de-churched’ for many generations. ‘Back to Church’ therefore needs to do some transitioning in order for us to ‘take part’ which is what we will do. Our location and situation simply needs a fresh aproach. So whilst I add the thoughts above as part of the reflection on Back to Church Sunday, I also believe that its throroughly possible to adapt any well intentioned idea to the local setting. When the Salvation Army launched its ‘Strategic Framework’ it was explicit in absolute terms about local corps applying initiatives suited to their locality. Its absolutely right, because we’re no longer in the days where things can be automatically rolled out in every community, even if we ever were. So, like I say, we’ll be adapting to local need.

We plan to use the material for our November gathering, using the theme ‘Come as you are’. Having had a little social gathering (quiz) on the Saturday night of the 31st, we’ll be holding a big community meal the next day, including some music, a short talk and invite to link up with what we’re calling ‘Alpha Expresso’ – a four week extract from the Alpha Course running through November. We’ll then encourage any people interested to either plug in to an appropriate existing cell group or we’ll start on especially for them if they can’t make any of the others.

Looking forward to hearing the great stories both of where Back to Church Sunday worked as set out, and where people have had to adapt. I am guessing too that there are some who will just dismiss it…lets not throw ANY baby out with the bathwater – everything is useful with the right pair of glasses and a good dose of creativity.

Unleashing the Apostolic Genius in The Salvation Army – Part 2

2. Disciple making.

Inherent in the concept of disciple making is the concept of the Holy Spirit imparting to us the grace we need to become, in essence, little Jesuses to our world. The early disciples ate, breathed and slept ‘Jesus’. Their task as talmidim, followers of their Rabbi Jesus, was to become like him in every way, to somehow begin embodying all there was about him in terms of practical expression of his spirituality as well as simply the teaching he gave. The Hebrew disciple wanted to be so close to his masters footsteps that the dust from his feet would be continually in his face. The implication being that as the Rabbi moved, so did the student.

We notice that Jesus’ method of discipleship and teaching was very pragmatic. Yes, there were times when he sat them down and taught them, but much of the teaching was ‘on the go.’ He recognised that the best way to get these guys to think like him, was to first teach them to act like him by practically ‘doing the stuff.’ The thinking came out of the action. Look at the example of Jesus sending his 72 disciples out to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom in Luke 10. It was at this point that he was saying to a group much wider than his initial 12 ‘Look…you’ve seen me do it, you know the score, its your turn.’ They obey, the respond and faithfully go only to return with a extreme excitement of all they had accomplished. Right off the buzz of their missional accomplishment, Jesus enforces their experience with the theological back-up to explain what had just happened.
When we delve into the history of our own Jesus movement, our own discipleship training mission, we see early Salvationists in the cut and thrust of active discipleship. Catherine Booth explains the discipleship emphasis like this: “There is no record since the Apostles of a body that has so encompassed the Divine idea, all its members being taught to make all other objects and aims of life subservient to the one grand purpose of preaching the Gospel to every creature and striving to win every soul with whom they come in contact to its salvation (Catherine Booth. THE SALVATION ARMY IN RELATION TO THE CHURCHES. p31,32).

Hinting herself at the discipleship making element of Apostolic Genius, she reflects on the contrast between discipleship in the Army and in other churches of her day. The fact that the soldier saved at the drum was pinned with an Army badge, called upon to testify straight away to their new faith in Jesus and in uniform serving Jesus at the front line the next week is proof enough of this dynamic. In Scotland, we have a phrase that goes something like ‘its better felt that telt’ – in other words, learning comes from experience, not from simple accumulation of knowledge.
As we have developed as a Salvation Army, we’ve taken up the very discipleship practices that Catherine Booth was protesting against. We She said that “these people stand in these paths of traditionalism and routinism just where their forefathers left them occupying all their time admiring the wisdom and benevolence and devotion of their forefathers instead of IMITATING THEIR AGGRESSIVE FAITH, and MARCHING ON TO THE CONQUEST OF THE WORLD. (Catherine Booth. PAPERS ON GODLINESS, emphasis hers.)

If ever there was a danger for The Salvation Army, it is this very same thing. It is imitation that is the key, seeking to live out the aggressive and apostolic faith. Not necessarily of Booth, or Railton or any other such name that played a part of throwing the mission of The Salvation Army round the globe, but in the ways of Jesus that threw the Christian faith worldwide; the same passionate commitment to living the life of Jesus that has permeated modern-day China with Christians.
Authentic discipleship can never be about either membership or about simply what we do at the Army. We must ask ourselves, ‘what exactly is the everyday, practical requirement of the follower of Jesus?’ How transformed would our world be by a group of people who covenanted to flesh out in real terms the life of Jesus in every area of life? What would our officer training look like? How would this approach change our teaching and training methods for soldiers and local officers?

It strikes me that if there is to be a future for The Salvation Army, our ‘members’ must cease to be members and begin passionately run after Jesus to see what he is doing in our day in the lives of our communities and learn from him, by his Spirit and grace within us, what it means to be a little Jesus in that immediate context. I wonder if we will have the courage to take our discipleship learning outside the classroom and hit the road with our crazy itinerant Rabbi.

Affirmations #10 Faith at the margins

10. I believe that we exist primarily for those at the edges and margins of our society, the last, the lost and the least.

I did tell you that I had one to add to the list which I think is crucial. These are our people.

Its interesting to note that when William Booth declared to his wife that he’d found his destiny, he was well established in his ministry, really. He’d been a street preacher…that wasn’t his destiny. He’d been a circuit preacher…that wasn’t his destiny. He’d lead great revival meetings and special prayer meetings…he didn’t declare that was his destiny either.

He declared he found his destiny have shared the gospel with the poor and those at the bottom of the social latter on London’s Whitechapel Road.

Near the end of his life, he said this:
“…the poor are my people. I gave my life to them ever and ever so many years ago. They were my first love, and I shall be true to my bride. It is with the poor that I shall hope to be in the Kingdom, for, although I esteem the rich, it is for their pocketbooks that I care most, because I know that I belong elsewhere”.

The old boy had his head screwed on I think!

But lets go beyond Booth, because we really have to. Biblically, the call to the poor is massive. You can’t read the bible and escape all that Jesus had to say about the gospel for the poor. You can’t just say ‘New Testament’ either, because justice and care for the poor are central to Jewish ethics and sense of community and justice.

Yes, we often spiritualise it as if somehow to get ourselves off the hook and say that ‘well, everyone is spiriually poor.’ Yeah, I don’t disagree, and I certainly don’t think we leave out those who are not poor in our ministry, preaching or outreaching. We take every opportunity to share with anyone. We simply make it our intention to build faith communities amongst the poor, because quite frankly, they are usually the most ‘un-churched’ people and in need of the most redemption (you’ll need to chew on that theologically).

You really need to go to something like and search for ‘poor’ or ‘widow’ or ‘orphan’ or that term that always cracks my son up ‘alien’ and see the response you get.

The next stage is to take the message on board and be like Jesus. We all can probably agree that Jesus spent time with the poor, lots of time. We can all probably agree that its right that the Church should care for the poor. We’re not all convinced that its our job to do the same. How can we be like Jesus and not do the same??

To borrow a quote out of context from William Booth – “Not called? Not heard the call I should say!!”

Affirmations #5 Demonstrating the Kingdom

5. I believe that signs and wonders and prophetic and deliverance will play a big role in winning the world

Again, long time readers of armyrenewal will know that this is another common feature. As we look through the pages of scripture, the gospels and Acts etc, we see a very direct correlation between proclaiming the kingdom and demonstrating the Kingdom. Jesus very rarely proclaims the Kingdom or calls people to repentance without then demonstrating the Kingdom he is proclaiming or inviting people into.

All versions of the great commission, especially Mark’s version, leave us with no uncertainty that signs, wonders, prophecy, demon-kicking will be part of our ministry. Certainly in Salvation Army history and heritage, we’re not unfamiliar with this kind of thing. Five minutes digging in SA history will prove that…so lets not hear any silly cries of ‘its not Army.’ The SA gave birth the pentecostalism and the more modern charismatic renewal.

We experience in the Army an alarming lack of teaching on these sorts of things. It often doesn’t appear on our radar. However, this is partly because we’ve been low on discipleship in the last few decades. Things are changing though. Many salvationist are now much more spiritually aware.

Now, its not the case that we want to find a demon under every banana skin…but we will want to be aware of the enemy and his minions. We will want to fight until the very end for the freedom of every person both saved and yet-to-be-saved. It is for freedom that Jesus set us free, said Paul.

Demonstrating the Kingdom in its many forms is something that needs revisited.

Resources for that? Try SA101, SA201, SA301. Full of great stuff and available at armybarmy. SA101 available now in book form via Australian trade departments.

Other resources
‘Know you Spiritual Gifts’ by Mark Stibbe
‘Demoloshing Strongholds’ by David Devenish
‘Power Evangelism’ and ‘Power Healing’ by John Wimber
‘Come Holy Spirit’ by David Pitches
‘Prayer Ministry’ (DVD course from Holy Trinity Brompton – home of Alpha course) by Sandy Miller
‘Freedom in Christ’ course by Neil T Anderson and other books of his.

Five Year Review

I guess I’ve had a bit of time now to process the ‘process’ of my five year review in London last week. I thank God, first of all, for the encouraging input of those who were ‘assessing’ us. Thanks too, to those who were involved who read this blog. I still don’t know the results, although I can’t perceive any conditions that might be put upon our continuing in officership.

You’ve no idea how much I needed the assurance coming from that few days. Sometimes you fight on and you wonder if anyone ‘gets’ what you are trying to do and be. I guess after a difficult year of internal stuff, I’m gradually getting to the place where I feel that I am becoming ready to step up to the plate more and more. It annoys me that I had to step back in the first place!

We’ve had a great breadth of experience in our 5 years of officership and another 3 in corps leadership on top of that. It has shaped our life. We have a strong sense of God preparing us, not just for the now, but for the tasks and appointments yet to come.

It was refreshing too that although the process has been designed by someone assessing officers as ‘pastors and administrators’, new leaders taking over this years process realise they must do more than that. I sense a gradual change at that ‘higher level’ of a change in mindset from officership as a ‘jack of all trades’ to officership as a route of service for leaders expressing an aspect of Ephesians 4 ministries.

Good too to hear some thinking about how officer training should look. I reflected back to the group that training college prepares officers to lead the status quo. William Booth College needs to be a place where leaders are trained. There is the difference between training effective leaders and training people to fulfil a organisational role. I look forward to the day when WBC becomes a leadership college as opposed to an academic institution. Our movement needs that positive shift.

All in a day’s work

Armybarmy blog carried a neat little section the other day on the Salvo work day. It attempts to split the day up into 9 x 2 hour segments, allowing for 6 hours sleep. It goes as follows:

1. work up – rations
2. work around – family
3. work out – food/exercise
4. work in – study
5. work into – disciple
6. work outside – evangelise
7. work through – communications/decision-making
8. work ahead – strategy/planning
9. work over – personal (errands/chores/relax)

We had a jolly good go at this and found it a bit unworkable when keeping to the letter of the law, so to speak. However, when keeping to the ‘spirit’ of the advice its a cracking framework for ministry.

Not sure how it works, necessarily, for the Salvo who’s working a nine hour day, but certainly for the likes of me its a good pattern.

It can be split into four helpful blocks for each day, which I’ve entitled ‘Share’, ‘Live’, ‘Grow’. In this, you have a loose framework which is flexible in line with how the day pans out and recognises that every day is different. In my plan, you get 7 hours sleep, which is closer to what we need based on the majority of medical advice. Here are the three headings and a rough guide as to how they might be broken down. There is still plenty of room for discipline here as well as giving flexibility for those who need it.

Sleep 7 hours

Share (7 Hours)
– 3 hours planning/strategy/communications/decision making.
– 2 hours discipling
– 2 hours evangelising

Live (6 Hours)
– 2 hours family
– 2 hours food/exercise
– 2 hours personal (errands, chores, relaxation)

Grow (4 Hours)
– 2 Hours Rations (bible/prayer)
– 2 Hours Study

In case you are wondering, I have ‘stolen’ the extra one hour sleep from planning/stragegy/comms/decision making…Stephen suggests 4 hours for all that. I actually think two hours a day of all this would be sufficient, but I guess that depends on your appointment. If thats the case, add it on to evangelism or prayer.

So yeah, give it a go. Lets see what we can achieve. By all means, give Stephens pattern a go first, it may work exactly for you. Or maybe if your the personality type that can’t cope with highly sheduled days this more flexible approach might suit you better.

The aim of this though, is effective Kingdom working. We do this stuff because we want to be effective in our service and increase our availability to the Lord.

Let me give a word of challenge, however, especially to any officer friends who may be reading – how balanced is your ministry? Are you creating time for the stuff that ‘really’ matters as opposed to what seems urgent?

If all this stuff is important, we will be willing to make the changes in our shedules to make sure it happens. May need a bit of working out, but its necessary, isn’t it?

The Model Officer

I’ve just come back from officers ‘retreat’ which was a good few days. Several things were helpful: the rest, the fellowship, the conversation, the good teaching by Majors Peter & Val Mylechreest. It was also good, like I said before, to reflect on stuff a year on from some pretty serious conversations we had at the last event re calling, officership etc.

One thing that came through strong over the few days was the ‘model’ of officership that was being discussed as if it were pretty much the only one. Officership was defined on several occassions as pastoring, preaching and administration.

Now, my ministry includes all of that, all of that is necessary. I’m better at some of it that I am at others. But as surely as the Lord lives, surely officership is much more than that.

It is, of course. Isn’t it?

The Model Officer is Jesus. And he wasn’t so much a General, as a regular captain who, at every turn, refused any title or position of authority thrust upon him all for the sake of what his Father taught him to do. Jesus was a pastor, preacher, apostle (as in sent), teacher and evangelist. He was the model officer. He came to invite us to follow him, to do as he did and be as he was and is. An Isaiah 61 ministry like he announced in Luke 4.

I don’t have a ministry. Mission is God’s, its part of his character, part of his purpose and as part of that he sends us like he sent Jesus, like Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. When I ‘do’ ministry its rubbish. When I do God’s ministry, I’m a co-worker with him and he does things that I could never imagine.

I am tired, in a sense, of self-introspection when it comes to ‘ministry performance.’ Coming up for my five year review, I’ve filled in a myriad of forms and questionnaires about my ministry. Now, I know that accountability comes in, and I am all for that, 110%. But since when has the mission of God all depended on me? or on you?

To me, officership is about being released from regular employ to seek to emmulate my Rabbi, Jesus, who has called me to follow him and do what he does, to learn from him in listening to what the father is commanding today. That will involve a pastoral conversation, and evangelistic conversation, a fight for justice and standing for the oppressed, it will involve leadership of God’s people in how we engage with the mission of God, it will involve bringing light on the teachings of the Word too.

I’m not the Messiah (you’ll be glad to know), I am not called to give my life as the sacrifice to pay for the sin of Torry, but I AM called to learn from Jesus. I’m called to live for him, like him, through him and with him that the world might see Jesus in me. Its all about doing the will of the Father, empowered by the Spirit in the fashion of Jesus.

Its not just officers who are called to live like Jesus like this, of course, not saying that at all, but what I am simply saying is that those of us who are called into leadership in the Army, this is where I believe we must start.

I’m waiting for someone to ask me how much my ministry looks like the ministry of Jesus.

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.

Waiting and Prayer

By far the most beneficial meetings I’ve been in of late have been ones which have purposely created space for allowing the Holy Spirit to minister. The practice of giving ourselves time to reflect, for example, on a sermon/message/teaching, allowing the Holy Spirit to apply it to our hearts in the context of the worship setting is very beneficial. We often shy away from it for fear of creating an elongated appeal which can seem false, but I’m not necessarily talking about a ‘rend you heart’ appeal even.

Giving people the opportunity to be prayed for, in every meeting, is something which is ingrained in our Salvationist heritage and we may have been guilty of sensationalising it. But nevertheless, lets reclaim it an restore it to its place. Whether this takes place at the Mercy Seat is incidental, but having a clear time where people can come forward for prayer, or indeed, where individuals are encouraged just to pray for others is something healthy to build into our ‘corporate experience.’

Many in our ranks may take a somewhat ‘Mrs Beamish’ approach, as I blogged a few posts ago, but lets have a good go at changing the church culture we’re in where prayer becomes a naturally supernatural norm and where Holy Spirit isn’t scheduled out of the meeting. Its easy to do, I’ve done it myself, but how I regret every time!

So often we need to get out of the way and let the Spirt of God do as he pleases.