Wednesday, March 8, 2017

An Open Letter to the Body of Christ

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To the people of God,

I find myself being thankful this day with how you each contribute to the work of the Kingdom of God. So many personalities. So many gifted people. So much passion.

In Ephesians 4:11, the Scriptures point out that some are called to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Many of you may be able to identify yourself in one of those giftings; a place where you seem to fit, and where you find energy and purpose.

Have a quick think now. Are you an apostle? Are you a prophet? Are you an evangelist? Are you a pastor? Are you a teacher?


Apostles

First of all, let me address the apostles who are reading this. You might find yourself using the term loosely, because someone has criticized you for even daring to use such a term. I mean to them, the term Apostle was only ever used to refer to Paul and the 12 disciples. Nonetheless, take comfort because to be an apostle, is simply to be someone who is sent. Take note of what the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21). You are sent.

Don’t let the criticism of others cause you from being sent, to being spent. You have so much to offer the body of Christ. I am sorry, because at times we have stifled your passion, and squeezed out your ingenuity, because it was daring and revolutionary. I’m sorry because over the years you have had to leave denominations that you perceived didn’t value what you had to offer the church. I apologize.

I encourage you to boldly go where no other leader has gone before. Pull down the devil’s kingdom, where ever he might hold dominion, and do what you do best: storm the forts of darkness.

We’ve wrapped you in cotton wool for too long. We’ve asked you to conform. We’ve sent you out to plant churches all the while hoping you wouldn’t rock the proverbial boat of denominational security. It’s time to let you walk on water and follow after Jesus. When Peter jumped out of that boat, he yelled, ‘Lord, if it’s you, I’ll come.’ Be inspired to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit, and be prepared to get out of that boat and give it a shot.

If you don’t innovate, the church will become a shadow of its former self, and you’ll sit on the couch years from now, wondering what could have been.

Step up. Fulfil your place in the body of Christ. Lead. Innovate. Create. Make history.


Prophets

Now, I’m over to you prophets. You know who you are. You may not use that term, probably because you’re a little nervous of the reaction you’ll get. But you know who you are. Circumstances arise and everyone seems to be in a theological quandary and all the while you have a burning word on your heart that you hope someone will listen to.

Remember you are not responsible for who and how people respond to what you say. You are responsible for saying what you feel God called you to say. Now don’t run from this. You can’t say to God, ‘Send someone else.’ If you run, God will follow you. Just read the book of Jonah. I don’t mind eating fish, but I’m not keen on being swallowed by one.

When you’re close to Jesus, you have words on your heart. I sense, that you don’t so much have the concern about saying too much, but rather not enough. See, at times you have a word for the church, that is edifying in a challenging kind of way, and you have a fear of sharing it. Though, a word not spoken, is a word not heard. How can the church be inspired by a prophet who doesn’t speak?

I have three young children, and I’m forever telling my children to close their mouths. When they’re eating too loudly, ‘Close your mouth.’ When they’re talking too much, ‘Close your mouth.’ The church has told you too often to, ‘Close your mouth.’ And many times you’ve agreed. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’ve felt the fear of speaking and the fear of the condemnation of those who will hear what you have to say. Forgive us; the church.

You must keep us on the right track. You must spend more time in the presence of God, so that you can utter the words that have been spoken into your spirit, into ours. Stand up, and be prophetic.


Evangelists

Can I just say right from the outset, ‘Wow, what a passion you have for the lost.’ I want us to celebrate that today. Let me validate your ministry, because Jesus definitely articulated that his role was to seek and to save that which is lost. I get your passion. I admire it. You care that people are lost. You worry about what that may mean for someone. You are adamant that people need to follow Christ. What a gift. Praise God.

Though, you know as well as I do, that the body of Christ hasn’t always been so quick to celebrate what you do and the role you play. We’ve criticized you for not caring enough, and not focusing enough on discipleship. We’ve ridiculed you for being too simplistic, too fundamental, too narrow and too legalistic. Forgive us.

I get it now. You’re an evangelist. You’re not a chef. You’re not a teacher. You’re not a nurse. You’re more like a doctor in the emergency department administering spiritual CPR to a dying patient. Forgive us then, for trying to make you in to someone you’re not. We want to validate who you are and call you to rise up and be the evangelist God has gifted you to be.

And let me say something: STOP LEAVING! Stop running away. Too many voices have told you to stop what you’re doing and change your ways. Though, how will anyone hear the gospel, if no one proclaims it to them?

I suspect I know what happened. Denominations, in their early days witnessed the salvation of the lost. Then the lost climbed the mountains of spiritual success. They bred children who grew up in Christian households. They experienced such redemptive lift, that they forgot the sin that so easily used to entangle them. Then, in the epitome of hypocrisy they ridiculed you for continuing to do the work that was the impetus for their salvation so many years prior.

If you don’t evangelise, the church will crystalize.


Pastors

What a gift! The very fact that you care, is gold in the eyes of a broken world. See, when others turn their back, you are there. When others don’t have the time or the inkling to provide nurture in someone’s time of need, you don’t bat an eyelid. The church needs to honour this pastoral heart.

Now, let me clarify, I’m not talking about people who are necessarily ‘ordained Pastors’, I’m talking about you whose first response is one of care. Now you already knew that, I’m just clarifying to others. To care is not to fulfil some element of a position description relegated to those in ‘fulltime’ pastoral ministry.

We need people of compassion the world over. The fact that the world is in such disrepair is because we lack the care and compassion towards each other. So, I want to say, ‘Thank you.’ Your compassion inspires me. I don’t know how you do it to be honest. I wonder how you sit with someone for four hours in a Magistrate’s court, waiting for the restraining order to be finalized. I don’t know how you persevere with someone who takes 3 steps forward only to take 3 steps back. You must sure like to dance.

I digress.

I want to say something that has been left unsaid for a long while. I’m sorry, that we haven’t always cared, that you care. I mean, you’re gifted at caring, and sometimes we’ve abdicated our responsibility of the care we need to show others, because you care. Help us do better. Show us how to care.

Our world is yearning for care and nurture. Continue to seek after the same compassion Jesus had when he looked upon a crowd and deeply sensed they were like sheep without a shepherd.

So who cares? Well, we all do, but you do it best.


Teachers

Thank you that you teach. Well actually, thank you that you learn, so that you can teach. That teaching is what keeps the body of Christ grounded in what it believes. While some in the body are gifted to show grace, you are gifted to reveal truth. And when that truth is discovered with the help of the leading of the Holy Spirit, then the church has something to learn.

So continue to teach. Raise up the next generation. Don’t just throw them in a theological quagmire of unsubstantiated ideologies, but help them piece together God’s revelation, bit by bit. We must raise up a church that is not just aware of all the different possibilities of truth, but a church that is quietly confident of the beliefs it adheres to. If the church remains confused of its purpose, it will be devoid of direction. That’s where your job comes in. Now, this is no easy feat. We must teach people, to give them a foundation to predicate their faith upon. Your job as teacher is not merely to shake the theological foundations, but help establish them in the hearts and minds of the people.

I don’t envy you. You need to stop reading this, and go learn some more. Read the word of God afresh. Ask the Lord to reveal something new to you as you read it. Teach us what you’re learning. Strengthen us. Help us. Teach us. We’re ready to learn.


One Last Note


I can’t finish this letter to you without giving you one last reminder.

You are not gifted by the Lord, simply because the Lord revels in your giftedness. You are gifted by God, because God wants you to empower and equip the people of God for works of service, so that the body of Christ may reach unity in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, by all means, be affirmed. God has created you as a unique part of the body of Christ. Understand how God has gifted others, and so, together by God’s grace, complementing and serving one another, we can make a difference in the world, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Heaven knows we need to make a difference.

We can only do that in unity.

God bless you.

Pete.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Salvation Army Wake Up Call

9 comments:

I don't want another ecclesiastical corps, or social centre, or small group or council meeting or mainly music program, cumbering the earth. When The Salvation Army ceases to be a militant body of red hot men and women, whose business is the saving of souls, I hope it vanishes utterly.

Though, I'm not ready for this movement to vanish. I'm not ready for it to be less than what God intended it to be. I'm not ready for this blood and fire movement to become a monument; where a decade from now we have some distant memory of well attended Congresses and Sunday School meetings, when the Lord used to do great and powerful things.

Though, here's the thing:

If the middle majority remain silent, the movement dies. And that's the work of the enemy. Silence the troops. That's not the work of flesh and blood, but it's the clear strategy of the evil one. Shut them up. If I can just get them to shut their mouths. If I can just get them to choose not to speak out. If I can just get them to cower away in fear, then I've won.

Well, here goes... If you want to help mobilise The Salvation Army you have to stop sleeping and wake up! Revival doesn't come to you served up on a platter with cheese and biscuits. No one said it was going to be easy. You can't sit around and expect the world to conform to the idealistic, Kingdom picture you have for it. You have to soldier up.

You won't find me lamenting about the glory days of The Salvation Army. I believe in a rich future for The Salvation Army. One that upholds the fundamental tenets of faith that made this movement what it is. I believe in a Spirit-filled, Jesus-focused, Justice-expressing, Faith-abiding movement, that wants to win the world for Jesus.

I have settled for less than that in recent days. Devil watch out, because I'm shaking the slumber from my eyes. The light is growing clearer. I'm not going to sit any longer idly by, while the heedless millions die. I lost my voice. You have tried to silence me for too long!

If you're still reading, here's what I want you to do. Understand the context in which you live. Understand what it means to live a prophetic life, that holds culture in tension.

As Court and Noland write in Reinventing the Movement:

Popularly understood, culture is far from the be all and end all for Christians. We’re not about conforming to it; we’re about transforming it. We’re not about cultural awareness as an end, but as a means. And it is awareness, not imitation. Ultimately, we don’t want to become like the culture, we want the culture to become like us.

It's time to stand for Christ. For Christ alone. I'm not going to sing. 

It's time. 

Don't be silent in the middle of the left and right of theological discourse. Wake up. 'Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet!' (Isaiah 58:1-2). Come on. I've heard some of your brass bands. Now raise your voice like a trumpet. Go and tell people what Jesus has done for you!

See, this is why that's important...

A truth not articulated is a truth unheard. A truth unheard is a truth unable to be embraced.

As Court and Noland state:

It is good and nice to save people from thirst, hunger, cold/embarrassment, indigence, unemployment, loneliness, silence, and ignorance. But such a “salvation” is but a human imitation of the divine salvation that we are really all about. Only divine salvation lasts beyond the grave. Human helps are merely that. Don’t settle for a cheap imitation. Insist on the real thing; without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. AND, without the shedding of sins there is no forgiveness of sin. We are The Salvation ARMY. We are not a metaphor.  

Friends, we must storm the forts of darkness. Anything less underestimates the global context in which we live. Take a look around! Have another look. We are not living out a dress-rehearsal. We are in a spiritual battle.

And in the midst of that battle we have to remember the words of Isaiah:

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 

 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday. (58:9b-10)

We have a job to do: United together in the transformative work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his life, death and resurrection we have the forgiveness, faith and fortitude to move forward in his name.

I call you to pray.

I call you to repent.

I call you to holiness.

Wake up.

Lest one day you find yourself still sleeping as the bridegroom arrives...


*The contents of this blog reflect the thoughts and opinions of Pete Brookshaw.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Confronting the Brutal Facts of The Salvation Army

17 comments:

You are in for a ride. If you are reading this, brace yourself. Following on from a blog a few months ago called, Why The Salvation Army is in Decline and What we can do about it, I want us to continue our thinking about where The Salvation Army is and what God has in store for it. Though to move forward into a dynamic future one must first confront the reality of where they are.

Let me sidetrack for a moment (and stay with me):
 
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been in the top job in Australian politics for just over 12 months. That's long enough for the Australian public to demand he show something for his time. Australians want results. Leaders cannot simply provide nice catch phrases like, 'Jobs and growth' and 'I'm so excited about the future.' Leaders must deliver change. The same sentiment goes with President Barack Obama, who had a great approval rating when he first won the election to become President of the United States. People do not just want charismatic rhetoric and inspiring sound-bites on vision, they want action.

Here's my point: It is not enough to simply state that God is going to do great things in the future of The Salvation Army. Forgive me; I've said that 100 times. It is great to say [and I will continue to say it], but without coupling that with the brutal truth about where we are, and how we've got to where we are, pie-in-the-sky vision casting won't cut it.

Now, I'm all for vision. I'm all for gathering a crowd together and unleashing my best efforts in rallying the troops and calling people to action. I am just worried.

I am worried that if we don't step further back and have a deep hard look at ourselves and then make the subsequent difficult changes that need to occur, The Salvation Army will simply coast along, finally crystallizing into a warm and fuzzy historical artifact that we talk about in museums. 

Jim Collins in Good to Great says we need to 'retain faith that [we] will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.... and at the same time... confront the most brutal facts of [our] current reality, whatever they might be.'

The Australia One Project that seeks to unite two Salvation Army Territory's is leading the way in creating necessary change to forge a new future. The General of The Salvation Army has initiated an accountability movement that aims to embed accountability within our movement.

This is about confronting the brutal facts. See Adam Couchman's 'An exercise in self-deception.'

Now, let me stir you up. If you're still reading, this whole subject intrigues you. Let me lay it on the line for you today and confront some brutal facts (and maybe acknowledge some elephants in the living room) of The Salvation Army.


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Confronting the Brutal Facts of The Salvation Army

1. We no longer make the salvation of people the first purpose of our lives. There may be a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, maybe we are caught up in the endless administrative burden of ministry, and can create a legitimate excuse for why leading people to Jesus just doesn't happen (or atleast does not happen to the degree it did 100 years ago). Secondly, maybe we have lost the art of leading people to Jesus, have not been good at it, and have subsequently built for ourselves a theological framework that conveniently excuses us from such ministry. Thirdly, maybe we no longer have a hunger for souls that the revivalists once had.

[God, send the fire! We long for a great outpouring of your Holy Spirit, that would equip us and empower us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. May we lead many to the foot of the cross, that they might find fullness of life in Christ!]

2. We have allowed fear to cripple us. Call it a demonic spirit of fear if you like. Jesus needs to deal with this in us! You may ask, what do we fear in The Salvation Army? I'm glad you asked. Firstly, we fear making any great changes that would cause The Salvation Army to become less than what God raised it up to be. We fear losing our identity in the process (that's why we hold on to band concerts, and attempt to revitalize timbrel brigades - because if we can just make things like they used to be, we'll start being successful again). Change need not water-down who we are as a Salvation Army. Good, Spirit-led change may in fact revitalize us to become a movement that reaches heights we never even dreamed of in years gone by! Thirdly we fear we won't have the resources to do that which God wants us to do. We spend too much time seeking after funding in the process. Money follows mission. Let's keep it in that order. The Lord will provide.

[Lord Jesus, we command the spirit of fear to leave The Salvation Army, in Jesus' name. You have not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and self-discipline. Empower us by the Holy Spirit to walked courageously into a new era of opportunity to see great spiritual outcomes in the lives of the people we minister to.]

3. Our organisational structure has become burdensome. 'No dah,' I just heard someone say. Thanks for your intellectual input in this discussion. You should write blogs like me. I believe Salvation Army leaders are confronting this reality; at least in the Australia Southern Territory they are. The challenge is for leaders with the influence to do so, to make the difficult changes that need to be made to make decision-making agile and quick with a foundation of trust in the transaction of decisions. Enough on that, I'm boring myself.

4. God is not finished with The Salvation Army. That's the brutal fact. Though, I believe, even globally, God is taking The Salvation Army through a refining process. It's difficult and even somewhat painful. We know though, the story of the vine and the branches in John's gospel (John 15:1-17), where Jesus, 'cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful' (15:2). We have become a bloated Army. We have expanded things that should have been cut off years ago, and mistaken pruning for failure. Allow God to prune in you, and in The Salvation Army as a whole that which God wants to prune.

[Lord, we give you free rein to prune us, to chop off things that dishonour you, and rid us of egocentric behaviour that causes us to fail to humble ourselves. Ignite in us a new season of personal, spiritual growth. Re-ignite a Salvation Army that we believe you will use to fulfill your mission in the world. In Jesus' name!]    

Let me finish with these words. We must confront the brutal facts and all the while remain absolutely convinced that we will prevail in the end. Keeping those two concepts together will do us good.

If you believe this article may be helpful to others, please share it. Thanks. God bless.

Please note, the opinions on this blog represent my personal views and do not necessarily align with the views of The Salvation Army.

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