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Thursday, September 07, 2006


The 3 biggest challenges facing the Salvation Army

Today I had the opportunity to talk to a retired officer who I respect very much.
I asked him what part of discipleship he was most passionate about.
He said to me, "denying ourself to follow Christ. No matter where we go, we can't get past Matthew 16:24"

I am in the middle of looking at what I see as the three biggest challenges facing the Salvation Army.
The second challenge I see is the challenge of relevancy.

In the Western world today, we live in a world of consumerism.
If I want a car, I shop around to find the car that best suits my needs.
If I want take away for tea, I stop and think 'what do I feel like eating tonight?' and then I go and get it.

The problem is, when we talk of the church being 'relevant', more often than not we are talking about the relevancy of consumerism.
What packaging are we going to put on this thing we call church to make it appealing to the person 'shopping' for a church, be they Christian or non Christian?

This is why we talk of 'relevant' meaning the music we play and the songs we sing.
These things are, at best, the wrapping on the outside of our product.

Willow Creek, one of the largest churches in America, began its growth by going out into the community that surrounded its property and asking them what they needed in their community. They then set about building a church building that had all the things the community identified as needs, a community hall, a swimming pool, etc.

This is one of the first steps towards being relevant. Finding out what people want/need.
But, we need to move past a consumerist model of relevancy for the church.

As I spoke to this retired officer today, I was pondering not only our conversation, but this blog entry.
His comment that discipleship is about denying your self made perfect sense for the issue of the church being relevant.

We think the church will be relevant if we give people what they want.
Jesus called his disciples (and by extension the church) to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

Perhaps the relevancy that the Salvation Army is searching for, is this radical call to discipleship.
To be relevant is in fact to be different.
So different in fact that we offer an alternative way of living. An alternative lifestyle. An alternative worldview.

It is only when we approach the question of 'how can the church be relevant?' from the radical position of the cross that we can find a truely Biblical understanding of what it is to be the church.

Jesus is God's example of what it is to be relevant.
Jesus incarnated God.
The Word became flesh and pitched his tent amongst all our tents.

In the early days of the Salvation Army we had what became known as "Hallelujah Lasses". These were young, unmarried women who went and lived in rough situations. There were the two teenage lasses who went to the mining fields of Western Australia. Rather than asking 'how can the church be relevant?', these two lasses took 'the church' to the roughest community imaginable. One of them died within the first few months of being there.

What would the Salvation Army look like if we honestly asked the question "what does it mean to be relevant?" from the perspective of Matthew 16:24?

I don't know a lot about the Salvation Army...but being relevant is to meet the needs of those in the community. But then what about those in the community who wouldn't even think about any sort of church or aspect of Christianity because they turn their shoulder to it when they hear "those" words? How can we make the church (SA) relevant to those in dire need of something better? Relevancy I guess is always thinking, 'what do I need to make church a good place to come to?', so we need to try and stop thinking of ourselves and look deeper and wider...maybe. Not sure if that's anywhere near your post, just a thought. What blogs are for! ;)
Hey Liam,

I think Nomes makes a good point! I think that for our church to be more 'relevant' we need to think of the BIGGER picture, maybe not just6 what we as an individual can do, but what can we, as a church community, together do? I dunno, im rambling...Cya
Thanks guys for your comments.

Charlotte, I suppose one inference of my post was that to be relevant is to stop asking the question "what can we do to get people to want to come to our church?"
We need to ask the deeper question.
"What does the incarnation of Jesus (God on Earth) say about how we should be doing church?"
If we ask that question, then I think our churches would look radically different.
In fact, I think I already see churches that have asked that very question and each one of them looks different from every other one.

great idea also. The whole point of the church is that we are not meant to be doing this stuff alone. We are a community. But we are also not an exclusive community. Again, what does Jesus incarnation mean for our understanding of Christian community?
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