Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do the Most Good...

Some circles that I hang out in are all abuzz about organizations being more "Missional." By that they mean their church or parachurch organization should be more focused on accomplishing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in the world around them. It's a natural response to the often self-focused, inward community that the church in North America has become. Only by turning themselves outward in hospitality and engagement with the culture around them can the church hope to regain some of it's lost luster.

I had opportunity to spend time this week with some fantastic individuals who belong to a missional organization. But it's no "johnny-come-lately" upstart. It's been around since 1865. The group is familiar to many...known as the Salvation Army. The SA's website explains their genesis:

William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852, desiring to win the lost multitudes of England to Christ. He walked the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.

Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit, instead taking his message to the people. His fervor led to disagreement with church leaders in London, who preferred traditional methods. As a result, he withdrew from the church and traveled throughout England, conducting evangelistic meetings. His wife, Catherine, could accurately be called a cofounder of The Salvation Army.

Since 1865 this group has organized itself around mission, now emodied in the US by their slogan "Doing the Most Good." Their social mission is familar to many, as first responders to disasters and providers of direct service to many of the world's poor and needy. What may be less well-known, however, is that each Salvation Army outpost functions as a local church, pastored by the local Salvation Army Officer. This local church forms the heartbeat of a vibrant network of outreach and compassionate care. In short, the Salvation Army has been a missional church for over 140 years!

After spending several days with these humble servants, I came away impressed by their dedication, their passion, and their surrender to God's will in using them as soldiers in His army. Their work around the world has impressed many, including well-known management guru Peter Drucker.

As reported in Robert Lenzner and Ashlea Ebeling, "Peter Drucker's Picks," Forbes, Aug. 11, 1997, Drucker said:Drucker calls the Salvation Army "by far the most effective organization in the U.S. No one even comes close to it in respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication and putting money to maximum use." Those are his principal criteria: clarity of mission, innovative ability, clear definition of results and willingness to measure performance.

Despite this amazing track record, I found Salvation Army officers discouraged (of course not universely) over the state of their "Corp" (the church portion of their work). They often found themselves out of time to properly care for their flock, and felt unprepared to do so. The churches' size seemed to average around 50, though of course some where larger. It reminded me that "missional" is not the Holy Grail...even Christendom's greatest missional organization has challenges.

So as we seek to obey the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, we might remember that leading a growing, thriving community of the King is never easy. Balance is elusive, and there are no perfect answers. Jumping on the missional bandwagon can be merely a fad...or it can be an energizing life goal for the next 140 years. For the meantime, I am grateful to have met the amazing men and women who wear the Salvation Army uniform. May their tribe increase! In their honor today, do the most good, for the sake of our commanding officer.


Dianne said...

amen! i had an opportunity to work for the salvation army in college, at their homeless shelter. i had no idea until then that they were actually a church! it was a great job, and i loved seeing the organization from the inside out. but that corp, at least, had lost some of the fire. the staff in that office weren't even Christians, but they were still faithful servants. i certainly learned a lot and grew in my respect for the salvation army!

kiddrev said...

Great to hear from you Dianne! I try to follow your adventures at Fuller via FB. I agree with your comments...they often have difficulty with the corp. That was my gentle reminder to my "missional" friends, that in the process, let's not lose vibrant Christian fellowship!