God Bless The Salvation Army or We’re Toast!

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A few weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of Backpack Radio (featured on our recommended reading/listening roundup) that featured an interview with John S. Dickerson. Already an accomplished investigative journalist and the recipient of numerous national and regional accolades, Dickerson brought that background, training, and mindset with him into his life and work as senior pastor of a congregation in Arizona. The interview dealt with his new book The Great Evangelical Recession: The 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church… and How to Prepare, a call to the American Church to heed the signs of an impending collapse similar to the one our economic system suffered in the mid 2000s. Far from being conjecture and theory, Dickerson sifts through hard data to expose the patterns of decline already long evident in mainline denominations and how they have been exhibited among evangelical churches now for years.

What effect is this having on our culture and how will those trends continue? What will the real world repercussions be for the way the Church in America currently looks and functions? How might we prayerfully begin to lean in, and prepare for what is to come, if our current bearing doesn’t change? In no way a simple doomsday rant, this book aims to analyze the American Church’s current standing in an honest and practical way, and to look to Scripture for possible answers as to how we can focus on being the Body of Christ rather than a man-made religious institution. As Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has stated, “Christianity has nothing to fear. We have the promises of God!” Williams, however, made this assertion while discussing the very real fears facing Anglicanism, and the church in England more generally.

This work seems to me to be a part of a movement in evangelicalism led by folks who recognize that much of what we have built the American expression of the Church upon is actually a shifting-sand, culturally influenced foundation. As congregations continue to decline, tithes and donations continue to dry up, and our culture slowly becomes either more hostile towards or entirely apathetic to the Church, what will be left to plant our feet on? The easy and eternally true answer is Christ, but if we’re honest with ourselves, is that what we’re really standing on? Neil Cole, church planting and discipleship expert, shares a wise saying concerning the American Church, “The system we have in place is perfectly suited to give us the results that we currently see.” In other words, if we don’t change what we’re doing, we’re a bit foolish to expect different results.

These questions surfacing in this book resonate with me as I consider the future of the Salvation Army. We too are facing mounting overhead costs from buildings and programs without congregations to sustain them. Each year, we have genuine (and growing) concerns about having enough officers to fill appointments. And what of our respectable image? Will the day come when we will be forced to choose between integrity/mission and government grants/corporate gifts? I bring all this up not to point a finger at The SA, or to advocate for some specific reforms that will solve all our problems. Rather, I believe that if God chooses to ordain the continued existence AND fruitfulness of The Salvation Army, then he will continue to provide everything we need to carry out the mission he has given us. And I would contend that he, in fact, already has.

We are an Army rich in both worldly resources and intelligent, passionate people. The answer is not more money, more soldiers, more officers, or the like; the answer is a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence in each of our lives! The answer is more sensitivity and submission to God’s leading, over our own interest and self-preservation. The answer is a more radical abandonment of our earthly loves and concerns, for the sake of God’s will finding fruitful expression in the lives of every soldier and officer. Let’s encourage and spur one another on towards that. Let’s get on our knees often, and stay on them long before our God who has already made wonderful provision for his people.

God bless The Salvation Army. Otherwise, we’re toast!

Respond:

  • What is the single greatest need you see in your TSA community?
  • How are you prayerfully seeking the Lord’s will for your life and your ministry?
  • Where are you seeing fruit born out of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in your ministry, and how can you focus more time and attention on those areas?

4 Responses to “God Bless The Salvation Army or We’re Toast!”

  1. Aaron Kruse says:

    First, I think that trying to narrow down one “Single, Greatest Need” is not the right idea… The moment that you start to focus on that single need, more often than not other things end up losing focus… until the next thing you know, your greatest need is being addressed, and then you have three or four other needs that have now increased. It’s a vicious cycle that is next to impossible to get out of. Instead of trying to address the Single greatest need, I think that what needs to be addressed is “How do we incorporate this greatest need into our ministry?” Unfortunately, sometimes, this means that we need to move focus from one area of need to another. Focusing on Youth ministry, as an example, is absolutely required, but not if it is going to take away from a strong Adult ministry at the corps. This is where the issue lies… how do we focus on this “Single, Greatest Need” in our corps without sacrificing the other work that we do?

    • Jonathan Taube says:

      Good point. We need a balanced approach to needs and what we actually have at our disposal. In the Central Territory for example, our TCs have intentionally identified a “vital few” key issues that they want to focus personnel, creativity, time, and resources on addressing. It is a wise thing to evaluate what we do well, and what we don’t, and how we can focus on what is actually bearing fruit for the Kingdom.

      If I had to point to one single thing in Scripture that made the difference in the early Church, it would be the presence of the Holy Spirit. I think that was obviously the empowering factor of the early SA too. Seek first the Kingdom, as Jesus said. Interesting thought to carry out to its conclusions, you know?

      How would you envision a focus on youth ministry becoming a detriment to adult ministry? I’m not sure I’ve seen that happen before, so I’m curious what you’re getting at.

      • Aaron Kruse says:

        Hey Jon, sorry it took so long for a reply… Congress… You know how it is…
        What I meant with the youth ministry being a detriment to the adult ministry is more of an example. I have personally seen times when new leadership comes in, and whatever their passion happens to be for, be it youth ministry, adult ministry, outreach, etc… focus is placed onto that specific area, and the other part just goes to the wayside.
        A good example is when my wife and I moved to a corps that will remain nameless. When we moved there and looked at the programs that were running, where once was a vibrant corps with a very active youth group, had become an “Older” corps, where my wife and I were the youngest couple there. During our time there, we worked on bringing youth into the corps, but were pushed back by the older people because they were afraid that if we started bringing youth into the church that their extremely active Mens and Womens ministry programs would be ignored, because that is what happened in the past.
        I’m not saying that there arent “Focus” areas that we as Salvationists shouldnt focus on, just that whatever we do, the big picture is not forgotten. We are in the business of saving souls.

        • Jonathan Taube says:

          Interesting. We do so often operate from a place of fear, don’t we? If we’re only interested in doing things that we are personally interested in, we might as well go and join a private club centered around our interest, right? The Church is supposed to serve others–the least in fact. The mark of maturity in the Kingdom of God is the ability to look “not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Christ like attitude sets the needs of others ahead of our own. I think we’re lacking that greatly in the way we run our “churches” and our “programs.” That’s why I believe it’s so helpful for us to look at what the needs of our communities are, and ask ourselves, “How can we partner with the Lord to meet these needs?”

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