Dear Salvation Army, How To Build A Healthy Corps

Dear Soldiers and Officers, this is not the end all or be all of Corps Growth or the “How to” guide for all things Corps…but this is a start, a primer of sorts.

I want to delve into this topic of building a healthy corps today because I feel it vital to consider the basic elements that make up a healthy, vibrant corps.  All too often we can simply settle, maintain the status quo but never truly experience the thriving pulse of vibrancy.  Dear Soldiers and Officers, let’s not settle for mediocrity in our corps.  Let’s not plod onward thinking we can’t improve or grow more deeply spiritually as a corporate body.

Here are four basic elements for us to consider today.  These are tools to help us experience and create a healthy, vibrant corps.  ***(Disclaimer, we are not striving solely for a number increase, nor should we look over the fence at another larger corps and church and exclaim “let’s become them”…embrace your corps’ identity in your community)***

4 Basic Elements To Building a Healthy Corps:

meeting1.  Prayer & Prayer Meetings
It seems like some sort of over-simplistic Sunday school answer.  “You have a problem?  Then pray about it.”  But here is reality; those who pray together, weep together, laugh together, strive together, fellowship together will become strong…TOGETHER.  Long ago our corps would meet for prayer meetings and they would gather together, sometimes holding hands and pray for the needs of their congregation and community.  Some still meet like this…many have ceased to meet in such a way.   Soldiers and Officers – THERE IS GREAT POWER IN PRAYER!  Both corporately and privately.  I don’t mean to sound callous, but somewhere along the way a majority of us stopped meeting like this.  I am not sure if we truly believed God would hear us in our prayers or if we just simply got tired of meeting together.

Prayer is a vital spiritual discipline both corporately and privately.  It takes concerted effort to pray for each other and for everyone to ACTUALLY SHOW UP to these meetings of prayer.  If we want to experience a healthy corps, then we need to pave the way with fervent, meaningful times of prayer upon our knees.  The vital signs of our corps may not improve drastically overnight, they may not improve in a month or two…but over time the Lord will grant us a softened heart and a yearning to bring the needs of our corps into focused concentrated prayer.  When this happens, true love will spill over us for each other; true fellowship can occur; a sincerely desire to see God transform lives within the corps will also happen within us.

2.  Intentional Discipleshipdiscipleship
I don’t mean just some printed materials we use in a six week course.  I don’t mean just another program to count on a stats sheet…I mean Christian brothers holding other Christian brothers accountable, Christian sisters holding other Christian sisters accountable.  Intentional studying of God’s word together, elder Christians guiding a patiently loving younger Christians.  Can it begin with a simple bible study tool?  Of course, but it has to become something more than just filling out answers and memorizing scripture.  Trust is sometimes an issue.  Divulging ones personal struggles with another “Christian” brother or sister can be extremely difficult and even embarrassing.  One might feel that they are too vulnerable if trust is not first established and coveted in confidentiality.  But when we disciple one another…when we yearn to grow together (because let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t trust others in our corps and we don’t think that they have our best interests in mind)  When we can learn this spiritual discipline of discipleship, we can finally grow into the identity the Holy Spirit has been preparing us for since the moment of initial sanctification.

coffee3.  Intentional Joy & Fellowship
Not only should we be meeting for pray and discipleship but we ought to be joyously seeking fellowship together outside of the walls of our corps building.  I understand we do not all have the same interests and personalities and this might make fellowship difficult at times, but do we make a concerted effort to go to each other’s homes?  Are we seeking out times to share a meal together, go to a movie together, maybe take up a hobby together…or even bowl?  There can be joy found in laughter and the sharing of life moments together.  Are we willing to put ourselves out there?  I think that sometimes we are afraid of asking people over or taking a chance to share a meal with another member of our corps because we’re afraid we might not have anything in common or find total rejection.  If we are to become a healthier corps, we have to be willing to take a risk and to find intentional fellowship with other soldiers and friends.

Out of these intentional moments, a sweet aroma of love and joy can be expressed, so much so that others might be drawn to our fellowship.  People will see this kind of interaction of corps members and long to be a part of something like that.  Individual crave acceptance and love.  People want to “fit in”…when we make that concerted effort to fellowship with others, we can begin to emit that sweet aroma of joy and fellowship to those around us, and by proxy, we are unknowingly creating a visual type of appealing evangelism.

4.  Listen To Needslisten
I don’t merely say “Listen” to imply that we offer canned advice and suggestions, but rather when we actively listen to the needs of those around us we become more inclined to physically bridge that gap for others.  When we stop talking about our wants and needs, we can begin to listen to the needs of others.  “Others” can be those within our fellowship already as well as those who are on the fringes or living within our community.  Don’t draw a line in the sand that separates “Our People” from “Community People”…In God’s eyes ALL people are His, some just don’t know it yet.  Make sure that we allow this intoxicating joy to spill out and over not only those WITHIN but also those who are on the outside of the corps walls.  When we begin to actively listen to the needs of others, we can begin to hear the pulse of organic evangelism that is created from an Ideas book or another promotional “EVENT”, but rather is done simplistically and genuinely.  I am not saying that these other evangelistic ideas can’t be genuine, but from experience, listening to the needs of others silences the groans of prideful, often deaf, arrogant self and refocuses the heart onto true love and service to others.

These are just four ways to build a healthier corps together with you and me…and that neighbor down the street who has never been asked or invited to share in this intoxicating joy of fellowship.  Remember, we are saved to save and in the process we can sharpen each other and grow together through holy living.

Just something more for our Army world to ponder today!
To God be the glory!

Dear Salvation Army – The Pathway Of Duty Is Agony Sometimes!

It is not our Salvation that keeps us Holy.  It is but a component of this saving grace.  It isn’t our intellect that saves us either.  It is the work of Christ and the continuing fellowship of the Holy Spirit within us.  We are but instruments of His peace, His love and His encouragement.

wounded3Times of Trial And Wounding:
There will be times when we are accused, slandered and wounded while serving Christ.  I am not saying that we look for the opportunities to be persecuted or wounded, but they will indeed come our way if we are living out kingdom priorities as kingdom people!

There will be some who will stand in our way.
There will be some who will betray us along the pathway of duty.
There will be some who will laugh when we face out trials and wounds.
Some, even unknowingly, are ambassadors of hell as they entertain and execute malicious attacks on those who are faithful.

I am not saying we are perfect by any means.
We are all faulty, we are all in need of a daily washing of God’s grace upon us.  Yet, if we choose to walk this narrow path and are led by the Holy Spirit, we will face opposition, persecution and wounds along the way.  It is inevitable.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4

I’m sorry, what was that?
Pure Joy?  In the midst of trials of many kind?
That doesn’t sound like a joyful or fun opportunity does it?

Yet pain comes to us.
Faith produces greater faith and reliance on God, but the side-effect in this “growth process” (for lack of a better term)  is that we will experience discomfort, trials and hurt along the way.

No Pain, No Gain…no-pain-no-gain
I’m not a glutton for punishment, really I’m not…but I do know that there is a desired outcome to this “faith” thing.  We wish to be more like Christ is every way!   Ephesians 5:1-2 says, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as afragrant aroma” (NASB)

Becoming an imitator of God will take a journey through pain and suffering.  Why?  Because our fallen world won’t allow it to happen.  Because our fallen, old sinful selves and habitual wanderings will trip us up.  Because imitating God and becoming like His son Jesus will take immense sacrifice…sometimes more sacrifice than most of us realize at the beginning of the journey.

We will suffer at the hands of others.
We will suffer at the hands of ourselves at times.
We will experience discomfort and even pain at the lengths in with we are called to sacrifice!

Without pain we will not gain our freedom within His holiness!
It sounds sadistic doesn’t it?
It’s not.  It simply is.

walking-aloneYour Path Right Now…
How is the pathway of duty right now for you?
Are you experiencing any discomfort along the way?
Is it because you have had to make sacrifices?
Is it because you are at times alone in your convictions?
Is it because you have faced (or you are currently facing) persecution and ridicule from others and felt the sting of it?

We are soldiers of Christ.
We have been set apart for His holy purpose!
We will find ruts in the road.  We will find agony, bruised shins, and distressed hearts at times along this journey.

Do you need to come the well of refreshing again?
He is able to refresh and restore you!
He is able to replenish your spent reserves.
He can and will carry you when necessary.
He wants to encourage us today and to spur us onward even in the midst of persecution, suffering and the onslaught of those who would see us destroyed because of this faith.

Be bold.
Be strong.
For the Lord your God is with you today!  (Joshua 1:9)

Carry on and know you are loved, encouraged, and supported by the Father himself!

-Just something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory! 

5 Reasons Ministries Fail In The First 5 Years…

I grew up in “the ministry”.   My parents served faithfully for over 40 years in ministry.  I seemingly followed in their footsteps upon hearing God’s calling for my life.  Since that time I have spent the last 15 years in ministry in positions such as youth pastor, church manager, worship leader and a full time pastor (Salvation Army Officer).  I have seen ministries come and go in that process.  I watched some wonderful ideas seemingly crash and burn, while other evangelistic ideas that I thought would never work stand the test of time.

Within my span of being “in the ministry”, please allow me the opportunity to highlight some reasons ministries fail in the first five years:

blueprints5 Reasons Ministries Fail In The First 5 Years:

1) The “Blue-print” Transfer Ideology:
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ― Dwight D Eisenhower

Within this church-growth ideological vein comes the preconceived notion that if something works in one community, it will undoubtedly work in another.  This translates into moving an evangelistic plan or possibly key “event”  from one functioning church location to another.  Some of the factors that can be easily overlooked in this kind of “Blue-print” transfer, however, can include specific community demographics, the leadership factor, and adequate planning. This leadership ideology and “idea” transfer can lead to failure in a ministry.  Just because something worked in one location doesn’t always mean it will transfer successfully into another completely different ministerial environment. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that we shouldn’t try these ideas, but before plunging headlong into such a campaign, do the research, ask the questions, count all of the variables.

vision12) A Lack Of Vision & Planning
Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.
― V.S. Naipaul

This goes hand in hand with doing the above recommendation of doing the research!  What are the needs of the community that you minister in?  Who is your target audience?  Why is such a ministry needed?  How will it be executed?  What are the outcomes of success?  (meaning, how will you know that this ministry has reached its potential and succeeded?)  In order to prevent failure of any new ministry these (and more) questions need to be answered.  It is one thing to have a brilliant idea and have a “pie in the sky” vision…it is a completely different thing to execute that idea with precision and proper planning.  This shouldn’t be taken to mean that we ought to be planning everything to death and the need to micro-manage, but it does mean that some forethought must be put into any formation of a new ministry.
Here is a simple SWOT analysis link that could help you if you are planning to begin or revitalize a ministry: SWOT Analysis Tool Worksheet

paths3) A Polarized Leadership Vision/Lack Of Stable Leadership Team
A leader who produces other leaders multiples their influences.
-John Maxwell

These two vital issues can cause a ministry to fail in the first 5 years or much, much sooner.  What happens when the senior pastor doesn’t share the same vision as the church board or council?  What happens if the youth pastor or the worship leader cannot catch the vision of the senior pastor?  These polarizing views of what the mission should be can cause a ministry to crash and burn.  Without a clear vision (as listed in #2) that is shared by all of the leadership team, the ministry will the run the risk of failing gloriously.  Coupled with this sharing of the same vision, is the crucial component of possessing a stable group of leaders.  Without the team, “super pastor” will fail.  Without the “core group” who do the initial grunt work to get a ministry off of the ground, it can become next to impossible to succeed in something new.  The “core group” must possess the same shared vision and should be willing to not only work together to accomplish great things, but ought to be fervently in prayer and in support of one another to do “all things in Christ who strengthens me (you, us, the team)…” -Philippians 4:13.   The fastest way to fail in a ministry is to possess a murky, vague vision while possessing an unstable, sub-par team to execute this new, fuzzy ministry poorly.

Business confrontation.4) Rigid Iron-fisted Leadership Model
If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.” ― Jeff Bezos

Once the vision is caught and the plan is executed within the realms of a new ministry, there is a tipping point that can occur that will either make or break any and all potential future success.  The tipping point begins and ends with the need to adjust, change and become flexible without compromising the overall mission and vision.  Do we, as church leaders, possess the ability to be both firm within the vision while maintaining an element of flexibility in outcomes?  I would venture a guess that “flexibility” is often the most difficult element to maintain when striving for success in ministry.  Things can and will change in the team environment.  Strategy needs to be re-tooled to offer better chances at succeeding.  Often times pride and stubbornness have caused ministries to fail miserably.  The evidence of true leadership is the willingness to let others lead from time to time.  True leadership allows for adjustments of the plan and letting go of the Iron-fisted grip while maintain and upholding the vision and the intended outcomes.  If we, as church leaders, allow our pride and stubbornness to blind us to the necessity of flexibility and adjustment mid-stride in the execution of the plan, then we will inevitably fail.
Note to self (and perhaps this applies to you as well):  Wake up, it isn’t about me…it’s about the mission!

tech5) No “Next Level” Plan..
A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” —John Maxwell
Once the new ministry is off the ground, and flexibility allows for course adjustments and moderate re-shuffling and successful outcomes are reached what happens next?  One of the crucial needs of the church is to recognize when a plateauing of a ministry is taking place and a plan to take things to the “next level”.

Corporate Examples:
Samsung and Apple (among others) are corporations that are notorious for providing the “next big thing” when it comes to portable technology such as telephones and tablet/computer devices.    They stage public media day events to attract world-wide attention and get people interested in their products…and people keep coming back for more.  Why do people come back for more?  Because these companies know how to make things relevant, marketable and desired.  They do the “next level” really well.

A Word Of Caution:
We must be careful here to identify with “business models” because our motivation isn’t centered on financial gains and success in this way, but the principle of how it is done can assist us in planning the “next level” within our church ministries.

Tools for the “next level” 
*  Re-visit the vision of the present ministry.
Ask questions such as:  –Is it still working?
What should we do differently?
Have we met our yearly outcomes?
What can we do better this next year?  
Are we reaching the targeted audience?
Do we need to re-tool our leadership base?
Do we need different teaching materials?
Can we write new materials?  
-Are we meeting the needs of our community?

These are just 5 reasons that ministries fail in the first 5 years and some tools to help us stave off the “crash and burn” hall of fame awards.
Do the research.
Spend money and time on a quality core team around you.
Plan, plan, plan…but be flexible!
Look to the future, prepare for the “next level”…and get ready to execute it well!

-Just something more for us to ponder today!

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