If you don’t know where you are going, anywhere will do!
by J. David Schmidt –
Back in 1833, a letter was written and left in the Patent Office in Washington, D.C. It read as follows:
- Dear Sir:
- Because everything that can be invented has already been invented, it is inevitable that this office should go out of business. Inasmuch as I shall soon lose my position, I hereby resign to look for work elsewhere.
Up to that point less than 500 patents had been applied for in the United States, but by the time World War I was over, more than 60,000 patents had been issued. Today, the number runs in the millions.
Whoever wrote that letter clearly struggled with a lack of vision. They couldn’t see that one invention could spawn another and another.
We read this person’s letter and think, “How short-sighted. How could someone possibly believe that all that could be invented had already been invented?” But ironically, when the computer was first developed, some in the industry thought that there would be a market for no more than three or four such devices, and that certainly people would never want one of these things in their homes.
There’s a lesson in this story for the Western Territory. For the next several months Salvation Army corps in this territory will be embarking on a journey–a journey to discover or reaffirm the vision that God has given your corps for its future. This is part of a larger process mandated by Commissioner David Edwards to help the Western Territory build on the good results that came out of MISSION2000 and to position the territory for effective ministry in the year 2000 and beyond.
He says, “We cannot afford to be like the person who wrote the letter in 1833 who believed no more inventions were in sight. We can quote statistics numbering in the millions of people we have served in this territory, and for this we should rejoice. But we cannot focus purely on what we have accomplished. Our dreams must be bigger than our memories. I fully believe God has implanted in the minds and hearts of thousands of Salvationists fresh vision for the new millennium. We have developed a process to help each corps discover what God is saying to them, to release these visions and bring them to life.”
A Vision Discovery Kit — in a Box
Territorial leadership is providing a Vision Discovery Kit to every corps in the territory for two reasons: to equip your corps with a user-friendly process to develop a clear and common vision for ministry in the days ahead (or, in some cases, to refresh an existing vision), and, secondly, to give you and your corps a means to share your vision with divisional and territorial leaders so that they may better help your corps accomplish your dreams for the future.
Is this the same old thing? More work to do coming from the top down? More forms to complete? “Absolutely not,” says Lt. Colonel Ray Peacock. “This Vision Discovery Kit is a gift to every corps. We have put substantial resources into its development to make it available free to every corps. We want to encourage every New Frontier reader to speak to their corps officers about this process and kit.”
He goes on, “All of us have dreams for and some concerns with our corps. We’ve designed a process that will help Salvationists understand what God wants to do in their corps in the days to come. In the past, the dreams of regular corps attendees were rarely given wings. We want to correct this deficiency by providing a means for corps attendees to channel their vision to their corps leaders.”
First, why is the territory embarking on this journey? It’s the territorial leadership’s firm opinion that the future of this territory belongs in the hands of its people. In other words, each corps can help shape the destiny of the territory by contributing a vision that God lays on their hearts. When combined with others, we will have one clear, common vision for the territory.
A second key reason why your corps is being asked to develop a vision is to help your leaders know what resources you need. No one should be in doubt where the front line of ministry in the Western Territory is. It’s not at territorial headquarters in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., and it’s not at your divisional headquarters. It is in your corps, in your people, in you. But to serve the front line of our ministry better, leaders need to know what resources are required to accomplish your vision. This process will help inform leaders how to serve your corps better.
And there is a third large reason why this process is important: the future of this territory depends on it. Our average corps in the Western Territory has only 45 people on Sunday mornings.
- This is far below our potential. We need to take a hard look at just how relevant we are in our words and deeds.
- Half of our officers say their corps have plateaued or are dwindling in size.
- Nine percent of those attending our corps are not Christians. They need Christ and we need to devise new ways of making the Gospel relevant to them and to help them be reached for Christ.
- Thousands are being helped by our social service ministries, but most of our corps do not have a written strategy for reaching social service clients with the Gospel and incorporating them into the life of the corps.
- Younger attendees are seeking more voice in their corps and more contemporary forms of worship for themselves and to invite their guests to.
- In a recent survey, we discovered that 40 percent of us want help in deepening our spiritual roots so that we can become more connected to God and live out our lives more dynamically. Yet half of our corps have no training program for making disciples. On top of this, our communities are changing, and it requires us to recalibrate our ministries to the communities we are serving.
A process to give you a voice
Colonel Bill Luttrell, chief secretary of the territory, says, “This process will give us all a voice. It will provide clarity of direction and give focus to corps ministry. But more than that, it will help us all make our time count. None of us have any extra time in our lives. Having a clear and common vision in a corps will help Salvationists focus and agree on what’s important. We all get discouraged in the trenches at times. That discouragement comes with ministry and hard work. But it can also come from laboring in ways that are no longer effective. In The Salvation Army, we have protocols and programs that have lost their cutting edge. We need to replace these dull ministry tools with new ones that have sharp edges. This process will help corps do that. And most importantly, I believe it will encourage people.”
God already has a plan and a vision for the Western Territory. It’s clear, crystal clear, in his thinking and in his heart. He’s not confused about where this territory ought to go in the year 2000 and beyond. It’s our responsibility, though, to try to see the future as God sees it and to reach for it.
Scripture says that without vision people perish; each one of us dies a little when we don’t have our eyes on the future. And we need a way to lift our eyes from the present to the future so that our dreams are bigger than our memories.
John R. W. Stott, a well-known English theologian, says that “vision begins with a holy discontent with the way things are.” It is possible to become so content with our corps that we get complacent. We get busy building homes and families, jobs or careers, and trying to live in a chaotic, change-filled world. Sometimes the last thing we want to see change is our corps. We like the stable ground of corps being familiar and the same week after week. Unfortunately, that sameness can breed complacency and weak ministry.
Imagine if someone were to write that letter today regarding The Salvation Army’s work in the Western Territory:
Because we have launched hundreds of social service ministries already, and have hundreds of corps with people in them, and the spiritual needs and physical needs of disadvantaged people are so great in this area, we’ve decided to do nothing new in the year 2000 and beyond. Inasmuch as we already have ministry and the need is so great and the times are so complex, we’ve decided to resign from looking to God for his leading regarding our future.
It is hard to imagine that we would write such a letter. Yet unless we intentionally focus our eyes on the future, such letters do get written, whether or not they are ever put in writing, because they are written in our lack of action.
The Vision Discovery Process will help each of us discern what God is saying about how our corps may be more effective in extending a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, and seeing lost people won to Christ.