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    Failure to Communicate?

    Looking past our differences to find common ground. June 10, 2022 by Captain Sheldon Bungay
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought

    Sometimes we speak different languages, but our hearts are the same.—Ukrainian author Mykyta Isagulov

    If you have ever tried to communicate with someone who speaks a different language, you know that our inability to fully understand what is being expressed can sometimes lead to misunderstanding or frustration. In some extreme circumstances, a failure to communicate can lead to conflict, threat or even war. However, when we begin to understand the heart of the other, we realize that our motives, dreams and hopes may be much more alike than we first thought possible.

    This same sentiment can be applied to those who share a language. If you have ever tried to get a large group to come to a consensus or decide on a potentially polarizing topic, you know that different beliefs, traditions and preferences mean you might not be communicating in the same language—metaphorically speaking.

    Over the last few months, I have been actively engaged in trying to understand the “pulse” or “heartbeat” of my current congregation. I want to know what their desires are and learn what will motivate them toward active mission. In this process, I have been asking members and non-members to share their hopes and dreams for our church and to offer suggestions that could allow our congregation to make a bigger impact on our community.

    What have I learned? We are not all speaking the same language! Let me explain further by sharing two recent conversations.

    A man in his mid-20s who grew up in The Salvation Army joined me for coffee at a local café. He suggested that the Army’s Orders and Regulations are too regimental and restrictive. We are not inclusive enough and have left people feeling unwelcomed. We aren’t doing enough to fight against injustice. We have sometimes placed too much emphasis on hell and damnation and not enough emphasis on the love of Jesus. He felt that it was somewhat ridiculous that The Salvation Army still requires its soldiers to refrain from a glass of wine during an evening meal with friends, or from purchasing a 50/50 ticket at a local sporting event. He believes that positions or regulations such as these act as barriers to church growth.

    Contrast this with the opinions of a senior who has been an active Salvationist for many decades. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he lamented what once was. He expressed his frustration with the lack of commitment he sees around him and the decline in weekly church participation. He misses the prayer service before the Sunday night salvation meeting, and the times when souls were saved regularly. He longs for the testimonies, parades and open-air meetings of his youth. He wonders where all the uniforms have gone. He wonders why the pomp and regalia of a congress event no longer attracts people by the thousands. He wonders where his Salvation Army went.

    In the days that followed both conversations, the task of trying to support both individuals (along with all the other opinions in our congregation) was daunting. How in the world will we ever find common ground and move forward when these two perspectives seem to be headed in the opposite direction? It is painfully obvious that they were speaking a different language from each other.

    But then I began to look at things through a more positive lens. Both men believe in the need for sacred space to worship God; have a longing to see people introduced to Jesus; want to be active participants in something that is bigger than themselves and make a positive impact on their communities. Both men want the church to be better. Both men want to honour God and see his kingdom expand.

    At any ministry unit, it’s easy to identify the many differences that can act as barriers between people—we all have our own desires and preferred methods for mission. But allowing these differences to come between us and turn into conflict solves absolutely nothing. We are so much better together, and I believe that God will honour our united co-operation.

    Our hearts are the same—we just need to find a way to start speaking the same language. Care to translate?

    Captain Sheldon Bungay is the corps officer at St. John’s Temple, N.L.

    Illustration: dane_mark/Digital Vision Vectors via Getty Images

    Comment

    On Friday, July 8, 2022, Jason Dockeray said:

    Well said Sheldon. Thank you for holding space for both of these people (and many more) and for helping to find a common ground and language to bring unity in the body of Christ. Those conversations are important as we look to unite our church in sharing the love of Jesus, meeting human needs and being transforming influences in communities across this beautiful territory.

    On Tuesday, June 14, 2022, Amanda Friesen said:

    Thank you for your commitment to your congregation, community and mission. Beautifully written piece.

    On Sunday, June 12, 2022, Clarence Colp said:

    1. the Army’s Orders and Regulations are too regimental and restrictive. 2. We aren’t doing enough to fight against injustice. 3. We have sometimes placed too much emphasis on hell and damnation and not enough emphasis on the love of Jesus. 4. He felt that it was somewhat ridiculous that The Salvation Army still requires its soldiers to refrain from a glass of wine or purchasing a 50/50 ticket. 5. He believes that positions or regulations such as these act as barriers to church growth. 6. Frustration with the lack of commitment he sees around him and the decline in weekly church participation. 7. He believes that positions or regulations such as these act as barriers to church growth. 8. He wonders why the pomp and regalia of a congress event no longer attracts people by the thousands. 9. He wonders where his Salvation Army went.

    I note the 9 items listed above can easily be settled. I will state my arguments using the numbers I have noted above. I want to emphasize that I love the Lord with all my heart and soul and I love The Salvation Army. I don't want anyone to feel that I am putting down The Salvation Army in any way.

    1. I don't and never have seen the Army's O & R's to be restrictive in any way. We are an Army and thus we must be regimental. Otherwise we will go the way of so many Churches and organizations who have no O & R's at all with almost anything goes according to the leaders presently in charge. Even their doctrines and beliefs have and continue to change according to whims that may bring more people into the Church.(Note: the numbers, not holiness)

    2. We can always work towards combatting injustices but that can always be done without watering down our beliefs or accepting evil or wrong attitudes and activities within our Army. I believe we are an Army battling against wrong and for bringing sinners to Jesus without compromise.

    3. William and Catherine were Hell Fire and Brimstone preachers. I believe we don't hear enough Hell Fire and Brimstone in The Salvation Army at the same time emphasizing holiness and than ever, the love of Jesus.

    4. I am so glad that I signed the Articles of War that restricts me from the evils of gambling or alcohol use. I want to show Jesus in my life and I can't do that if I'm drunk or involved in gambling which is no more than legalized theft leading to poverty.

    5. I believe barriers to these sinful acts which can and does shorten lifespan and causes so many families to moan in poverty. They also show others that they are more important and are superior to living a life dedicated to Jesus.

    6. We are all frustrated by lack of commitment and the decline in weekly church participation. That is one of the great points people use to not attend regularly church services. They look to us and if they see no commitment personally to Jesus and us drinking and gambling, they wonder why they should commit to Jesus if those who have are drinking and gambling themselves. What do they need to be saved for? They can lead a life of no commitment, drink alcohol and gamble without The Salvation Army or their Jesus.

    7. On the contrary! People know, and have always known, that rules and regulations lead to better citizens. And we can be more than better citizens. We can be citizens of a heavenly kingdom. We need to demonstrate this in our personal lives and teach others to follow Jesus, who, by the way, taught us 10 commandments in one of His discourses and other commandments as well.

    8 .Congresses no longer attract the thousands they used to because the hearts of many have grown cold. We need to be more committed to preaching hell so hot that people can feel the heat, and love so warm that people can feel the presence of Jesus. People only respond to what they hear. If the preacher is so full of the love of Jesus, it will rub off on those who hear him just as they did in years gone by.

    9. The writer wonders where his Salvation Army went. My response is where has the commitment to preaching the love of Jesus gone with "fire so hot we can feel the heat." We seldom experience the passionate preaching of salvation that we used to.

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