Thursday, March 29, 2007

Emerging or regressing?

I have been posting for a little over a year. Early on in my experience the response to the blog was strong. One of my earliest blogs was this one on Emerging information. My links are not working on this post. If you wish to read it you can go to February 2006 section on the right.

Janet and I presented to the TEC on the emerging church and its effect on the Army and our need to come to grips with the changes in the wind. It has been almost 14 months later. I am not sure where we stand on the issue of the emerging church.

My friends listened politely. Many nodded in agreement, but a year later, I fear for most, it is business as usual. We are still locked into hiearchical management and feeling the need to order people around.

Fortunately, my leaders are not that way, but alas I feel that they are not the majority. As I reread the post, your comments and your pleas, I think many have been ignored. In the name of leadership, at all levels headquarters and corps, I believe we have forged forward with some older tactics, in an attempt to recapture bygone days. The fact is that the good ole days probably were not that good anyway.

We have once again found ourselves in the mode of telling instead of listening. WE have started ordering instead of walking hand in hand. Instead of being fellow travellers, I think we find leadership trying to be the boss. Now, I know someone needs to be the final word. I accept that as part of submission to the Body. But as Jesus challenged us, I wonder if we continue to lord our authority over people. I even point the finger at myself. It is comfortable to do the old thing instead of the right thing sometimes.

So are we emerging or regressing as a movement? Read the post, your comments and then let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Misplaced Priorities?

If you have been reading Joe Noland's blog (look to the right of this post) you will know that he has been discussing the issue of the Army losing its first love and the misplaced passion for souls. While agreeing with my former boss to a degree I thought much of what he was saying was "part of the job." Administration and the such was part and parcel of being an officer.

In my current position, I am an administrator. OK, now many of you can wipe the silly grins off of your faces and quit shaking you heads. You probably would never have thought that I would have admitted that I am administrating. Many of you who are working with me are probably thinking, "He's not an administrator." Lest you think that I have lost my questioning mind or passion for mission; think again. Part of the reason I try to be on the road and take engagements out of the office as I do is to share in mission.

It just so happens that I spend most of my office time in the "process" of ministry. I see it as a ministry to others in a way. My hope is that in the process, I have not become overbearing in requesting information and the necessary reports that I must collate for our various funding streams and other agencies with whom we work.
My hope is that I am lightening the burden of my brothers and sisters, in order that they may minister more effectively.

Over the last few weeks, I have been disheartened to hear how many of my colleagues are overwhelmed by the business of ministry. Many are struggling to keep their heads above the tide of emails, reports, budgets and papers. These are good people, who are competent and have good work ethics. Often I have heard them say to me, "This is not what I was called to do." I don't have much to say. The job of a corps officer in the West is difficult, especially when it comes to administrating shelters, soup kitchens, day care centers and other social programs which I see as part of our ministry. These are ministries in my opinion that should attach themselves to corps. They are rich opportunities for reaching people with the Gospel.

Unfortunately, even with the opportunity, I see the administration eating up some of my colleagues. So much is expected of them that I am not sure that they can get it all done. Yet, many of my DHQ/THQ colleagues, who work long hours too, have one focus (which is important) and often don't see the rest of the picture and pressures our CO friends face.

It is difficult in our dual roles of pastor/administrator to strike a correct balance. If I lean to one side, I want to be a person of mission. I am not sure that is incompatible with the need to be a good administrator. I am wondering with all of the great outreach and ministries we have, if we have asked our officers to take on misplaced priorities? We should require a great deal of our called people, but do we require too much? I also wonder about the role of our soldiery in our social programs and other ministries. Many are content to let the professional Christians do it and slow to be involved. I wonder if that is because we have become a movement that has not encouraged their participation enough, because of the need for us to professionalize our social services to maintain funding. Or have we reached people who are too limited to join in these types of ministries?

Is it a matter of misplaced priorities? Or is it more comfortable for us to administrate and not really be involved with the lives of people? Is it a crutch to say that, "I was not called to be an administrator?" Do my colleagues have a point?
I am struggling with this today, because I have so many friends who struggle at this moment with this part of their ministry.

I would like to hear from you all on this matter. I hope that laity and officers will weigh in. I think we may be nearing a crossroads in the Army on this matter.

What do you think?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Self Denial?

I have been reading the book "What Jesus Meant" by Garry Wills. Admittedly, Wills writes from a Roman perspective and from a more progressive view than most of us who consider ourselves "evangelical." Wills does make a great statement early on in the book when he says, "God's chosen people are commonly chosen to suffer." I am realizing more and more how easy my life is in the scheme of things.

These thoughts led me back to some conversations I had recently with family members, co-workers and friends on the issue of The Salvation Army World Services effort. While I know it will call for us to make some hard choices, I do applaud the General for his desire for the first world nations to give more generously and yes, sacrificially to the effort. In our territory, world services has become an assessment. It is a cost built into our budgets, we know we will have to pay. It became so early on in my time as an officer.

When I was growing up, I remember the effort being called "Self Denial." The concept of the program was that our soldiers and other members took away from their comfort to give to the necessities of others. I am not so sure that the concept of World Services quite works that way in most of our situations. Most of us in the West lose very little in the way of comfort for the sake of the rest of the world.

As I had this conversation recently with two people Janet and I love deeply, it got quite heated. They talked about how their corps could not sustain a 15% or so rise in their assessment. Then I made the statement that we really don't sacrifice enough for the sake of the Kingdom in the West. You could have cut the tension at this family gathering with a knife. "Easy for you to say," was the retort, "You are at DHQ." Of course, neither of them have served at our headquarters or really have a grasp on all of the measures we have undertaken to cut our costs and to stretch our resources, so that we could fund various missional projects instead of adding to our administrative load. They also live in lovely homes and have a couple of cars, nice corps facilities and a wonderful middle-class lifestyle.

These people are Godly. They work very hard. They give of their time and I am sure their money to others. I love them and respect them. We just disagreed.

When I replied that after having been in Africa and seen the conditions there and heard of the conditions my good friends serving in Papua New Guinea are enduring I said we should be ashamed to complain about our need to sacrifice. The fact is that around 3 billion people on the planet try to exist on less than $2 a day. Many of them are Salvationist brothers and sisters, trying to do the Kingdom's business. This to me is a great moral dilemma for the Army and the church. I think in many respects the gap between "the haves" and "have nots" in our Salvation Army world continues to widen. Even the poorest of us can be numbered among the "haves" of the world.

I realize there are some fixed costs that every corps must fund. I wonder though if we really taught on the issue of missions, if there would be a different response. I feel that it is often just a passing pity party for the poor of our world. Our pulpits and our teaching rarely educates about the depth of poverty in the world.

This has really hit home for me this weekend. I am in Charlotte, NC for a couple of days of retreat and relaxation. I am overwhelmed by the huge and ornate churches which dot the landscape here. I wonder if we quit building monuments to ourselves and went with a more functional facility what impact that would have. I often think that about some of the building projects we are undertaking here in our territory. I wonder how missionally minded they really are. What if we took a few moments and reflected on the issue of need instead of want or what we could afford, if we would have a better view of things.

I fear that our vision has been clouded by our consumerism. This is a lesson I am learning way too late in life and am trying to teach my children now that they are in their early twenties. For what ever reason, we have not been chosen to suffer. That does not excuse us from sacrifice though.

In our conversation, we also discussed gay marriage, abortion and other "moral" issues. I am not saying these are issues to be ignored or that we should turn our attention away from them, but I believe there is a broader moral agenda that we must address. It may begin with our own self-denial, which will help alleviate disease, poverty and despair. Possibly, it may also help the world to see a different, holy way of living.

I don't suffer very much. It is not a pretty thought. No one really wants to choose to suffer, well save One, who did for us. Instead of world services, I think, I really think, I need to go down the path of self denial.

I wonder if we really returned to teaching about self denial if our world services would not be a matter of complaint, but a real joy would be found in sharing.

What is it that causes us to want to be so stingy in our giving? Do you think that we ought to return to self denial teaching? Do you think we can raise up a missionally minded Army that would not look at the perks but would look at the need realistically? Are we sinful because we are comfortable and middle class? Am I less holy because I don't suffer?

There are many other questions I could ask. I am really struggling with the attitude of entitlement and monument building that seems to prevail not only in the first world Army, but in the church in general. How can we change this?

What do you think?