This week I’ve been re-reading ‘The Provocative Church’ by Graham Tomlin. I read this some years ago, but on this second reading its really come alive to me particularly with reference to much of the thinking I’ve been doing about the Kingdom of God and how our understanding and grasp of the Kingdom affects our understanding of mission, evangelism, social action, social justice, the shape of church and all the rest.

I came across something of a definition that is really helpful, especially in the conversation about where our priorities lie in our task in these days. I was in discussion with a cadet on facebook, I think possibly from the US, who was advocating the importance of evangelism over social action. Now in the past, I have said that evangelism is a priority and that social action, whilst admirable and a response to the call of God, is different as it doesn’t quite have the same eternal consequences. To some extent, I still hold that position but I think that I, as well as the cadet, was perhaps coming at it from the wrong angle.

I think its wrong to polarise these issues. I also think its wrong to ‘de-spiritualise’ much of our social work and divorce it from our corps operations, but thats a differnet arguement….and its one that derives from this polarised position.

Now, if our starting point is neither evangelism or social work/action or social justice, but the Kingdom of God, we start to see things in their proper perspective.

Graham Tomlin gives something of a helpful definition. He says something like this:

mission is everything that demonstrates or recalls (read brings into the present) the Kingdom of God – this includes a whole raft of stuff…feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, standing up for those whose voice has been silenced, working for kingdom peace, kingdom economics, kingdom justice, everything that is an expression of making ‘the standards of the Kingdom of God the standard of our lives (Articles of War).

evangelism is the words that explain those things and invite people into the Kingdom of God.

You will know that St Francis of Assisi is often credited as saying something like ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel, using words if you have to.’ Now, it must be the most misused quote around. St Francis was, in essence, an open-air intinerant evangelist but also someone who cared passionately about the poor, and embraced poverty for their sakes.

So what is going on? St Francis got the idea that words weren’t enough. Evangelism is never enough, and it certainly shouldn’t be happening outside the context of the expression of the Kingdom. The apostle James picks this up in his epistle when he says that we should just say ‘God bless’ to the hungry man, but we should feed him.

As I’ve said so many times in this blog, proclamation and demonstration go hand in hand whether, in the case of the New Testament, those are ‘supernatural’ demonstrations (like healings or miracles etc) or practical demonstrations like making sure the widows are cared for. You see, its all a demonstration of the Kingdom.

Jesus central message, all the scholars are agreed, is simply this “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” We need that message in its fulness. We need the Kingdom of God to be tangible in peoples lives, for them to see what it means to live under the rule of God, the rule of King Jesus, inviting people to enter under that rule through repentance.

Lots of people have problems with evangelism today. But Evangelism is nothing more and nothing less than inviting people to change loyalities and nationality. Like any person who moves to a country not their own, it involves understanding the laws, language and culture, history and customs of that place…it also means recognising and confessing my failure in recognising that God has rightful rule in both my life and in the world…and it involves believing that Jesus provided the way to be set free from the consequences of that rebellion.

The early church held closely to ‘Jesus is Lord’ not just as a nice theological statement, but as a pure expression of living in the Kingdom, under Kingdom rule.

However, the one thing we must recognise and learn is that the church is NOT the Kingdom of God. This is a problematic area. The church is certainly supposed to be small expressions of Kingdom community, how life should really be. Now, I’ll leave you to your own conclusions as to how successful we are at doing that, and as to how successful it is on your front. Reality is that in the Christendom mode, we’ve often been very highly duped into believing that the Kingdom is the church and the church is the Kingdom. There are huge implications in getting this right or wrong. It has huge questions to ask of the church.

Let me just conclude with what I’m saying. If we are not showing the world ‘the Kingdoms of this world becoming the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ'(Rev 11:15) then our evangelistic invitation something akin to asking a person to walk into a dark room with you…they are simply going to be very very wary in doing that with you…and I don’t blame them!

Having said that, lets stop making ‘building authentic Kingdom communities’ an excuse for downplaying the call of the gospels to evangelise. The greek word used for evangelism can’t possibly be understood outside the context of the spoken invitation, the spoken exhortation. Lets not fall into the trap our culture is trying to tell us here.

Our message: “repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Good enough for Jesus, good enough for me.

On Village Warfare

The previous post, a section from O&R for Corps Officers in 1930, is the section about Village Warfare. Following on from the bit of stuff about Brigades, there was a few things that caught my eye in this chapter.

Firstly, there is just the huge concept of reaching the whole district, even beyond the immediate corps’ town or area. The importance of reaching small villages, is dealt with most practically. But yet, just because a place wasn’t big enough to host a corps, they could still be ‘worked’ in a regular way.

Secondly, there is the ingenuity of the preaching station, or the ‘Battery’. This was something we carried over from Methodist days, but what a practical way to get the message out. The modern day equivalent has to be the ‘gospel bus’ …you know, buses that are driven into areas of a community and opened up for people to come on. I know that the 614 Melbourne (see picture above) folks have one and I know, here in the UK, that the Church Army have one or two as do the Jesus Army. The idea of a mobile unit to take the gospel and the Army’s message is still a valid idea.

Thirdly, in relation to the battery, we see something of an intersting deployment of officer forces. Here are officers being deployed for the sole purpose of running an evangelistic unit out of the, dare I say, confines of the pastoral post. We need to discover again how to best assign our officers, and recognise that not all are primarily pastors (you’ll have heard me bang on about that before, no doubt.) In relation to wise use of forces, there is the total common sense approach to the circle corps, a collection of small groups called societies with their own expression in their various location, but a shared officer.

On the whole, I think we just see a ‘we must do what we can to save the world’ attitude coupled with some creativity in doing that. How often do we thing of the small communities in our area? Do we ever think about taking an Army presence there? Could there be, as the O&R say some undiscovered treasure in areas where there may never be a corps but there could be people contacted, saved and employed in the fight? We need to cast the net bigger…put out our nets on the other side of the boat sometimes.

A few thoughts on ‘Brigades’

I wanted to publish that section of the 1930s Orders and Regs for Corps Officers for a few reasons. Firstly, because it seems to me that it contains much of the 1914 Orders and Regs for Wards, the Army’s prototype cell groups derived from Wesley’s class system. Secondly, because they are a great picture of living intentionally in a mission mode.

Now, of course, it is a document of its time. Sometimes we have challenges looking at documents like this and so automatically dismiss them of no value, but there is treasure in here to be mined.

Here is the basic concept, as it was then. You have a corps. You assign each person, everyone from I suppose convert/recruit/adherent to soldier/local officer to a brigade. Some of those brigades may already be in existance and if thats the case, great (eg band, songsters etc) and the ones that aren’t involved, you create on for them.

These people are given leadership by a Brigade Leader, who is in essence, a mini corps officer responsible for pastoral oversight, and employment in the salvation war. The brigades get assigned to a part of the corps district and focus on that area for outreach, community work and for gathering together as a sub-expression of the corps.

Pastoral care happens (and not just as the corps officer). Mission happens. Evangelism happens. Serving the poor happens. Total mobilisation happens.

I’m thinking of places I’ve seen this in operation. I have to say that the Ward System we initiated at Pill was an attempt at this…as I say, I can identify much of the 1914 O&R for Wards in that 1930 reg. Wards had within them a ‘brigade’ system, but here we see the other way around. I’m guessing the wards were seen as maybe too difficult to set up alongside existing systems like band etc, and so they update the whole brigade idea.

Anyway, yes, we tried this in Pill and although the corps have now re-named and gone down the ‘cell’ route, I think much of the same essence is still in existence, praise God.

Other systems I’ve seen currently have to be at Holy Trinity Brompton (large Anglican church in London, home of the Alpha Course), who have what are called Pastorates. These are, in essense, ‘Brigades’. They meet together (maximum of 40 people) for worship, bible teaching, encouragement, pastoral care under two leaders, male and female. They meet in geographical areas across London and I understand several of them have gone on to either adopt dying churches or form their own under the umbrella of HTB. They produce a little booklet called ‘Pastorates’ and its available from HTB. HTB is certainly a church that many seek to emmulate.

Of course, there are still soem brigades active in the Army, but I’m not sure if there are entire corps where this brigade approach is operating.

This to me is about total mobilisation and involvement of the whole corps in mission and in mutual support, care, nourshment, sharpening and encouragement of each other. None of the 80/20 thing where 20 percent of the people do 80 per cent of the work. In that sense, these are wholistic small groups, if you’re in NCD language.

I still maintain that this could be an effective pattern for mission if viewed through a 21st century lens. As Major Stephen Court says, these Os & Rs have not been tried and found wanting…its more that they have been deemed irrelevant and therefor not tried. I think, in fact, he is offering $1000 AUD to someone who tries this system and can prove that it doesn’t lead to growth!! We have a very small corps here at Torry, but we’re using this as a pattern as we build, albeit from a very low base.

Anyway, have a think on these things. Could it help any cell groups/house groups you currently have? Could it develop your surviving brigades (songsters, band, corps cadets/youth group, Home League)? Don’t like the terminology….well change it if you like. I’d simply love to see a day with a greater mobilised soldiery, a less one-man-band officership and a steady increased influence in the lives of our communities in which we live.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this concept. Not particularly interested in ‘can’t see this ever happening in the Army’ – more interested in comments on the effectiveness, or otherwise of the system. Also, there is also a danger of using surviving brigades (such as band or songsters) as a bench mark…don’t be distracted by the narrowness of these groups, and think wider to the other aspects of them.

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.

Code Blue

Whilst browsing through the Australia Southern Territory’s Salvos Out There campaign I came across some great training resources for Local Officers. I may be wrong, but I am not sure anything of this sort exists in the UK Territory. I realise there is some training for CYS and YPSMs, but not for other leaders.

As if finding the resource wasn’t good enough, I then discovered that the second module is about corps planting. What a fantastic example of building core Salvation Army dna into leadership at that level.

Three ‘Hallelujah’s for the Australian Southern Territory who are, yet again, showing the rest of us how it should be done!

Here is the link to Code Blue. Click here

You will also notice some links there to some corps planting training.

Unleashing the Apostolic Genius in The Salvation Army – Part 3

3. Missional-Incarnational Impulse.

We saw that a crucial element of discipleship and disciplemaking was a thrusting of ourselves into the world. For Jesus followers, it was the same. The concept of ‘sending’ is central to the mission of the New Testament. Jesus was sent by the Father, the Spirit was sent by Jesus into the context of our lives so that we could then be empowered for witness ‘to the ends of the earth.’ But like Jesus, that ‘sent-ness’ involved becoming one with that which he was sent to. It involved a deep and intimate engagement with the world.
Hirsch describes the missional-incarnational impulse of Jesus like and good preacher and offers us some ‘Ps’:

Presence – Jesus became flesh and blood, ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ and developed a close relationship to us. He didn’t ship out to Heaven every night.
Proximity – He dealt with every strata of society, from Chief Priests, Pharisees, Roman Legionnaires all the way down to tax collectors, prostitutes and ‘sinners.’ He had table fellowship with people in ways that got him a reputation.
Powerlessness – Jesus was the ultimate servant of God. He led from a position of rejecting all the conventional methods of leadership of his day. He didn’t come as a king, priest or prophet, but he was, in the absolute truest sense, King, Priest and Prophet! Jesus influence and authority was spiritual rather than institutional.
Proclamation – Jesus announced the Kingdom as well as demonstrating it. He was at odds with the St Francis of Assisi who thought words we optional. You can’t take away proclamation of the gospel away and remain true to the gospel.
It is clear to see that the early Salvation Army understood missonal-incarnational impulse. The Army invaded and became and integral part of every slum and palace it could get into. In terms of presence, whilst Booth’s Darkest England scheme was happy to ‘get people out’, here was a commitment first of all for the Salvationist to ‘go in.’ The stories of Booth-Tucker in India are legends. With regards to proximity, William Booth’s funeral was attended by queens and prostitutes.

Even with our autocratic rank system and slightly tyrannous William Booth, we find words like this from the likes of Railton: “We are an army of soldiers of Christ, organised as perfectly as we have been able to accomplish, seeking no church status, avoiding as we would the plague every denominational rut, in order perpetually to reach more and more of those who live outside every church boundary. (George Scott Railton, HEATHEN ENGLAND) We resisted the temptation to approach mission from the lofty position of the churches, but instead was happy to be the object of ridicule from the churches who though we ‘dumbed-down’ the glorious body.

In the field of Proclamation, we took need say very little. We were born in the streets and the gospel was broadcast in every genre possible, as we all know.
For today, the questions are clear. Are we sufficiently engaged with the lost? Are we fully participating in the life of our world? What company do we keep? Is our leadership and ‘position’ as Christians expressed in service? Do we assume our position in society? Are we willing to stand up to the requirement of the gospel to proclaim the Kingdom in season and out of season? Are we still creative in getting the message out? Are we a movement accessible by ‘the people’ we are sent to serve and win?

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.

Unleashing the Apostolic Genius in The Salvation Army – Part 1

It seems pretty safe to say that there is probably more conversation going on now about the nature , shape and ‘feel’ of Salvationism that possibly ever before. The fragmentation away from ‘first love principles’ have left us with a Salvation Army which isn’t always encouraging, certainly in the context in which I am placed.
I have personally been convinced that The Salvation Army is something akin to a sleeping bear. When roused and fully awake, its potential is tremendous. I’ve also been one who has been deeply inspired and motivated by the Salvationism of our founders. I’ve long been convinced that there was something in our earliest days as a movement which are key to our regeneration as a missional movement, a permanent mission to the lost.

It was in reading ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsch that I began to get a really clear sense of what it was about primitive Salvation Army that was so potent. Its actually something that is common to many movements, especially Jesus movements within the Christian Church over the whole course of its history. Alan Hirsch calls it Apostolic Genius…that is, certain elements that are deeply ingrained in the spiritual DNA of Jesus movements. He draws his conclusions specifically from studying the early church and the present day phenomenon of the under-ground church in China. As I read, I started to explore how his principles applied directly to the missional DNA of The Salvation Army.

My history lecturer at Bible College once said that ‘we cannot know who we are and where we are going, unless we understand where we have been.’ The thing is, when we look at issues regarding who we are as Salvationists, we often fail to go further back than Booth, recognising that what was in him and all that The Salvation Army came to be came from somewhere else. Its all in Jesus.

Let me share each of Hirsch’s elements of what he calls, Apostolic Genius, the stuff that fuels and shapes authentic missional movements.

1. Jesus is Lord
The thing that set Judaism apart from the rest of the religions of its day was the nature of God himself. This is the God who declared in the Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4, that ‘The Lord is God, the Lord is One.’ The implication of this was that God was the God of every aspect of life. This explains the somewhat confusing nature of Leviticus! If God was God of everything, then he was God of everything! For Yahweh, there is no sacred/secular divide. The whole of our being is under his Lordship.

As we move into the New Testament, we have a full revelation of God in the form of his Son, Jesus. The concept of the Lordship of YHWH over everything becomes focussed. We are invited to understand God through the Lordship of Jesus. The central war cry of the early church was ‘Jesus is Lord!’ This wasn’t just a statement of theology, it was the heart of the Hebraic mindset that understood that spirituality and religion were not compartmentalised to certain sections of life. It is the ultimate distillation of our faith. The whole of life was to be ordered under the Lordship of Jesus. Everything was spiritual. It is the essence of faith, after which everything else is marginal.

The early Salvation Army no doubt had the Lordship of Jesus at its heart. Catherine Booth wrote: “And what is our work? To go and subjugate the world to Jesus; everybody we can reach; everybody we can influence, and bring them to the feet of Jesus. (Catherine Booth, AGGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY)

More spectacularly, she said at another point, “ The decree has gone forth that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and that He shall reign whose right it is, from the rivers to the ends of the earth. I believe that this Movement is to inaugurate the great final conquest of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Catherine Booth, in John Rhemick. A NEW PEOPLE OF GOD.)

Not only did Catherine believe in the centrality of Lordship of Jesus in faith, but she affirmed his was an organising principle, something which gave reason to our coming together in the first place.

We see this Lordship expressed is various ways with the primitive Salvation Army. Consider uniform wearing at work, the desire to take faith into the workplace. Look at our theology of sanctifying the ordinary and our theology of the sacramental life as opposed to the sacramental rituals. Revisit the construct of The Salvation Army flag with its reminiscent ‘Yahweh our Banner’ (Exodus 17:15) and the desire of William Booth to see it flying from every public building. One need look no further than our response to societal problems! This was a robust desire to see the Kingdom come in every sphere, and in every area of life, temporal and spiritual. Today we call it wholistic; a term we were doing before we knew the term.

Is Jesus the Lord of The Salvation Army today? Do we divide our work, service and ministry into sacred and secular? Are we passionate about bringing the world to the feet of Jesus to the extent that everything we do is organised around this principle? And what of our social work? Does Jesus claim of Lordship find itself at home at the heart of all we do in that sector? As a whole, does our ministry look like an expression of the whole ministry of Jesus as we find in the pages of the gospels?

Keep tuned for thoughts on the other elements.

The one about….our missionary challenge

It is the most obscure thing to be a missionary in your own country and culture. The state of the nation, its spiritual temperature, its distance from the ‘church’ lead us to a very specific challenge. That challenge is how do we share Jesus with people.

In many ways, we face a not to dis-similar challenge to that the Army faced at its birth…a nation far away or excluded from church and in desperate need of redemption. It was on this stage that the Apostolic Genius which Alan Hirsch talks about began to show itself and be unleashed in the life of Booth and his comrages.

Apostolic Genius? At the heart of it all, Jesus is Lord. But also: disciple making, missional-incarnational impulse, organic structures (or at least in the Army’s case, a functional structure which gave the structure needed for that particular time), apostolic environment and a communitas (not community) of people focus and gathered round the one over-arching missional task.

In my little foray recently through the archives of armyrenewal I came across a startling quote by General John Gowans. General Gowans drops this bomb, in reference to some particilar corps in the Army:

“They started taking care of the corps instead of taking care of the lost and the Lord took their candlestick from its place. The glory has departed.”

Wowee!! Strong. It is a reminder, though, that we are certainly not in this business to build churches. That is congregations of people who gather like sheep to be fed. Rather, we make disciples who are then equipped to incarnate the gospel in the work place, the school, the street, the neighbourhood watch meeting, the parent council, the local government, the local prison, the schools, the statutory youth work, the community associations.

I came across a quote from a guy called Hugh Halter, someone I’d never heard of until a few days ago when I came across his book ‘The Tangible Kingdom.’ He says this: “The goal of our missional life is not to grow churches. The goal of church is to grow missionaries. The goal of the gospel is not to get people to church. The result of the gospel is that people will find each other and gather because of the deep meaning of a common experience.”

This needs to sink in folks. We can patch up our ‘churches’ or our ‘churchy corps’ until the cows come home with all sorts of schemes, deals and promotions but until we mobilise the Army as a force propelled by apostolic genius, we’re barking up the wrong tree. Halter’s quote could easily have come from the mouth of a Booth or a Railton. And actually, I think it rings true with the very words of the Commander-in-Chief himself, the Lord Jesus.

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!!”