Thinking Out Loud

May 21, 2018

Missionals Sanctioned Doubt, Today Reaping the Consequences

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – Hosea 8:7 KJV
The people of Israel plant the wind, but they harvest a storm – Hosea 8:7 NOG*

Between 2003 and 2007 the movement in the church that would sometime be termed emergent, emerging, or missional was gaining traction. While the first two terms sound outdated — and the critics still abound, convinced they’re still fighting an identifiable force — the third is more about evangelism and hasn’t taken on a pejorative meaning.

Part of the character of these movements was to embrace the value of doubt. We sanctioned it. My wife says “We glorified it and played around with it.” You were authorized to wear your misgivings on your sleeve, while at the same time still adhering to Christianity’s over-arching message.

Reading the titles of books on the subject shows three options:
(a) Doubt is something to be overcome (the classical Protestant view)
(b) It’s okay to linger in doubt, or try to reconcile (hold in tension) doubt and belief
(c) Doubt can have positive effects; like the martial arts practitioners who use their enemy’s force to their own good, doubt can propel us toward faith.

Certainly doubt is to be preferred over apathy. A person who can articulate their uncertainties is in a better place than one who is simply dismissive and chooses to walk away from the faith discussion. Doubt is often the starting point of many a positive apologetic presentation.

And we are all works in process.

But recently, my wife and I have noticed a common thread. We journeyed with many people on the road to missional and find that so often it’s the case that their doubts overcame them. They are far removed from the place where we all began.

Their views on Jesus and the resurrection have morphed away from orthodoxy. Like the attendee at the convention or trade show, they have walked out to the lobby and removed their name badge. They no longer identify with Jesus.

This morning my wife said, “I’m starting to feel like the last man standing.”

This is not to say that there isn’t an overall drifting away taking place in Western culture. (Ironic, since Christianity seems to be growing everywhere else.) Belief in Christ is under attack on all fronts.

However, if our anecdotal evidence is in any way relevant, whatever that was which took place in the first decade of this century, it was insufficient to stick long-term with some of those in that movement…

…These different movements can be a tremendous blessing. I call myself post-Charismatic. I still believe in the limitless work of the Holy Spirit and am grateful for my exposure to and participation in that movement. I would call myself post-Missional. I’m grateful for what it showed me about Christ and culture, and the importance of identifying the people-groups in our own backyards, and reaching out to them. I’ll even (perhaps with some reluctance) take post-Emergent. I’m thankful for the lessons in Ancient-Future worship patterns and the opportunities to try to introduce those in various places where I led worship.

The danger is always throwing out the proverbial baby with the proverbial bath water. That’s what’s gone wrong here. Instead of Missional being a movement to funnel in a broader community, it seems also equally capable of being able to funnel out confirmed believers into the secular culture.

That’s unfortunate.

*NOG=Names of God Bible (Baker)

September 16, 2017

Reaching Outside Your Megachurch’s Bubble

So let’s pretend that you go to a megachurch in a large urban area. Oh wait, that’s not a ‘pretend’ for many of you. Now let’s pretend that your church is one of the really “hot” churches in town; you’ve got a great children’s, youth and college and career program; the type of church where nobody would consider missing a single weekend service if at all possible.

But let’s pretend — and it’s not a stretch at all — that if you were to take a drive and head about an hour out of town, you would find people in a small town or village who simply didn’t have the same exposure to an urban church like yours. And let’s pretend that you took some other people with you, and also took some of the passion and excitement you have about your faith.

Maybe your end product would look different than the kind of “road show” that the man pictured at right was part of. Russell Wilkinson lived in a different era to be sure, but his weekly trips to the little town of Mount Albert were no small adventure. It was a long, long drive northeast from the city of Toronto; especially on the rare occasions where they picked up children and teens there, drove them to a special service in Toronto, drove them home to Mount Albert and then drove back again. In a post-war time before freeways or even good roads.

I like that they (a) identified a group of people who were unable to connect with the church ministry programs going on in the city, and (b) did something about it. The term “missional” may not have existed back then, but this was textbook “missional” thinking. I am sure that their willingness to do this also had some measurable impact on the parents of the youth they got to know.

They didn’t just absorb all the great music and teaching that went on at their big-city church, but they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the overflow of all they had received.

And here’s a big component of this: Churches of all size would do this. They would send teams out to bless both rural and inner-city small(er) churches. Or even unaffiliated people — in this case youth — in small(er) communities. Instead of being focused inward, part of their church culture involved being focused outward. Not in a one-week mission trip to an exotic destination sense (which requires extensive fundraising) but in an ongoing, low-key manner.

I still have the trumpet in the picture. Until today, I’ve always thought of it as a musical instrument, but it was an instrument of ministry, too.

What are you doing this Fall to connect people with Jesus?

November 22, 2015

Door to Door Evangelism: Marginal Groups Willing to Invest the Time

Several years ago I met with a man who was a somewhat lapsed Episcopalian (or Anglican as we say here) who had been meeting on a monthly basis with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had a lot of questions about various issues, and so he invited them into his home and they returned regularly, staying about an hour each time.

There was a time when Evangelicals were very big on the concept of door-to-door outreach and visitation. Many a Saturday morning in the 1950s and 1960s might be spent in twos or threes ringing doorbells in a local neighborhood.

But as time went by, people tended to associate the “two by two” approach with only two groups: Mormons (LDS) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These two groups took ownership of this method of proselytizing, with the result that today it’s not widely used by others.

Before anyone starts dismissing these groups out of hand, I want to commend the approach for the following reasons:

  1. It’s Biblical. The disciples were sent out in this manner. I’m not sure that by concluding that certain groups had taken over this approach and the simply giving up, Evangelical Christians did the right thing. What contact do we now make with our surrounding neighbors?
  2. They deliver. If the last few years of Missional Church has taught us anything, it’s taught us the importance of being sent. So much of what the church calls “outreach” is really “in-drag.” Millions of people are falling through the cracks of printed brochure distribution or mall campaigns or e-mail invites. But it’s harder — though not impossible — for them to ignore a knock at the door.
  3. The people who this man met at his front door were willing to invest the time with him. On hearing that, I made sure that I took out as much time as he wanted. Fortunately, the phone at my workplace didn’t ring and no one else needed to see me. I would have given him all day.
  4. They knew their subject matter cold. He was impressed with both their depth and their passion as they presented answers to his questions and introduced their beliefs, and also how their various doctrines fit together. It’s important that we are able to do the same. It has been said that of all the religions on earth, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.
  5. They are optimistic about the results. I asked one Mormon missionary what would constitute the ideal “at the door” contact. He replied, “Someone who hears the message, receives the message, and commits to be baptized.” I asked if he’d ever heard of that happening all in the very first visit, and he said, “Yes, for sure.”
  6. They followed up. They returned to see him several times.

Hopefully through meeting with me he met someone with an equal passion for and knowledge of the true Christian faith. I encouraged him not to seek answers from the single source he has been using, and told him about a variety of resources available online. We continued meeting and while in recent years the contact has been somewhat fleeting, he always knows where to find me.

September 29, 2015

When Methodologies Were Different, Motivation Was The Same

So let’s pretend that you go to a megachurch in a large urban area. Oh wait, that’s not a ‘pretend’ for many of you. Now let’s pretend that your church is one of the really “hot” churches in town; you’ve got a great children’s, youth and college and career program, and nobody would consider missing a Sunday service if at all possible.

But let’s pretend that if you were to take a drive and head about an hour — at least an hour — out of town, where there were people in a small town or village who simply didn’t have the same exposure to an urban church like yours. And let’s pretend that you took some other people with you, and also took some of the passion and excitement you had about your faith.

Maybe your end product would look different than the kind of “road show” that the man pictured at left was part of. Russell Wilkinson lived in a different era to be sure, but his weekly trips to the little town of Mount Albert were no small adventure. It was a long, long drive northeast from the city of Toronto; especially on the rare occasions where they picked up children and teens there, drove them to a special service in Toronto, drove them home to Mount Albert and then drove back again. In a post-war time before freeways or even good roads.

I like that they (a) identified a group of people who were unable to connect with the church ministry programs going on in the city, and (b) did something about it. The term “missional” may not have existed back then, but this was classic “missional” thinking. I am sure that their willingness to do this also had some measurable impact on the parents of the youth they got to know.

They didn’t just absorb all the great music and teaching that went on at their big-city church, but they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the overflow of all they had received.

I still have the trumpet in the picture. Until today, I’ve always thought of it as a musical instrument, but it was an instrument of ministry, too.

What are you doing this fall to connect people with Jesus?

May 8, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Juxtaposed Advertising

This is the link list that the other blogs get their links from after we got them from them in the first place.

It’s a safe bet that neither party purchasing space on the above billboards were aware of the other’s presence.  Or is it?

  • Ravi Zacharias responds to the Boston tragedy and all the issues it raises.
  • And did you read about the Boston Marathon Saint; the guy who gave away his medal?
  • In New Zealand you can name your baby girl Faith, Hope, or Charity, but not Justice. It’s one of a number of banned names.
  • It’s got endorsements from Eric Metaxas, Ann Voskamp, Paul Young and Russell D. Moore. But is The Little Way of Ruthie Leming a title that would be considered a Christian book?
  • It’s not every day that a Christian school science test makes the pages of snopes.com, but then again you haven’t seen a test like this one.
  • Wanna know more about the Apocrypha, those extra books in the Roman Catholic Bible? Check out this podcast. (Click the link that says “Play in Pop-Up.) (Technically these are the deuterocanonical books, the term apocrypha can include other writings.)
  • And after adding that I found an article of a type that many of us would never see: A Roman Catholic blogger’s apologetic for the Catholic canon of scripture. (Which is by default very anti-Protestant canon.) 
  • If you read Christian blogs, you know the word ‘missional.’ Now here’s a reading list of the top 40 books on the subject.
  • Usually writers have to push their publishers for cool book trailers. This 2-minute video for Jon Stuff Christians Like Acuff’s book Start was a gift from a reader.
  • Quote of the week: “I knew what abortion was before I knew where babies came from. ” ~ Rachel Held Evans writing about a prominent US news story about an abortion doctor that isn’t playing much here in Canada or on the news elsewhere.
  • Also at RHE, Jennifer Knapp responds to some great questions from readers with some great answers. Sample: “I think it’s often overlooked, is that CCM’s genre is not a style of music, but rather it is a very specific message.” Quotation of the type you’re probably more interest in: “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ can be an acceptable working environment for some, but has also been used as legitimate financial weapon at times to enforce individual silence in exchange for job security.”  (Also, JK previously here at Thinking…)
  • And going three-for-three with RHE (it rhymes, too) here’s an interview she did with Christianity Today.
  • And for something much shorter than those articles on Rachel’s blog: Greg Atkinson on what pastors can learn from country music.
  • Here’s a pastor’s nightmare: When your small church is essentially a one man show.
  • Is your church looking for a pastor? Here’s ten signs your search isn’t going well.  Sample: Average time between sending in application and receiving rejection notice: 5-7 minutes.
  • Catholics are borrowing a page from Mormons, JWs and Evangelicals and doing door-to-door ministry. Advice to participants: Trying to provide too many facts about the Church may cause misunderstandings.
  • Here’s a fun 5-minute video for pastors wanting to develop their homiletic skills using a technique called preaching by ear. (A sales pitch follows.)
  • And wrapping up our ministry links, should a pastor know how much individuals give financially?
  • At a certain point (i.e. after the second chorus) this Eddie Kirkland song always reminds me of Coldplay.
  • Going to a summer wedding? You might want to look around at a critical moment so you don’t miss the best part of the processional.
  • Tony Jones loves Greg Boyd (no, not that way) and thinks you should also.
  • From the people who brought you the Top 200 Christian Blogs list, The Top 200 Christian Seminaries.
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May 2, 2013

Reblogging: Salvation Army Invented Missional

It’s only been a year since I posted this, but this had a profound affect on me, and I hope you enjoy reading it for the first time, or reading it again.

I’m currently reading 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 that was left unsold at a recent fundraising event.

Although I’m only at the half-way mark, I am amazed at the degree to which William Booth carved entirely new ministry territory. I am now convinced that if anyone wants to understand the missional ministry philosophy that rose to prominence on a parallel track with the emerging church or Emergent Church movements of the last decade, they really need to begin by reading a history of the Salvation Army.

The thing that is most striking in what I’ve read so far is the contrast between what William Booth created and the revivalist movement of the day. While Wesleyan and Methodist meetings encouraged personal repentance and turning from sin, it was generally among the church people that such penitence took place. When it came to world at large, nobody wanted to get their hands dirty. Or their church building dirty, for that matter.

Booth was forced to go it alone. Here are some of the things that made what became known as The Salvation Army stand out:

  • Street Theater — The street preachers did whatever it took to draw a crowd: Counting on the curiosity of onlookers, outrageous stunts and costumes, the use of signs and banners, etc.
  • Connecting With Popular Culture — The early history of the Salvation Army — though the book doesn’t use this term — really defines what it means to be “in but not of.” Army volunteers stood apart and yet dwelt among.
  • Use of Secular Spaces — The book credits Booth with being the first to rent space in public and private buildings for his meetings, transforming those secular spaces into sacred spaces. Heretofore, in order to hear the gospel, you had to “come inside our church.” (I’ve phrased it that way because it should sound all too familiar.)
  • Celebrity Fascination — Booth’s meetings would include conversion testimonies by both the famous and the infamous.
  • Music — The brass band had never been part of the sacred music genre; it was therefore distinctive among religious sects, it was bright and lively, it worked well in outdoor settings. Salvationists also adapted popular pub tunes, giving them Christian lyrics; Booth originated the phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the music?”
  • Press and Publicity — Booth’s edict was that the emerging organization should get as much space in the pages of the newspapers as often as possible to keep awareness high.
  • Uniforms — While undergoing re-examination constantly in today’s environment, theirs was a culture of uniforms, so it simply made sense. One officer slept with his “S” pinned on his nightclothes to indicate that he was on call 24/7. Today, identification in the larger community remains a key value.
  • Attitude — Booth’s followers believed that as an army, they were triumphant. To the date the book was written, the Salvation Army flag had never been flown at half mast, because Christ was ever victorious.
  • Partnerships — From the outset, Booth was never trying to form another sect, but originally envisioned a ministry that work in tandem with existing denominations; and although he did in fact create a new church, his ethic of parallel ministry continues to this day.
  • Women in Ministry — From the first Sunday that Catherine Booth made her way to the pulpit and told her surprised husband that she had something God had given her to share, The Salvation Army has celebrated the role of women, and elevated women to the place where they can enjoy any rank in the organization available to a man.
  • Patronage — Booth realized from the outset that the very people he was reaching would not be able to financially support the ministry, so he sought to enlist from among the wealthy, people who would be patrons of the new work, not all of whom were necessarily believers.
  • Meeting Needs — Of course, the list would be incomplete without mention of the social services ministry which earned the street preachers the right to be heard. Food, clothing, shelter and health care (and health education) were all provided.

This list is far from complete; just a few things I scribbled before sitting at the computer to prepare this. But I have to ask myself and my readers:

  1. How close does our/my church come to reaching out to “the least of these” in our community and our world?
  2. What are we/What am I doing to be part of taking the gospel beyond the church walls?
  3. Money talks. What is my church doing with our budget to reach out? What am I doing with my personal giving that goes beyond benefit to other Christians, or merely pays for the programs our family utilizes?

Again, for those who believe in missional community, for those who strive for social justice, for those who prioritize world evangelization; a history of The Salvation Army is must reading.

And nearly 150 years later, the story of the Salvation Army is still being told.

Update: More on this book published on June 8th here at Thinking Out Loud.

Related post at Christianity 201: William Booth Quotations

April 13, 2013

Book Review: The Faith of Leap

The Faith of LeapI am a huge fan of missional church planters Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, and even though The Faith of Leap isn’t a new title, I asked our friends at Graf-Martin (a book publicity agency) if they could track one down for me

There is a particular paragraph that I wish I had marked because Michael and Alan say it so much better, but essentially the message of this book is that local church congregations can move beyond simply gathering once a week to sing songs and listen to a sermon; and can actually team together in partnership to accomplish greater things.  This life of risk they call liminality, and the result is the church moves from community to communitas.

Late in the book, they also suggest that every person in every church can follow the command to “go” because “go” might mean “go deeper” into the heart of the neighborhood where that church is located. Either way, the book is a call to adventure; a call to churches to take a leap of faith driven by possessing the faith of leap.

…I mentioned that I was reading this to a local pastor who noted that Hirsch and Frost repeat a lot of material from book to book. This is true here, they do quote previous works frequently. However, I would recommend this book for anyone who has never read their material before, it is absolutely certain to challenge pastors, church leaders, and people like you and me.

September 28, 2012

Giving Your Church What They Prefer Over What They Need

Matt Marino is an Episcopal Priest who spent 17 years with Young Life.  He dares to pose a question that’s being heard more and more recently,

What’s so uncool about cool churches?

[This is a teaser, you are strongly advised to click the link above and read the whole article, which has so far attracted over 100 comments.]

They ask for more and more, and we give it to them. And more and more the power of God is substituted for market-driven experience. In an effort to give people something “attractive” and “relevant” we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church. Here are the marks of being market-driven; Which are hallmarks of your ministry?

  1. Segregation. We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church. It started with youth rooms, and then we moved to “youth services.” We ghettoized our children! (After all, we are cooler than the older people in “big church”. And parents? Who wants their parents in their youth group?)
  2. Big = effective. Big is (by definition) program driven: Less personal, lower commitment; a cultural and social thing as much as a spiritual thing...
  3. More programs attended = stronger disciples. The inventors of this idea, Willow Creek, in suburban Chicago, publicly repudiated this several years ago. They discovered that there was no correlation between the number of meetings attended and people’s spiritual maturity...
  4. Christian replacementism. We developed a Christian version of everything the world offers: Christian bands, novels, schools, soccer leagues, t-shirts. We created the perfect Christian bubble.
  5. Cultural “relevance” over transformation.We imitated our culture’s most successful gathering places in an effort to be “relevant.” Reflect on the Sunday “experience” at most Big-box churches:ure.
    • Concert hall (worship)
    • Comedy club (sermon)
    • Coffee house (foyer)
  6. Professionalization. If we do know an unbeliever, we don’t need to share Christ with them, we have pastors to do that. We invite them to something… to an “inviter” event… we invite them to our “Christian” subcult
  7. “McDonald’s-ization” vs. Contextualization:  It is no longer our own vision and passion. We purchase it as a package from today’s biggest going mega-church. It is almost like a “franchise fee” from Saddleback or The Resurgence.
  8. Attractional over missional. When our greatest value is butts in pews we embrace attractional models. Rather than embrace Paul’s Ephesians 4 model in which ministry gifts are given by God to “equip the saints” we have developed a top-down hierarchy aimed at filling buildings. This leaves us with Sunday “church” an experience for the unchurched, with God-centered worship of the Almighty relegated to the periphery and leading of the body of Christ to greater spiritual power and sanctification to untrained small group leaders.

continue reading the whole article here.

As I prepared this, I thought of point number eight in light of my ‘online’ church home, North Point. There are only two worship songs, and further worship is relegated to Thursday nights every other month. But even those nights simply mirror what happens on Sunday morning, which is itself an extension of the youth ministry model.

Some youth are not happen with the state of the church, and are seeking an entirely different model, as we wrote last week.  Other teens and twenty-somethings are simply leaving, as we noted two weeks ago. So there are issues that need to be addressed as to the sustainability of the present models within student ministry; but also larger implications for an entire assembly or congregation.

Among the comments at Matt’s article:

  • Being hip isn’t the problem you’re addressing, its the lack of content which plagues both cool (too much focus on preference for entertainment) and uncool (to much focus on preference for tradition)
  • What matters isn’t what the preacher wears, whether there is coffee, whether there is a rock band or an orchestra or just a piano, is the FRUIT.
  • “Guitar Praise — Just Like Guitar Hero, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Praise Ponies — Just Like My Little Pony, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Testamints — Just like Altoids, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Christian Chirp — Just like Twitter, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “GodTube — Just like YouTube, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Seek & Find” — Just like Google Search, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Johnny Hammer — Just like Justin Beiber, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
  • Your biggest draw, which is providing a loving community where all kids can belong, is completely lost when your church preaches a bigoted message on homosexuality.
  • We assemble to worship, serve, please and praise God. It’s all about HIM! Not us. Smoke machines, guitars, pianos, lasers, and flashing lights? Why? Does this please God? Is it what he’s asked for? Or is it a ploy to bring more bodies in? Hey, I am all for trying to get more souls in the pews, but let’s do it in a way that doesn’t put make-up on God.
  • A good church cannot be determined by its “style” of worship. What is important? Shouldn’t a church be judged by things like its theology, its teaching, its mission, the fellowship and growth of its people, whether people come to God and become closer to God?

July 4, 2012

Wednesday Link List

From the Sojourners Magazine slide show and report on the Wild Goose Festival


With an over 70% U.S. readership, I don’t have a lot of high hopes for record high stats on the 4th of July, but here goes anyway.  Lots of Wild Goose Festival coverage here, too.  If you’d like more links, there was a Weekend Link List here on Saturday.

  • So why does Mark’s gospel begin with a quote attributed to Isaiah when it’s actually taken from the book of Malachi?
  • Small-town pastor Chuck Warnock did a graduation address to a Christian high school that’s worth reading in full, but if you can’t take the time, at least check out The Monkey Experiment illustration.
  • Author Cathleen Falsani (Belieber) goes off the grid (not by choice) at the Wild Goose Festival and then comes back on the grid (via Sojourners) to share her experiences.  “The revolution is not dead.”
  • Speaker Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove reflects on the festival, an event he sees in a long line of camp meeting culture.
  • He was the only explicitly non-religious speaker invited to the Wild Goose Festival.  Bryan Parys travels with Chris Stedman.
  • Ian reflects on the theologically relaxed atmosphere, while a Unitarian Universalist fills us in on the LGBTQ issues that were raised, and more details on the music.  There are many more reports — use Google Blog Search — to help you get the picture…
  • Have your say: It’s Open Forum Week at Internet Monk.
    • Monday: Open Forum for Pastors
    • Tuesday: Open Forum for Readers around the World
    • Wednesday: Open Forum on America (Independence Day Special)
    • Thursday: Open Forum for Mission Workers
    • Friday: Open Forum for Bloggers and Writers
  • Thomas Kinkade’s wife and Thomas Kinkade’s girlfriend are in a battle over the artist’s fortune.  (There’s one of his works in one out of every twenty homes in the U.S.) Sixty-six million is at stake.
  • Apparently Church Executive magazine — it’s usually racked next to Newsweek — thinks the new generation of pastors isn’t speaking out on national issues. As one of those mentioned, Pete Wilson responds.
  • Randy Alcorn has a three-in-one post with an update on Steve Saint, a discussion of the problem of men not being readers, and a related reblog of a Russell Moore piece on men and online addictions.
  • Author Timothy Paul Jones fills us in a little on some of the books that did not make it into our New Testament.
  • Brave New World Department: The first genetically modified humans have been born. Yes. Only in America.
  • A Christian writer gives a thoughtful and thorough review of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, albeit with a few spoilers.
  • Okay, we do have a link that’s tied to the 4th of July: Chad Hall looks what happens when patriotism comes to church. “Conservative Christians rightly resist religious syncretism …but we fail to see that equal and greater harm comes from the syncretism of Christianity and nationalism.”
  • Medical Complications Department: “The medicine he had to take as a child to fight his cancer had eventually caused his heart to wear out… he had to have a heart transplant…[years later]…the medications Chuck had to take to maintain his new heart had given him cancer.” Read J.’s tribute to his friend.
  • Dan Kimball has a new book and a new website coming. Here’s the 411 on his new project: Adventures in Churchland.
  • And Mike Breen (Lifeshapes) has a new blog. A good place to learn more about what he and 3DM is doing with church-planters is to start with this 5-minute video.
  • Website Discovery of the Week: HarvestUSA — Proclaiming Christ as Lord to a Sexually Broken World.
  • Mark Sandlin explains why he, a pastor, is taking three months off from attending church.  “I want to understand what it is that the ‘spiritual but not religious’ like about not being in church AND I want to understand what I, a life long churchgoer, miss about not being in church.”
  • It’s been a year since we introduced you to Aimee Byrd, Housewife Theologian who is still blogging regularly and living proof that not all radical Calvinists are male. (Hence, no specific link here.)
  • Yes, I know just about everybody else has blogged this by now…but here’s the bacon graphic… Everyday Theology had the best intro: “If you live in 17th century Holland, it’s fine to summarize your theology using flowers. But in 21st century America, we prefer our theology a little meatier, and saltier, and greasier. So forget the five points of TULIP, here is the new creed for the Five Strip Baconist!”

May 21, 2012

Salvation Army Invented “Missional” Nearly 150 Years Ago

I’m currently reading 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 that was left unsold at a recent fundraising event.

Although I’m only at the half-way mark, I am amazed at the degree to which William Booth carved entirely new ministry territory. I am now convinced that if anyone wants to understand the missional ministry philosophy that rose to prominence on a parallel track with the emerging church or Emergent Church movements of the last decade, they really need to begin by reading a history of the Salvation Army.

The thing that is most striking in what I’ve read so far is the contrast between what William Booth created and the revivalist movement of the day. While Wesleyan and Methodist meetings encouraged personal repentance and turning from sin, it was generally among the church people that such penitence took place. When it came to world at large, nobody wanted to get their hands dirty. Or their church building dirty, for that matter. 

Booth was forced to go it alone. Here are some of the things that made what became known as The Salvation Army stand out:

  • Street Theater — The street preachers did whatever it took to draw a crowd: Counting on the curiosity of onlookers, outrageous stunts and costumes, the use of signs and banners, etc.
  • Connecting With Popular Culture — The early history of the Salvation Army — though the book doesn’t use this term — really defines what it means to be “in but not of.”  Army volunteers stood apart and yet dwelt among.
  • Use of Secular Spaces — The book credits Booth with being the first to rent space in public and private buildings for his meetings, transforming those secular spaces into sacred spaces. Heretofore, in order to hear the gospel, you had to “come inside our church.” (I’ve phrased it that way because it should sound all too familiar.)
  • Celebrity Fascination — Booth’s meetings would include conversion testimonies by both the famous and the infamous.
  • Music — The brass band had never been part of the sacred music genre; it was therefore distinctive among religious sects, it was bright and lively, it worked well in outdoor settings.  Salvationists also adapted popular pub tunes, giving them Christian lyrics; Booth originated the phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the music?”
  • Press and Publicity — Booth’s edict was that the emerging organization should get as much space in the pages of the newspapers as often as possible to keep awareness high.
  • Uniforms — While undergoing re-examination constantly in today’s environment, theirs was a culture of uniforms, so it simply made sense. One officer slept with his “S” pinned on his nightclothes to indicate that he was on call 24/7. Today, identification in the larger community remains a key value.
  • Attitude — Booth’s followers believed that as an army, they were triumphant. To the date the book was written, the Salvation Army flag had never been flown at half mast, because Christ was ever victorious.
  • Partnerships — From the outset, Booth was never trying to form another sect, but originally envisioned a ministry that work in tandem with existing denominations; and although he did in fact create a new church, his ethic of parallel ministry continues to this day.
  • Women in Ministry — From the first Sunday that Catherine Booth made her way to the pulpit and told her surprised husband that she had something God had given her to share, The Salvation Army has celebrated the role of women, and elevated women to the place where they can enjoy any rank in the organization available to a man.
  • Patronage — Booth realized from the outset that the very people he was reaching would not be able to financially support the ministry, so he sought to enlist from among the wealthy, people who would be patrons of the new work, not all of whom were necessarily believers.
  • Meeting Needs — Of course, the list would be incomplete without mention of the social services ministry which earned the street preachers the right to be heard. Food, clothing, shelter and health care (and health education) were all provided.

This list is far from complete; just a few things I scribbled before sitting at the computer to prepare this. But I have to ask myself and my readers:

  1. How close does our/my church come to reaching out to “the least of these” in our community and our world?
  2. What are we/What am I doing to be part of taking the gospel beyond the church walls?
  3. Money talks. What is my church doing with our budget to reach out? What am I doing with my personal giving that goes beyond benefit to other Christians, or merely pays for the programs our family utilizes?

Again, for those who believe in missional community, for those who strive for social justice, for those who prioritize world evangelization; a history of The Salvation Army is must reading.

And nearly 150 years later, the story of the Salvation Army is still being told.

Update: More on this book published on June 8th here at Thinking Out Loud.

Related post at Christianity 201: William Booth Quotations

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