by Terry Camsey, Major –
“The Army must be a 21st century movement. We don’t honor William Booth by doing today what he did in the 19th century, but by asking now what he would do in this day and age and then seek to do it. It’s a pretty big challenge – trying to get hold of the spirit that moved him, the passion that animated him. We must accomplish that, all the time being sure that we don’t throw out something accidentally that ought to be retained.”
General John Larsson
Interview in The War Cry, November 22, 2003
In these times, when what worked for Booth in his day has become less effective in ours, this business of determining what ought to be retained and what should be dropped has challenged, if not vexed, Salvationists at all levels.
Some things, once thought absolutely essential to our effectiveness (wearing of the Army bonnet, for example), seem to have pretty well disappeared without any conscious intervention. There was a lot of heat generated on this topic a few years ago but, with the aging of a generation, the issue has pretty well resolved itself.
I have been present in a number of settings where focus groups have attempted to determine what is absolutely essential to the ethos of the Army, and what is expendable without losing the essence of what we are. There has never been agreement. In fact, there has been more argument about preserving the methodology that Booth initiated, than about the foundational principles he implemented, through strategies both original and enormously effective in his day.
We worry about “tossing out the baby with the bath water” but focus on the wrong thing. The challenge, surely, has less to do with “throwing out the baby” than with a need to “change the water” in which the baby sits! We need to identify the essential principles on which Booth built, examine the methods currently used to implement those principles, explore whether those methods are as effective as Booth’s in his day, whether they can be made as effective and—if they are not—to develop more effective means of implementing those vital principles.
One of the basic principles that uniquely defined us in Booth’s day (and for some years after) was surely that of “taking the gospel to the people” who have no plans to visit any church. Booth’s primary method of implementing that principle was to conduct open-air meetings in places where and when his target group congregated. He attracted them by whatever means were effective, addressed them in language they understood, had recent converts testify as to the change in their lives, engaged listeners in dialogue and sought their salvation.
“Where have all the open-air meetings gone?”
Have they been “poured down the plug-hole” as so much dirty “bath water”? What has replaced this vital principal of taking the gospel to the people?
I was fascinated a few weeks ago while strolling through the local mall. It houses a store enigmatically named “C28.” I determined to visit the store to see what it was all about. It is, in fact, a contemporary clothing store (t-shirts and the like) targeting the Baby Buster generation…a generation that is deeply influenced by Jesus the revolutionary, the homeless, the radical who challenged powerful religious preservers of the status quo in his day. The clothing sold is (though not to my taste as a member of the seniors generation) attracting many young people since the design and slogans thereon at first glance seem to be just as radical!
I went into the shop with my wife to have a look around. The first thing that caught my eye was the Mission Statement…“OUR MISSION: To share the life changing gospel message of grace, truth and love, found in Jesus Christ.” The manager (a Baby Buster) engaged us in conversation and—not knowing we are Christians—took the opportunity to share her faith with us.
So, here we have a shop in a prominent position in a mall where people gather and which is open when they are there. The mission is undoubtedly evangelical, the conversation aimed at fulfilling their mission, and the product? Attractive clothing that enables Christian Baby Busters to share their faith with their own generation!
Sounds like an open-air meeting to me, but in an unusual context that is effective today.
“Our great danger is of settling into ruts and being satisfied with a little, when we might do more.”
Frederick Booth-Tucker The Officer, 1893