Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Salvation Army does not belong in a box!

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I was asked to contribute an article to the Journal of Aggressive Christianity in recent days. The editor Major Stephen Court challenged me to write and express my views. Here's the article I wrote and I think it's worth the couple of minutes to read:

God bless you.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Greatest Speeches Ever Recorded at a Salvation Army High Council

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I would love to be a fly on the wall at the gathering of the 2018 High Council of The Salvation Army. Despite the fact that a fly would probably make too much noise and only live for a fraction longer than a duration of the High Council, it would be a great opportunity!

While I'm clenched to the roof of the Hotel, I would hear leaders of the global Salvation Army wrestle with the big issues of our movement. I would hear well articulated speeches that cut to the heart of the core of what matters. I would witness the sacred privilege of reflective prayer and consideration to the very will of God in these days for The Salvation Army.

The Chief of Staff Commissioner Brian Peddle has called together 111 qualifying officers to convene as the High Council, beginning on 17th May, 2018 at the Renaissance Hotel in West London.

Salvation Army friends, it is time to believe for God to descend on the High Council like a dove, and bring wisdom, revelation and insight into the will of God for our movement. We pray that God would look upon this High Council 2018, as God did on the baptism of Jesus, and say 'I am well pleased.'

Before the High Council 2018 begins, I thought it would be good to consider speeches given by nominated and successful Generals of The Salvation Army in previous High Councils. It is in these well considered words of leaders that we glean something of the passion, and focus that drive The Salvation Army forward.

General Frederick Coutts started his 1963 High Council speech by saying, 'I would apply to the office of a General a saying of John Quincy Adams concerning the Presidency of the United States - that it an office neither to be solicited nor to be declined. I have not done the former, and happily the decision on the latter rests with the High Council.' (Larsson, 2013, p. 95).

He continued with three aims if elected:
The first would be to confirm the faith of the Army in its divine mission...In the second place, to confirm the faith of the Army in its place and function in the church universal...
We must spell this out for people - particularly our young people - so that they may understand that they have no need to seek elsewhere for the essential grace which can be found within our own walls, nor can any churchly blessing make them more truly members of the heavenly kingdom than they are by faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. And spell it out for our officers as well so that nowhere will any of them - woman or man, single or married - be received as any other than a minister of the gospel, 'as poor, yet making rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (Larsson, 2013, p. 95)
The third place would be, 'to confirm the faith of the Army in the integrity of its own government. This calls for informed leadership...especially when, as with our structure, a General is both the source of authority and the final court of appeal. This means that he must be free from the very appearance of partiality and never allow any domestic conversation to interfere with, much less take the place of, the counsel of his appointed officers...' (Larsson, 2013, p. 95).

General Jarl Wahlstrom speaks of spiritual leadership at the 1981 High Council. As John Larsson highlights in his book Inside a High Council (2013, p. 96), General Wahlstrom says:

Leadership in the Army must first and foremost be spiritual leadership...A spiritual leader must have inner balance, and it is important that his leadership is equally balanced... There must be an adequate balance between the desk and the pulpit...A Salvation Army leader must promote the balance between the Army's evangelical and social work...Further, he must strike a balance between sound conservatism and courageous new thinking...  
Hear some of the visionary words of General Bramwell Tillsley before he was elected as General at the 1993 High Council of The Salvation Army:

I long for an Army whose motto is 'holiness unto the Lord'... I long for an Army open and responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit...I long for an Army that will serve in the spirit of the Master...I long for an Army that will remain true to its principles, no matter what the cost... I long for an Army that has a deep appreciation of its young people and that encourages them to find their full potential in Christ...I long for an Army committed to prayer and the ministry of the Word... I long for an Army that is international in its outlook and recognises its responsibility to the whole world... I long for an Army whose cardinal reason for existence is to bring glory to God (Larsson, 2013, p. 97).
As we listen in to the events of the 2018 High Council, we seek that God would continue to raise up visionary, passionate, wise leaders, women and men, who can fly the flag of redemption right across this globe. While we minister in our own local contexts, we share the same Soldier's and Officer's covenants. We are united behind the same international mission statement.

[Here are some of my thoughts during the 2013 High Council, with the election of General André Cox.]

What an exciting opportunity this High Council affords The Salvation Army. Let me explore General John Larsson's own words communicated at the 2002 High Council, that resonate with me some 16 years later:

In this process of renewal I believe we are also recovering the vision of what the Army is meant to be. We are rediscovering the genius of the original vision. That is essential, for in some parts of the world we have been through a time of lack of confidence in ourselves. Everyone has thought us to be wonderful - everyone except ourselves! And there have been - and remain - pressures for us to become pale imitations of other churches and movements. I would aim to encourage the renewal of confidence in the unique contribution that the Army was raised up to make.
The Army is a force, not a flock...It is a force that is visible...A force with a mission to the whole person...A force with a genius for inclusion and releasing of potential...A force with a special mission to the disadvantaged...
I believe that God is powerfully at word in our midst to renew our passion for mission. I believe that he is at work to renew our vision of all that he wants the Army to be in the 21st century. My main focus would be to seek to encourage that process of renewal by every possible means (2013, p. 99).
I may not be able to be a fly on the wall at this historic 2018 High Council, but I sure do pray that when God sees all that transpires, God would look at The Salvation Army and say... 'I am well pleased.'

Please keep the High Council delegates in your prayers, in these days.

God bless you.

Please note: The International Salvation Army 'website will also carry regular updates during the High Council, and a live stream of the announcement of the new General as it happens. As much notice as possible will be given of this broadcast via IHQ’s social media channels @SalvArmyIHQ on Twitter and @SalvationArmyIHQ on Facebook.'  

Much of the content of this blog post can be found in John Larsson's 2013 book, Inside a High Council

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Salvation Army Leaders - I Have to Change...


I was not ready for this word from the Lord.

And you might not be either.

I preface what I'm about to say with this:
Have you ever had to endure discipline? Maybe you made a wrong decision or you said something offensive and you had to apologise. We've all been there. Discipline from someone holding you accountable is painful and humbling.

The writer to the Hebrews sums it up well. In the start of chapter twelve he writes that first of all we should throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1b). Then the chapter continues by highlighting the importance of God's discipline in your life. Check out these verses:

'Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as his children.' (12:7)

'God disciplines us for our good.' (12:10)

'No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.' (12:11)

Now, if you're still reading (because no one likes to talk about discipline, let alone read about it on a blog), I'm about to tell what I feel God is saying to me.

The words have come from hanging out with many different ministry leaders and other pastors and teachers in recent days. One moment was at a wedding sitting on a table chatting with other Christian leaders. One moment was listening to a leadership podcast. Another moment was listening to a great leader of an effective church speak on leadership.

Here's what I feel like the Holy Spirit has said to me in recent days:
'Pete, your leadership style is not always conducive to producing a flourishing church.'

Come again Lord... That can't be right?! Are you telling me, I'm not leading well? That I need to change?

I felt a little rebuke. Not a huge one, but like a father disciplining his son. A nudge that says, 'You realise you could change your behaviour and be more effective?'

You may wonder what I'm talking about.

I spent a few hours this week buying skewers to hold together chicken burgers, and a plastic tub for a new ministry. Last week, I spent a few hours in the hardware store buying a new broom and double-sided tape. We needed to purchase these items, don't get me wrong, but the truth is this: When I'm running around buying items for ministry tasks, I'm not doing leadership. Let's not beat around the bush friends. I may be doing nice tasks, but I'm not leading. I'm not empowering someone. I'm not casting vision. I'm just busy doing nice things.

The fact is, I work in the ministry far more than I work on the ministry. It's powerful when you grasp the difference. Salvation Army leaders, dare I say, work tirelessly in ministry, but we don't work on building the ministry. We spend too much time on pragmatic tasks, than we do on developing leaders.

See, failure to operate in a way that identifies, trains and releases leaders into ministry will always cause my ministry to be small. The ministry is like a small tree in a pot; that tree will only grow to the size that the pot allows. In that modus operandi I can only do as much as what my own time and energy allows.

Think about The Salvation Army more generally. The pragmatic nature of Salvos has caused us to neglect leadership development, which has been at the expense of the growth of our movement. We then have had to shift our theological position of 'size', in order to justify to the Lord that we're not doing as bad as what we think we are. I believe (and you know by now, these are personal opinions), that our hands-on approach to serving the lost has not been coupled with an intentional desire to train up people for the work. We have neglected that. At least from a personal perspective, I feel the Lord saying, 'Right, Pete, it's time for your to invest in building leaders! You can do ministry until you fall asleep at night, but unless you raise up other leaders for this work, you are just a one-man-band trying to be a Messiah!'

We must fundamentally shift how we view ministry as leaders. We need to be comfortable with the idea, that as leaders, often we need to spend more time in teaching, leading and empowering ministry leaders, than actually doing the ministry. I am happy to debate this. I think, irrespective of the differing views, discussion on this is worth having. We spend too long doing pragmatic things at the expense of leadership development, which ultimately is at the expense of the growth of what we do.

Maybe the fear is that we are not being true to Salvationism, if we step too far away from the front-line. I understand that. We need to model servant leadership. Jesus washed the disciples feet. He multiplied the bread. He healed the sick. Though he also, sat in the Synagogue and taught. He regularly took the 12 disciples aside and explained what the parables meant. There was a balance in the ministry of Jesus between just doing ministry, to actually training up 12 disciples, who after the resurrection would take on the leadership of the early church!   
When we are doing kingdom work, we should see that work flourishing and multiplying. When we don't see it flourishing and multiplying someone needs to ask some critical questions. But no one likes accountability or discipline right? Also, being nice and happy to leaders, is not necessarily developing leaders. Having coffee with leaders is not necessarily building them up or increasing their performance. Sometimes we can simply become busy touching base with people, with very little intention about growing the person's capacity and maturity in Christ.

Sometimes we can even keep someone in a leadership position long after the ministry has outgrown their capacity, simply because it's too difficult and painful to have a conversation about the reality of such matters.

Lastly, the way I spend my week, is not always directly related to my heart for God to transform people's lives. That is, often, if I'm honest, my time is taken up on things that do not add direct value to the kingdom of God, but that I find easy to do. I am challenged to consider what I should do differently to move beyond mediocrity and embrace focused, passionate, intentional leadership that seeks to empower generations to lead the mission of The Salvation Army forward.

There you have it. The discipline of the Lord is gentle, but loud in my spirit. I must change the way I lead. And I say that, because failure to do so will cause me to miss the flourishing and growth that God so intends to provide.

I have to change.

What about you?



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