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Finding ourselves fit for mission

10 October 2013 - 1:10pm -- Anonymous
Author: 
Clive Adams

I read an amusing exchange between a mother and her son, recounted on Facebook the other day. The mother is an ‘OK’ (child of a Salvation Army officer, aka ‘officer’s kid’) and, as is the wont of most parents, she had described her childhood to her son over the years. These descriptions would have included her parents’ appointments criss-crossing the Army world (they’ve had international experience as well as many appointments in their homeland):

Son: ‘Mamma, who are your best friends?
Mom: (Gives thoughtful list, with explanations about how different friends present different gifts)
Son: ‘…And?’
Mom: ‘And, Carol (Mom’s sister)’
Son: ‘Carol? But she’s your family!’

Pause…

Son: ‘Can family be your best friends too?’
Mom: ‘Um, j-jaa (yes), if you want them to.’
Son: ‘Even the mad ones?’
Mom: ‘Um, well yes…’
Son: ‘Like Granny! I mean, you have to be mad if you travel all over the world just to find your church. If I were her, I would’ve just chosen another church! Who even does that?!’

Now I’ve heard of people travelling huge distances to ‘find themselves’ (like the Beatles travelling to India!), but doing so to ‘find their church’ is a new phenomenon! Or is it?

If ‘finding your church’ has more to do with feelings of connection and contentment than the efficiency of one’s satnav system, then I would have to acknowledge that this is nothing new! There are serial ‘pastor-surfers’ (aka ‘pew-surfers’) who will never find their perfect church because it exists only in their imaginations. There are others who'se changing circumstances result in the legitimate need to leave one church and find another. Whatever the reason, there always will be people who are trying to find their church — a spiritual home where they can belong.

Commissioner Clive Adams

But, like ‘finding one’s self’ is understood to refer to a process of self-discovery, I suppose finding your church could apply to the idea of seeking answers to the perennial questions: Who do we think we are? And What do we think we’re doing?

There may well be many who feel that, after almost 150 years of existence, we should know who we are and what we should be doing; that we should stop wasting resources on discussing our sense of identity and mission. You would have my sympathy if you felt that!

I understand those who become impatient with all this self-examination; constant navel-gazing is neither inspiring nor helpful. But, while I do not subscribe to the notion of change for the sake of changing — ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ — I do believe that an unexamined life leads to an unproductive existence.

American author Frank Gelett Burgess is reported to have said: ‘If in the last few years you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.’

If we exchange the word ‘opinion’ for ‘procedure’, ‘programme’, or ‘practice’, it becomes an interesting premise to contemplate in the context of examining our effectiveness as missioners.

In the past 12 months or so, territorial leadership has been doing just that — engaging in an exercise of self-evaluation. In a sense, we have been finding — rediscovering — our Salvation Army, and this examination has been about

  • reaffirming our mission as the Body of Christ in our world
  • restating our mandate to meet the needs of our world
  • reassessing the way we do mission in the context of our world

We confirm that our missional objective has not changed — the making of disciples of Jesus, God’s sole, life-transforming solution for the whole being, through our work of saving souls, growing saints and serving suffering humanity.

The question is whether we are maximising our efforts; whether we truly are connecting meaningfully with the world we have been commissioned to serve and win for Jesus; where we are able to ‘serve the present age’.

Fit for Mission was conceived as a response to this process of self-examination: Are we fit  - equipped, geared, organised, prepared, ready, efficient, effective, structured - for the fulfilling of the mission of The Salvation Army today?

‘New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth…’ wrote American poet James Russell Lowell. The good practices, procedures, programmes, of yesterday may not be as good (effective or efficient) today, is what Lowell argues. Have we kept pace with the changes in our society in order to maintain our relevance and our effectiveness?

Fit for Mission was conceived as a response to this process of self-examination, and its ethos can be summed up in the following question: Are we fit — equipped, geared, organised, prepared, ready, efficient, effective, structured — for the fulfilling of the mission of The Salvation Army today?

As a process seeking to answer that question, Fit for Mission has been operational for several months, and after much consultation, seminars, interviews, and amid on-going workshops and data-collating, a team under the leadership of Lieut-Colonel Alan Burns continues to work towards preparing a final report that will make concrete proposals as to how the territory can be better equipped and shaped to fulfil our mission.

To contribute to this process, you are invited to use this website, email: fitformission@salvationarmy.org.uk or write to the Fit for Mission team directly at THQ.

One of the key elements of this process is the identification of the mission priorities for the territory. It is only as we hold our missional objectives before us that we can be intentional about aligning ourselves to that mission. In consultation with leaders across the territory, we are finalising a list of specific areas of mission that we believe this territory should be prioritising in the context and complexities of the world of the 21st century.

Three component parts of Fit for Mission - serve, grow, save

To be fit for mission means that we must be fit to serve, fit to grow and fit to save. Our mission priorities will focus on

  • prayer as being foundational to all we are and do; spiritual and numerical growth, and the stronger and more intentional integration of our many and varied ministries
  • equipping our people to share the story of Jesus; encouraging corps and centres to engage in sharing the gospel in their communities through strategic mission-planning and seeking opportunities to plant corps in various expressions
  • discipleship training and living; promoting soldiership as a real expression of radical discipleship in our day and concentrating our efforts to reach and engage youth and children
  • developing mission focus groups to facilitate sharing the story of Jesus; looking at Recovery Church as a missional opportunity and developing strategies to strengthen and resource our social services and community outreach.

These priorities will be unpacked and explored by the territory so that, together, we can embrace and engage with a clearly defined and formulated mission strategy. As we corporately examine our fitness for mission, I appeal to all Salvationists — soldiers, local officers, officers, adherent members — to rededicate ourselves afresh and individually, allow ourselves to be made ‘fit for mission’ too.

Equip for joyful service,
Army us with holy might,
Give victory in temptation
And courage for the fight

(Salvation Army Song Book no: 870)

May it be so! May this territory find itself Fit for Mission in the 21st century as we have been in the two centuries before!

Commissioner Clive Adams, Territorial Commander The Salvation Army UK Territory with the Republic of Ireland

Comments

Submitted by Graham Slader on

I am really encouraged that one of our mission priorities will focus on '...concentrating our efforts to reach and engage youth and children', but I'm concerned that they are not being actively engaged in the Fit For Mission process.
In One Army, One Mission, One Message, General Linda Bond remarked that 'Our young people today are mission-focused young people and I think the divine moment is the present moment — if we as a Salvation Army do not capitalise on that, I think we could miss the opportunity of a lifetime.'
I believe that she is right on both counts. Our children and young people have passionate and valuable views about the Army they are part of and the mission it's engaged in, and we need to give them an opportunity to speak into this process. The present General has launched 'Tell the General' to get the views of young people from around the world - let's not miss the opportunity for this territory!

Submitted by Cara Adams on

This is exciting, finally we are looking and reflecting on how we work and how we can move forward for a modern audience. It's a great feeling to know that we are engaging a new world.

Submitted by Rick Adams on

I would like the Salvation Army as a whole to address how it can become more inclusive and how it can continue to reach out to LGBTQ people. I would like to see the LGBTQ community not mearly tolerated in the Army but welcomed. Our priority has and always will be saving souls so anything that stops us from fulfilling this mission should be questioned.

Submitted by Rob Perry on

Our Mission is absolutely clear when we look at the Bible rather than regulations. It is interesting to hear the recent remark of Pope Francis "Excessive centralisation, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church's life and her missionary outreach" which seems very pertinent to this exercise. I hope this proves helpful.

Submitted by Bert Menary on

Unless we have a passion for souls and take the appropriate action we, as a church in the community, will die. Le's not regard the use of the mercy Seat as belonging to the past. Pastoral care requires to renewed emphasis.

Submitted by pat randell on

great reading! well done , and thank you ,we have just started attending salvation army ,to me this appears an exciting and wonderful time to reach out,inspire and edify.

Submitted by Hilary Davison on

Isn't it time we opened up our children's musical sections to any child who wants to be involved? Music is one of our greatest strengths and one of the greatest attractions for young people to get involved in. It's then up to us to nurture them and lead them to know Jesus in their own time when they are ready. We give them too many hurdles to jump over before they can get involved.

Submitted by Chris Harding on

One of the challenges we have is that christianised sound bites are easy.

IF "the making of disciples of Jesus" is our most simplified mission statement then that's good news because that is how Jesus sees it as well. Lets not complicate it with lots of other phrases and assume we all mean the same thing by them. Let's start by clarifying what Jesus meant when he told us to go. Its so easy to jump from here to a list right sounding ideas that don't really add up to much and just leave us wide open for nothing to really change.

Let's also really understanding WHY it's not working. (40-60% decline in 20 years). We aren't unique but there is much to be learned from Frost, Hirsch, Bell, Halter, McClaren and crew because they have 10 years worth of Q&A about the same underlying problem already explored.

The remedy doesn't start with organisational change or clever strategies. It starts with ordinary people like you and me. The problem is with us and the real issues come down to three possibilities: our attitude / mindset / the way we think - our capabilities (we no longer know how to connect with the 95% who need to discover life in all it's fulness) - our actions (it just ain't working and only a fool keeps doing the same thing expecting a different result)

I was at the F4M conversation last night and I was encouraged to find some like-minded souls and interested to listen to how others see the challenges. But on reflection we were mostly looking inwards to what we want TSA to be rather than looking outwards to what the 95% need TSA to be.

One of the 'mini debates' was whether we are the church or a movement and whether we need to be distinctive or not. There was also a lot of use of the word "them".

IF we just want to be a distinctive membership organisation, we need to be clear about what VALUE we bring to our members or why should they join? Mission is not something we DO to people. (Get them saved, grow them, send them out to serve). That's not going to work.

IF we want to be a movement, we need to be compelling about the IDEA to which we are calling people. Asking people to come and save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity is not that compelling...even after we have found some bible verses to back it up. We can't choose to be a movement. Either we are engaged in leading a movement for radical change or we aren't. We will know if we are a movement because we will be giving a lead that others want to follow. Seems to me we are no longer a movement.

What if we stopped trying to get people to 'submit to the call' to "win the world for Jesus" (bear with me).

WHAT IF we were to declare that we are a god seeking community that mobilises and equips ordinary people to live radically transformed lives that can actually change the world...starting with themselves, their family, their friends, their local community, their neighbourhood, their workplace, their town and beyond...by choosing to follow the attitudes and teachings of Jesus the Christ as the way in which we understand what it looks like to live life fully - partnering with god in restoring community on kingdom values - gods alternative way of life for all of his creation that he loves with a passion?

Of course we would have to be clear about WHY that really matters, HOW that would become reality, WHAT it would look like worked out day to day. We would have to unlearn so many things that have entrapped us as a new pharisaical class. We would have to rediscover what it means to be free. We would have to have the ability to deliver on that in a way that is simple to grasp even if it's not easy to follow. We would have to be prepared to make serious changes. We would have to have a different way of leading that is more about shepherding and liberating and equipping and resourcing from the ground up rather than defining top down ordinances. It would take a long time to transition to that idea so we would need leaders who are absolutely convinced about the vision.

That's what many parts of gods community on earth are painfully waking up to. What if god doesn't need TSA any more? What if he doesn't care what we call ourselves or what we say we believe or how clever we are at doctrine . What if he just wants open minded open hearted people who will GO together and figure out what gathering looks like once they have figured out what loving community looks like?

How much would we be prepared to change if it meant the possibility of transforming our world in our generation?

Just a thought...I know what I'm going to do!

Submitted by Kerry Haslam on

I feel that God raised up the Salvation Army for a purpose & to me that purpose has not changed. It began to show Gods love, through service, to people who were pushed aside & forgotten. There are still millions of people who go about their daily lives in a cloud of pain, fear, discouragement & disillusionment. Jesus is the answer, now what's the question! Still speaks volumes to me. Perhaps the problem is that we haven't changed with a changing world, but change for the sake of it is not good.
The question we have to ask ourselves is this, is the world a totally different p!ace to the one William Booth, under God's leading,raised up The Salvation Army? I say no, not really. We have all the problems they faced & lots of added ones. What would Jesus do? Is something we need to ask ourselves because whatever he did would have been good enough for William Booth & it's good enough for me.
The issues are all still their but perhaps we've become to proper to deal with them, are we still Pub booming? Do we still do open airs? People have a great deal of respect for the salvation army, they have time for us. God gave us a mission, it was clear, go, preach, pray, help, offer a hand, work for the better good, save souls, bring men, women & children who are lost to Jesus. As long as we continue to do what God tells us then he will continue to bless us. It's God's army! Let's go forth together to serve a suffering, sad, pain filled world. Not forgetting the past, using it & also grasping hold of all the good things in this time & using them too.

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