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Jul24TueDo we really care about people outside the Church or just see them as targets for evangelism? July 24, 2012 by Rob Perry
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
When the question is asked whether a man is good, one is not interested in what he believes or what are his hopes, but only what he loves.
In John 4, Jesus spends time with a woman with a bad reputation. They sit at a well together in the heat of the day and talk. She serves Jesus water from the well, and in turn, Jesus offers her eternal life, the water that will never run out.
Much has been written about the barriers Jesus broke down in order to speak with this woman. He disregarded societal stigmas regarding interactions with Samaritans. He also dared, as a single man and religious teacher, to be seen with not just a woman, but a woman with a scandalous background. Jesus prioritized the relationship here, and would not miss the opportunity to offer her the greatest gift. It is an intimate encounter in which Jesus went to her very heart. He never once compromised who he was or the truth of his message.
Another barrier that Jesus broke down was time. He took the time in the middle of the day to sit down, make a new friend and share a drink of water. It sounds so simple, yet for many of us, time has become an insurmountable barrier.
The third promise statement of The Salvation Army's Soldier's Covenant reads: “I will maintain Christian ideals in all my relationships with others; my family and neighbours, my colleagues and fellow Salvationists, those to whom and for whom I am responsible, and the wider community.”
In other words, wherever I go, and with whomever I interact, my words and actions will reflect the fact that I am a devoted follower of Jesus.
This is a good promise, made even better by its wide scope. Implied in this promise is an understanding that Salvation Army soldiers are committed to maintaining relationships with people outside of church and program, not as an evangelical strategy, but simply as a part of our lives. Author Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practise this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
Here Nouwen delineates a tension that I believe many Christians feel, and certainly is felt by committed Salvationists. We want to spend time with our neighbours, we want to enter homes, sit on doorsteps and play ball. Like Jesus, we desire to relax at the well and meet new people, but we are just so busy. We have our rehearsals, meetings, children's activities, family obligations and those TV shows each week that we do not want to miss. All of this is OK. It is not sin. However, I would say that it is also not always the best way to use our time.
This tension is even implied in the covenant itself. In the seventh statement of the covenant, we promised we would “be actively involved in the life, work, worship and witness of the corps.” This statement is a call to get involved in mission. However, one can only do so much and be present in so many places. Therefore, we must ask ourselves: What is the best thing? How can I make time for others, loving and caring for my neighbours, workmates, and “those to whom and for whom I am responsible”? This leads to further questions: Who is my neighbour? To whom, and for whom, am I responsible? Have I defined this scope too narrowly?
John 4 is the perfect example of the heart of the third promise statement. We are called to love, to spend time with people from every background and every class, not to program them, pressure them or to even necessarily invite them to church. However, if we live the heart of this message, and if we uphold the essence of who we are called to be in each and every interaction, the life that flows through us will touch those with whom we come into contact. Our discipline, love, compassion and freedom will be contagious.
Rob Perry is the ministry co-ordinator at Toronto's Corps 614.