Thinking Out Loud

March 27, 2014

So What If I Told You…

So what if I told you that about half of all people employed by Christian organizations and churches in North America are in no way necessary to the completion of that organization’s or church’s ministry?

The statistic is hypothetical, but I’d still like to propose the possibility that the thesis is correct. There is a lot of fat in a lot of organizations. As attendance grows at weekend services, many churches opt to either go into building program or to hire more staff. At parachurch organizations, structures and hierarchies become bureaucratized and complex. People grow accustomed to their weekly paycheck, and long-time employees appreciate the burden-sharing and never question the additional expenditures. Why rock the boat, or admit that the job you do each day isn’t a real job? Too few charities and church denominations ever take the step of hiring people from the business world who know how to make cuts.

So what if I told you that about 90% of the people employed by churches and Christian organizations are completely isolated from any opportunity to do front-line ministry?

Again, a hypothetical stat, but when you average in all the people in various support services, office staff, etc., and the various agencies that come alongside these same missions and camps and churches are included, it shows that the structure really does mean that, like an iceberg only reveals a tenth of its mass, only a very small percentage of workers are exposed to situations requiring a presentation of the gospel or engagement with those outside the flock. 

Years ago, I remember hearing the phrase, ‘Making a living off the gospel.’  It’s sad to think that this probably takes place today to a much higher level; a much greater degree. Organizations ask for help meeting a payroll that probably doesn’t need to be as high as it is, but perhaps fruit-of-the-spirit virtues like kindness prevent the hard-nosed restructuring that might be needed. 

What do you think? Do you know people who have a career with a Christian organization, but maybe don’t exactly have a job? Do you think a person would ever have the conviction to tell their Christian employer that their job is completely unnecessary? Do you know of a church that simply has waaaay too many staff positions?

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June 8, 2012

More on The Sally Army Story

So I’m sitting listening to the Michael Coren’s  May 19th interview on the Drew Marshall Show, and it suddenly occurs to me there’s no post up today.  I’m supposed to reviewing The Way, the new edition of the NLT, but how does one review a Bible?  I’m up to the third chapter of Genesis and need to have it finished by next week. I have a feeling there are different rules for Bible reviewing.

Anyway, I’m still a chapter short of finishing the 1965 biography of the Salvation Army’s William Booth that I mentioned two weeks ago.  This is my ‘bedside reading’ title, so I’m in no particular hurry and my pace is slowed by (a) the richness of the language employed back then (and it’s sad to say that 50 years ago constitutes ‘back then’) and (b) continually setting the book aside to contemplate Booth’s pure genius.

In addition to what I wrote then, two things are standing out now that I’ve substantially made it through the book.

First, Booth was immersed in what we call today the Wesleyan tradition.  Revivalism. Holiness. Repentance. But he actually despaired of altar calls that brought church people forward at meetings. He wanted the call to reach beyond the church doors, the message of holiness and repentance to see response from people in the broader population. But of course, the church people, would get upset when he brought what we call riffraff through the church doors.

You can see why, parallel to building his social service army, he needed to start a church; and actually even that statement misses the point because for Booth, the souls of men (and women) were his primary concern. So while the visible expression of The Salvation Army was providing meals and clothing, the object of the movement was always to see many added to The Kingdom, or as they termed it, “soup, soap and salvation.”

Their motto was “Go for souls, and go for the worst.” And their concept of how to do this involved far more than witness, but really it involved their people embedding themselves among the poorest of people. This concept extended to their international outreach; they went to establish a presence in a variety of countries; I’m not sure Booth would relate to our short-term mission jaunts today. They didn’t go to take a methodology for confronting poverty, but they took a message; the gospel.

The consequences of this when Booth’s army ‘invaded’ Switzerland were large:

Booth, in his enthusiasm, and overlooked the fact that the cold proud city of Geneva was the birthplace of John Calvin, whose religion taught pre-election. The destiny of every soul, Calvinists argued, was determined before it ever entered the body: If some were irrevocably chose, others were irredeemably damned.

It was a disastrous decision–for in country outside Britain was The Army subject to such bitter persecution.  (p. 158)

But for the most part, souls responded; and while Booth’s organization is remembered today for its brass bands and annual Christmas kettle appeal, he was, without doubt, the greatest evangelist of his generation.

…[A]ll Booth’s meetings, in a sense were children’s meetings; he knew that people like to learn by picture, not by precept. Seldom did he use a word a child of primary school age couldn’t have understood, and because of this, the flying shuttle of the years wove his message in the hearts and minds of millions across thee world. “Use words that Mary Ann will understand,” he counseled his officers, “And you will be sure to make yourself plain to her mistress. If you speak only to her mistress you will very likely miss her and Mary Ann as well.” (p. 242)

Good advice for preachers today, I would say.

Second, the thing that stood out to me was the very active role The Army took in addressing poverty: They didn’t treat symptoms, they treated causes.

So while soup and soap were provided, they created business opportunities in cities and regions, building plants that manufactured bricks and matchsticks (the latter more necessary in the 1800s than we realize) as well as agricultural operations that would not only provide income but feed people (where soil and climate conditions permitted).

Today, we don’t hear so much about churches starting business operations. In North America, a church would be so cautious about doing so, so concerned about the perception of using its nonprofit status to unfair competitive advantage, so fearful of insurance liability implications, so criticized for not keeping its focus on preaching the gospel, so distracted by nay-sayers who would say, ‘What if the business loses money, we will have squandered peoples’ tithes and offerings.”

Two months ago, our church took up an offering at the end of the service for a guy in the community who was unable to pay his rent. He doesn’t really attend the church, but he’s known to some of the leadership from another outreach they are involved in. His “employability” is somewhat limited, so yes, there are cases where direct assistance is needed. (We took up a similar offering just this week; as the instigator of both collections, I may have set a precedent here, I trust that it’s a healthy precedent.)

But there are times when the church can take the skills of its people and create micro-business opportunities (as we now see happening in third world missions) or even medium sized light industrial or farming projects.

Booth recognized this was the higher solution to the problem; in fact, William Booth was all about dreaming and visioning dozens of ‘solutions’ every single day.

The potential of The Salvation Army in those days was only limited by Booth’s imagination, and the potential for your local church is only limited by theirs.

There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save… Let us not grow weary in the work of God.

See my earlier comments here.

If you’ve never heard it, click over to YouTube for the song Cliff Richard made famous, Good on The Sally Army (fast forward to 2:59)

The General Next To God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army by Richard Collier.  Don’t go looking for this, I’m reading a used copy of the book published in 1965 by Collins Publishing

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