Where are we Going? We do not know the way! These words of the disciples to Jesus in John 14 have long been words I continually seem to find myself drawn back to, time and time again.
There is a bridge in Choluteca Honduras. The bridge was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s and was a fine bridge without problems. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch came through and dumped 75 inches of rain in a few days. The bridge survived but the roads leading to it on either side didn’t. The most striking thing about the situation is that the river moved. It is no longer under the bridge. It was and is a great bridge but the river moved.
There is no doubt that the Salvation Army has benefitted from its partnership with the Fresh Expressions movement. I hope also the feeling it mutual, I believe it is. The learning, experience, passion, and thinking of how to reach those who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour has also reignited within us as a movement a call back to our Pioneering roots. The Salvation Army, is experiencing rebirth in the midst of radical organisational transformation. A sign of hope and good news indeed. I was reminded of this ‘reality’ earlier this year by a good friend. As I listened to this, my heart was stirred by God. It seemed to resonate to me of something of the journey of the Church in the UK in recent decades. The landscape has changed radically and we have been seeking to reach this ‘changing world’ with the tools, methods and structures of another day.
As Fresh Expressions plotted the way forward with its five areas of focus, I listened, reflected and pondered how would these areas help the SA realign its bridges into the communities in which it seeks to be good news.
We embarked on a bit of a journey as a movement to consider Pioneering new ways of church to reach the lost and in doing so a strategy was put together that has encompassed the areas of focus. This strategy was presented to The Salvation Army Cabinet (our national leadership team) in March 2016 to consider whether it wanted to embrace and endorse the National Pioneer Strategy. This Strategy incorporates the FE five foci, which we have put into four areas;
- Pioneer Centres
- Pioneer Advocates
- Pioneer Recruitment and Training
- Pioneer Monitoring and Assessment
The implications of this strategy are massive and its certainly not without its challenges. But there is no doubt that we need to change the culture of how we operate and think in The Church and we are no different. My personal dream would be that by embracing pioneering fresh expressions of church that we would find the ‘Tide turning’ and the culture would be one that encourages and endorses this missional way of thinking.
The meeting did not go as I expected! I was shocked and, yes, surprised as the cabinet asked good searching questions and yet with a desire and hunger to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. They were genuinely excited by what they were hearing, and what’s more it felt to me as if we were at that very moment ‘caught up, dwelling in the presence of the Lord’. I left the cabinet room, after this conversation walking out, seemingly comatose and in shock as it was endorsed in its entirety! It was such a God blessing.
I’m reminded of the scripture ‘he who began the work in you will bring it to completion.’ I’ve dreamed much over the years that we would rediscover our passion for mission and see Gods salvation transforming people’s lives.
And so, we now embark on making the strategy a reality. The main emphasis of my role has been to help re-educate people in regard to mission and how FE can work in each and every context. I’m travelling leading vision days with senior leaders, divisions (areas) and local churches, seeking to change the culture of our thinking. Our Training centres have been identified as have our Pioneer Advocates. We have got a young adult filming stories, ready to put into the hands of every church leader across the country in July. We have also put through our assessment process over 30 officers and non-officers in the last 16 months. Things seem to be heading in the right direction, they are small steps at present, but they are heading it seems the right way.
The partnership with FE has been such a good thing for us as a movement. I believe God delights in unity, when His people from the whole-body work together. What’s more the lovely benefit of this is indeed that of us each needing the skills and gifts which each and every partner brings. I would pray that FE would be richly blessed, helped and inspired by its being partners with the SA as we have experienced from them.
And so, the Salvation Army embarks on ‘building new bridges’, in the days and months to come. Encouraging the pioneering of new and contextually relevant ways of being church into different cultures and communities. We have only begun but it feels like the river is starting to flow closer to the bridges than it has for some time. It feels like we may know where we are heading once more!