Dec21MonTogether in Mission concludes with powerful message from territorial leaders. December 21, 2020 by Geoff Moulton
For 12 weeks, from September 30 to December 16, the Canada and Bermuda Territory engaged in a series of online study and discussions entitled Together in Mission. Led by Commissioners Floyd and Tracey Tidd, territorial leaders, the sessions were hosted by Salvationists from across the territory.
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Each week featured guest speakers and panellists who reflected on chapters from Commissioner Phil Needham’s book, Christ at the Door: Keys to Our Salvationist Future (for a full list, visit Salvationist.ca/together). The result was an illuminating journey of discipleship and following Jesus in mission.
The final session featured Commissioners Floyd and Tracey Tidd on the topic “Grow Like a Movement.” Here is their interview with hosts Captain Sheldon Bungay and Erika Azak. The full series of Together in Mission sessions is available at YouTube.com/salvationistmagazine and will be repackaged as a Bible study available to the territory in the new year.
Captain Sheldon Bungay: In the last half of his book, Commissioner Phil Needham notes that The Salvation Army in the Western world will continue to decline if we don't make discipleship our priority. How does this connect with what you have been hearing and experiencing in the Canada and Bermuda Territory?
Commissioner Tracey Tidd: First, let me say how thrilled we are that so many people have been sharing in this Wednesday night journey, Together in Mission. We’ve had hundreds every week through the Zoom sessions sharing in group discussion, as well as many watching on Facebook Live. In addition, more than 1,000 have viewed the sessions in the days following.
We believe that our territory is hungry for God to do a new thing in us and through us, to see lives transformed by the love of Jesus. We have taken an honest look at the numbers and we are in decline, but we believe we can flatten that curve. In fact, we can turn that curve around. But that’s if, and only if, as Commissioner Needham says, we give priority to making disciples. We must truly live out our mission—not simply deliver our programs. We deliver our mission through our people connecting with those participating in our programs. Programs don’t make disciples; disciples make disciples.
Our programs and our properties are ways we can connect. I am amazed that we serve 1.9 million people every year in this territory. If we are going to make disciples and share the love of Jesus with people, we must be prepared to deepen relationships with the people who connect with us.
Commissioner Floyd Tidd: We must be careful that we don’t think that in order to change the decline we have to put more emphasis on our spiritual work (our corps) and lessen our focus on social work. That sets up an artificial divide between the two that I don’t see evident in Jesus’ ministry or his call to his followers.
I couldn’t agree more with Needham’s comment that our way forward will look like Salvationists being discipled, Salvationists discipling others and Salvationists sharing the compassion of Christ with others, especially the marginalized—those experiencing hardship in our neighbourhoods or communities and those the Army serves through our formal social services.
Erica Azak: Commissioner Needham suggests that getting more people into our corps buildings is not the main aim, and that a corps is not called to grow numerically, it is called to make disciples. This is our mission. Already in this study we have heard that real mission initiatives can be hard to capture in a monthly statistical report. How can the Canada and Bermuda Territory find ways to celebrate and acknowledge the mission impact that may not be recorded on a statistics sheet?
FT: We can certainly become fixated on numbers, can’t we? I think capturing some numbers is an important part of what is happening and helps us see where God is working. But we need to ask if we are recording numbers that actually help us tell the full story. Imagine if the three most important numbers we could record were:
- How many “second-level” connections or conversations did we have this week? By second level, I mean significant pastoral or spiritual life conversations.
- How many “faith steps” did we see people take this week (including new ones for ourselves)? These could be as simple, but as significant, as someone admitting there is a God, or taking the step to accept God’s love in Jesus and choosing to become a follower.
- How many people who are a part of our corps are actively seeking to be missional in their living (not only inside the corps, but in their daily life and community)?
If we looked at these three measurements on a monthly basis and added at least one story for each of the three “number” measurements, I think we would have a good picture of where God is working.
TT: Then, let’s tell those stories, not just in Salvationist magazine or on our website, but to one another, to people we meet. I love to hear the stories. It’s in the story that we see God at work and transformation happening.
If we believe God is doing a new thing then we must stop telling the story of what isn’t working—or can I even say, stop telling the story of what used to work—and celebrate what God is doing now through the stories we tell. Each of us chooses what we will celebrate. Let’s make sure our celebrating glorifies God, not his people or his Army.
SB: Commissioner Needham’s book is consistent in its message that change is necessary for growth. How do you encourage change in our territory when the fear of failure can be debilitating?
TT: As Commissioner Marion Howe said when she, along with her husband, Commissioner Norman, were territorial leaders here in Canada and Bermuda: “It’s change-or-die time.”
But it’s not change for sake of change, or for personal preference, or what “works for me.” It’s about change as Needham emphasizes: so that the mission grows, and people experience the love of Jesus and choose to follow him as his disciples.
It’s a good question you ask but let me change it slightly. You asked: “How do you encourage change in our territory when the fear of failure can be debilitating?” Let me change it to “How do we encourage change in our territory….”
Many Salvationists, including officers, soldiers and employees, have shared with us that there needs to be an encouragement for change from the “top.” But they have also said some of the greatest discouragement working against change comes from right where they are … from those around them, those whom they are leading and even fellow leaders.
So I will answer the question: “How do we—not sidestepping our role in leadership—encourage change?” How can we all be encouragers of change? The simplest answer is to resolve the “fear factor.”
What are we afraid of? There should be a healthy amount of “fear,” but let’s not be afraid to fail. We should always be careful of any hurt or harm we might cause and take that into our consideration in planning—but that is about managing risk, not avoiding risk.
When we remember the story of Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus, yes, he may have lost focus and began to sink, but he did get out of the boat and do what Jesus asked him to do. Let’s not be afraid of failing in trying. Let’s give permission to one another to fail—and learn in the failing.
I would rather we fail at attempting what Jesus is inviting us to do than fail him by being disobedient to what he is asking us to do. Let’s encourage one another at every level to be obedient to what God is calling us to be and to do as a movement. Let’s also encourage one another to make whatever sacrifices are needed to be obedient—obedience will always mean sacrifice.
SB: These changes may result in what Needham refers to as “trimming”—trimming the branch to keep the branch healthy and fruit-bearing. Do you anticipate significant trimming in our territory?
FT: Needham makes an important point, and he notes it is not his idea. It’s actually the teaching of Jesus.
Catherine Booth is so often quoted: “There is no improving the future without disturbing the present.” She was really paraphrasing the teaching of Jesus in John 15 about life in the vine—trimming and pruning for growth. Many people love to quote her and encourage us as leaders with those words. Until it comes time to try and change their “present”—they don’t want anyone to trim or prune their vineyard!
The question is, do we anticipate significant trimming in our territory? If we are going to improve the future, the present will need to be disturbed. I am grateful to a leadership team at territorial headquarters and across the divisions that understands the John 15 principle and is prepared to lead accordingly. Can I encourage us all to support one another, including our leaders, as these decisions are made?
I think it is important to take a perspective on the choices that will need to be made, that if we trim and prune for the purposes Jesus speaks of in John 15 we bear much fruit. We cannot trim and prune simply to survive; we need to trim and prune to thrive.
EA: How can we balance celebrating our past and avoid simply repeating everything we have always done?
TT: We have heard people quoting Isaiah 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing. Do you not see it?” We are seeing God do a new thing across our territory—from our conversations with people, reading reports, reading Salvationist magazine… Even amid COVID-19, God is at work and he is doing a new thing.
But I think it is necessary to look at the verses prior to Isaiah 43:18-19. Here is a listing of all that God had done for the people of Israel, including the reminder of their release from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. Then God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” There is an answer to the question: we celebrate our past, and that can be healthy provided we give the glory to God. We celebrate what God has done in and through The Salvation Army in the past.
But hear God’s Word: Don’t dwell on the past. See what he is doing today! And hear his knock on the door inviting us out of our buildings, and maybe inviting us out of our past, to join him in what he is doing now. Let’s celebrate that by joining him today.
SB: For the last 12 weeks, Salvationists and friends have tuned into this book study to revitalize themselves and their corps. We believe that this study has helped to build the momentum for change in our territory. As territorial leaders, what can you tell us about what to expect next for The Salvation Army in this incredibly gifted and incredibly diverse territory?
TT: We are excited by what we are seeing as God is moving and his Army is responding. The vision of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones leads to the “standing up of a vast army.” In Ezekiel 37:10, this happens as the bones are reconnected and flesh and skin are added to the bones. But this army stands up and comes to life only after the breath of God blows a fresh wind into the bodies.
We are seeing a reconnecting—with one another, with our mission and with God. We also hear people’s cry to God for a fresh wind of his Spirit to blow across this Army. God is faithful and will breathe fresh life into us and stand up a vast Army. But let’s be ready… not to be a trophy Army on display, but an Army ready to fulfill the purpose for which God raised us up. Let’s be his Army, accepting his invitation to join him in his mission as we share the love of Jesus, meet human needs and be transforming influences in our communities. We are being “Inspired for Mission” and “Positioned for Growth.”
FT: I would pick up on a point Tracey made earlier regarding obedience and sacrifice. We have developed a culture—as we’ve become more institutional and less of a movement—of permission and payment. The goal has been to get permission by filling out the right forms, presented to the right people through the right processes, and if you’re successful in getting permission then the Army will send money to support. Permission equals payment.
It’s not a biblical model. And it gets blamed for inaction or lack of mission engagement as people complain DHQ/THQ didn’t send any money or assume that DHQ/THQ wouldn’t approve their ideas. And no application means no money.
The biblical model, however, is one of obedience. It’s what God is inviting me and you to do in joining him in his mission. A model of obedience and sacrifice will require sacrifice!
I am challenged when I consider that this territory has never been richer, not just on a territorial fund balance sheet, but overall as an Army—considering the average wage of Salvationists today as compared to previous generations; considering the education, skills and experience of Salvationists today; considering the resources, property and connections Salvationists have today. Yet I suspect that we may be far less prepared to embrace sacrifice in comparison to previous generations of Salvationists.
Permission and payment are the systems of command and control. If we can, as Needham suggests, replace command and control with support and accountability, can you imagine the impact? Let’s embrace the intersection of obedience and sacrifice with support and accountability as a new kingdom cultural norm for the territory. It is time to stand up as a vast Army!