Renewal of the Church?

Ideas-Make-or-Break-Your-BusinessAs I prepare to begin my MA in Mission (Celtic Mission and Spirituality) course in the autumn of this year,  I’m starting to think towards the big D….the dissertation.  Although I haven’t had any formal conversation with the college yet, my current thoughts are to make a study of Celtic New Monasticism…in particular, what role it may or may not have in the renewal or reinvention of the church for post-Christendom UK.  I’m convinced that the renewal of the church will come from a form of new monasticism, just like Bonnhoeffer was.  I was convinced of that in my Salvation Army days, and am equally convinced now.

What is clear to me is that even some of our most successful churches in the UK are running on ‘Christendom-shaped’ paradigms.  Professional staff, audience of worshippers, programme based, etc.  When this works, its fine.  But by and large, it isn’t working because it takes a huge of effort to pull it off.  I know this full well….I’m at the helm of trying to make a church like Trinity tick.  There is still a place for this form of church, of course, but it is fading.  I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic.

People protest – ‘the Lord will build his church!  Why are you saying it is failing?’  I think we need to understand, again and again, church is people – the body of Christ.  Church is NOT our structures, ways of being and doing.  The people of God will continue to grow and form the body of Christ.  The question is, what does the body of Christ look like for our generation.

On Wednesday this week (18th June) I’m going to publish a short vision document.  It is an idea, a hope, a something that has been with me for a long long time but which is coming into maturity and also into sharper focus.  I’ve sung  General Booth’s line ‘The revolution now being…send the fire today.’  Now is the time to have a stab at it!

Please tune in!!!

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 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.

Simple Mission

Just a pause on the affirmations series to interject a post I wrote in Jan 2007, whilst I was still the CO at Pill. As I was reflecting on how things are going here at Torry, God just brought this back to my mind. I was pleasantly surpised about how Torry is beginning more and more to be this! As I re-read this through Torry eyes, it fits so well.

Funnily, since then, I’ve been heavily incluenced by Floyd McClings book and Neil Cole’s books on what has been called ‘simple church.’ When I wrote this, I hadn’t heard of these people or their books. I say that simply to credit our great God about the marvellous ways he speaks to his people to advance his Kingom.

By the way, all we lack in this vision is some bodies to come alongside us and help us. If you feel called, you’re welcome to join us.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Simple Mission

I’ve got a dream. Its best encapsulated by the phrase ‘Simple Mission.’ Let me explain how I see it.

It is a corps of soldiers and local officers working a geographical area. It is, of course, a ward based corps, so the main teaching, prayer, worship and pastoral care happens in a network of small groups. New converts are also plugged straight into these groups because this corps doesn’t hold conventional meetings…not every week anyway. Now thats a good job, because this corps doesn’t have a very expensive building to maintain because its much more Kingdom efficient to just rent the local school hall when all the wards come together for celebration.

The corps does, however, have a decent sized shop front in the main street of the town. This shop front is the hub of the mission. It has a 24/7 prayer room too.

There might be a couple of offices at the back, but the front is just kitted out with sofas, a few tables and chairs and a coffee machine, and its open as much as possible. Its not a scant building though, it is simple yet attractive, modern. People float in and out all day, the young people gravitate there in the evening. Its the kinda place you want to spend some time.

As well as the ward meeting, the soldiers engage in brigade activity. They all get together at another time in the week and get out into the community. Maybe there is some outdoor worship, maybe some will be out doing prayer ministry door to door, some will be ministering practically to the poor. Others will be using the hub providing a course for new parents. Others will be prayer walking. Some might do an afterschool club at the hub to keep kids busy until bedtime. Others might be leading midweek worship at another church. Others are mingling in the local pub with the regulars. Yet more are befriending elderly folks, encouraging them to come down to the hub and meet a few people. Folk from all the wards get together to have a band practice because they spend their Sundays speading the word at as many public parks and events as possible during the summer and they love to go carolling at Christmas.

Others give free hours to the local Salvation Army hostel to help maintain the important spiritual work of saving men and women from addiction. The whole corps is invovled in mission yet everyone has much more time to be building personal networks of friends to invite to their ward because they are not down the Army doing all manner of stuff every night. At the bare minimum, people are attending their ward and doing a couple of hours brigade activity. Others are so enthused that mission is happening that they just want to give as much time as possible to the corps mission and they love manning the hub and supporting other brigade activity.

The corps officers devote their time to training the soldiers and local leaders. They get stuck in along with the rest of the soldiers with the brigade activity. They make the hub their base for most of the week. They may even be overseeing two or three hubs. The Army now has a less officer-centred ministry because of this dedication to simple mission because the whole Army is mobilised. The officer is now released to lead, direct and oversee…pointing out gaps in the strategy, manouvering troops, providing coherence, overseeing the pastoral work of the Ward Sergeants. The officers aren’t shattered because they aren’t having to carry the whole Army’s mission on their own. They have plenty of time for their mariages and families and there is much less unrealistic expectation thrust on them compared to what it was like before the change.

The Army has come into its finest hour and we’re opening new corps all over the place. Thousands are being saved, resources are plentiful and joy has returned to The Salvation Army.

Do you see it?