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Article of the week

From Salvationist 18 January 2020

FEATURE | 20/20 Vision

Do you see what I see?

In 1997 Salvationist featured essays by a number of people who visualised what the Army would be like if the 20/20 Vision were accomplished.* At the start of 2020 we are reprinting two of them – this week the entry by Jenny Dibsdall

MY fear is that if the Army is not open to change it will not be able to operate effectively in the year 2020. William Booth’s original call to save souls is still our prime task but we have to adapt to our changing world for our ministry to be effective.

We have a unique calling, and operate in an international organisation that is evangelistic at its roots, but if we are not prepared to adapt to modern technology, and research the needs of our communities, we will – by the year 2020 – be a dying organisation. However, if we are alive to changing needs and flexible enough to take the difficult decisions to enable our corps to meet the needs of their communities, we will be pulsating with souls won for Christ.

If we are to have an Army that attracts all ages, that is open and appealing to all, that reaches out to touch all levels of the community with a message recognisable by all races, it has to be an adaptable organisation. We need to consider at local level where we are going.

What personnel do we have to carry out our mission to win souls? What are their weaknesses and strengths?

Are our buildings in the right places? Should we relocate so we can provide the services our community needs?

Is a building designed purely for worship enough? Should we be able to provide community services, drop-in centres, leisure facilities?

What is needed by our communities?

What will bring people through our doors?

When we have answered all these questions and have a vision of what is needed physically we need to look at what the needs of our personnel are – spiritually and educationally.

Are we fit to provide what is needed from us by the community?

Should we be training people in community outreach?

What courses and events should we be planning in order to move people from our community work into our mission field?

Are we making good use of Alpha courses at youth and mainstream level?

Are we supporting our outreach leaders and are we flexible in our programme to allow there to be many forms of worship within our complex?

There are so many questions to be assessed and answered if we are to be fruitful for God’s Kingdom.

It is not enough to stand on street corners with our open-air witness. We need to know our communities, assess their needs and be seen to be providing an answer that will make all races and cultures feel comfortable within our confines. There is as much good done by face-to-face confidence-winning in gaining souls for the Kingdom as there is in open-air witness and street campaigns.

If we have taken on this flexible attitude then our halls will be built to be adaptable, with meeting rooms designed for small groups, playgroups, community meetings, prayer fellowship, Bible study, youth meetings, over-60 clubs, women’s and men’s fellowships and leisure activities.

The furnishings will be multifunctional, adaptable and comfortable so that where space is required, say, for exercise classes, furniture can be easily and safely stacked away to allow the maximum use of space. It is paramount that our centres feel welcoming to all ages, all races and all cultures so those who need help are not afraid to enter. Those who want the fellowship and friendship of community events should feel assured of a warm welcome in a happy environment.

At face-to-face level we can touch people’s lives, take time to find out about them and meet them on their own levels. If they feel secure in entering our buildings they will relax, and that is when their spiritual, emotional, social and community needs can be addressed and an introduction to the Lord made.

Most people would rather be led than confronted. Trust is so important in our relationships with people, but it takes a long time to build.

Our purpose as Christians is to share his love with all around us. It is a lifelong commission. We all have different capabilities. Some of us are equipped to go out and battle for the Lord, others are better equipped for the quiet confidence-building contact that is also needed.

In other countries many Army centres have leisure facilities run as commercial enterprises. These are proving very successful in making links with people who would not normally go anywhere near a church.  

The people using the gym facilities find they are building relationships with Army personnel and forging links, so that when they are invited to special events such as carol services they are already open to the suggestion.

Leisure activities are expected to play a larger part in our lifestyle as life expectancy increases and the working week becomes shorter.

So, we have a complex designed to meet the needs of our community and they are coming through the doors for all kinds of events, some Christian and some community-based. We are effective in our befriending and evangelism.

Now, how do we worship? Here too, if we are to be effective, there needs to be change.

Even today there are discussions about uniform, forms of music and worship and issues such as the sacraments. Debate in this country and worldwide suggests the opportunity to participate in receiving the sacraments may be part of our worship, say once a month, in a special service for those who wish to take part, not as part of our general holiness and salvation meetings.

Our style of worship will be flexible, perhaps with a central service for all age groups and special worship meetings for children, teenagers, young adults and the older generation.

There will be worship groups and singing groups and bands. Bands are a strong part of Army culture in the UK and I believe this will continue, but alongside worship groups.

We may find the present structure of the songsters will soften into singing groups with wider scope. Music is an integral part of our worship and we need to provide music forms that appeal to all age groups. There are those in our congregations today who feel left out if they are not a songster or bandsman/woman and I believe that will change if we have the courage to be flexible.

In the year 2020 technology will be playing a far greater part in our day-to-day lives. The use of the internet is increasing and by 2020 will be commonplace. It has already made our world a smaller place, providing another way for Christians to communicate worldwide.

Technology can also play a great part in how we present our worship. Multimedia presentation will be a commonplace part of our worship in the future, enabling closer contacts across communities, races and cultures.

The divide in Ulster between the Roman Catholics and Protestants highlights the fact that we need to learn to work more closely with other denominations.

In new towns in the UK there are often multi-denominational churches where all can come together and use one facility for worship, at different times or together. If we learn to be flexible and to move into and be part of the community then we will work closely with other churches in the area.

Does this all sound an impossible dream? If we can learn to work together, making the best use of technology and being prepared to do some radical thinking, planning and praying, we will accomplish this dream.

If we are bound by tradition and can see only the pitfalls and deterrents we will not meet the needs of the people of Britain in the year 2020.

Nothing can be accomplished without open hearts and minds. Commissioner John Gowans, in his Mission 2000 statement to the soldiery of Australia, said: ‘Will you commit yourself to courageous re-evaluation, to renewal and revitalisation – for yourself and your own spiritual growth and development, for your ministry in the Army and its growth and development?’

I have a dream encapsulated by his chosen quotation, ‘Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already’ (Isaiah 43:19 Good News Bible).

Is it happening where we are? Will it happen where we are?

* The essays were submitted as part of a competition held by the Church Growth and Planned Giving Department titled ‘Do you see what I see?’ Jenny was a joint runner-up.

Read Captain Jenny's comments on her letter more than 20 years later by picking up your copy of Salvationist!

  • Check out this week's comment from the Editor here.

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