Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The entire mission of The Salvation Army

I am having a conversation full of my usual philosophical hoo haw with a friend of mine. He is working very hard on developing a philosophy of mission that will encourage the full mission of The Salvation Army. I have asked him what he really sees as the "full mission" of The Salvation Army.

I know we have a pretty decent mission statement in the States. Meeting human need and preaching the gospel, without discrimination etc. That sounds really good.

He is struggling with keeping "the spiritual" aspect of the work in the social ministry. We have been having this discussion on whether or not it is a matter of keeping social aspect in the spiritual ministry. In other words, "Do we perform social service ministry for conversion purposes or do we perform social services because in themselves they are spiritual service?"

He contends that the social ministry aspect overwhelms the spiritual many times and "God is relegated to a 50% person in the chapel." I contend that to really be authentically Christian we really offer our social ministry not expecting conversion or anything else because that is really Christian and being social in our spiritual work.

In fact doesn't our theology teach us that everything we do must be a sacramental experience. Service is done as an act of worship not as tool to draw people into the club. That does not mean that we don't witness to the power of Christ to transform, but we also don't hold it over people's heads either and make them feel as if they "owe" us to become Christians because we have helped them. We should be bearing the image of Christ around. Isn't that our ultimate spiritual ministry?

I just happen to think if we do anything out of a desire to get people to join our club, we may be bordering on being less than genuine in our love for them. On the other hand, do I short change the Gospel by not being aggressive?

When Jesus asked us to baptize and make disciples, how did he want us to do that? Was it through loving or was it through apologetics or slick methodology?

You see where I am going on this? What is mission? Brian McLaren in his book "A Generous Orthodoxy" says this, "In a pluralistic world, a religion is value based on the benefits it brings to its non-adherents.” I think that has something to say to us about the way we think of mission. Is it really about getting people to join the club? Is it about being open-handed and unconditional in our love expecting nothing in return? Is it both?

So yes, I have been struggling with this whole idea of social/spiritual/integrated mission. My friend and I are having this very important discussion because we both want the best for the Kingdom. We want people to know Jesus. I just wonder if we are thinking about different methodologies or philosophies?

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I gave it up for Lent?

I am amazed with the number of people I have encountered this year who have given up this or that for Lent. No doubt, the concept of sacrifice and self-denial are key to the discipline of the Christian life.

Yet, as with every year, I struggle with the whole concept of giving things up for Lent. The premise upon which we sacrifice things is that we deny ourselves so that we can concentrate more fully on the passion of our Savior. Without fail though, most of the people I know who give up things for Lent, either indulge themselves prior to the beginning of Lent or binge directly after on the very things they sacrifice. I know this is not true of all, but with many of my friends, I have watched this be repeated over and over again. I then think, "What's the use?" In many respects the whole Lenten sacrifice concept then just turns into pop theology that everyone who is "spiritually in tune" experiments with for a few weeks.

If you are really intentionally fasting with purpose this Lenten season I want to encourage you to keep on. I do think that this points to a greater issue in our Western style of Christianity. Frankly, we sacrifice very little. We need to have the very latest styles, cell phones, computers and Lord, don't let us leave the house without our Ipods. There is nothing wrong with having these things, but it seems somewhat sketchy to me that we want these things and then "sacrifice" for Lent. Where do we draw the line? Are we just fooling ourselves?

Sacrifice and self-denial are important. If done in the right spirit they benefit the soul and point us toward the Savior. So my giving up chocolate, coffee, jelly beans, or whatever, means little unless I am searching for the Savior in this time of sacrifice. Doesn't God want us to be more wholehearted in our obedience than this? Doesn't He want us to sacrifice for the good of the Kingdom, putting aside our desires for the good of others and the mission of the Gospel? Really, when we just give something up for Lent ceremonially isn't that a bit over-rated? Shouldn't our attitude be one of sacrifice? Shouldn't we sacrifice our need to be right all of the time? Shouldn't we sacrifice our need to have an exclusive club?

I haven't given up anything for Lent. I have been challenged recently about the need to live simply and not be so desirous of things, position and having my way all of the time.

What are your thoughts on this whole Lenten thing? What have you given up? What are we willing to give up for the Kingdom? Is Lent over-rated in our experience? Is it just another exercise in making us look good? I don't want to condemn anyone. I am struggling with this as it pertains to the Church?

What do you think?