Reflections on the Army’s ministry at Christmas
From the Desk of…
by Donald Bell, Lt. Colonel –
Christmas is a time of wonder, of celebration, of excitement… and also, in The Salvation Army, a time of long hours of service. Service to others, including visits to shut-ins, toys for children, and food for families. In the Western Territory, this joy of service brought the wonder of Christmas to over 500,000 children last year, children who might not otherwise have received a new toy. And, of course, there are seemingly endless hours of public relations and fundraising, to make it possible to serve so many people. What an opportunity we in The Salvation Army have to reach out to these individuals with the Good News that Christmas offers to the whosoever.
Christ came at Christmas, in circumstances that were difficult. Great distances had to be traveled by Joseph and Mary when it would have been more comfortable to stay at home. Accommodations were not available when the Christ child was delivered. Circumstances that are, perhaps, similar to those who come to us this Christmas. Do we see Christ in the people who come to us at Christmas, asking for their basic needs to be met? Do we take the additional step of sharing Christ with these people who come to us?
The Founder summed up the ministry of The Salvation Army with three simple words, soup, soap, and salvation. The words are practical and yet profound. An individual would be more receptive to hearing the gospel message when his/her basic personal needs are met. We are very good at providing the soup—the food…and the soap—a clean living environment. But there are times when we break down on following up with the spiritual message.
At the International Congress in Atlanta, General John Gowans (Ret.) explained the ministry of the Army in a similar way when he summed up the mission statement: “The Salvation Army was created to save souls, to grow saints, and to serve suffering humanity.” In his message he likened the Army to a three-legged stool which he brought to center stage. If you remove any one of the three legs, the stool will not stand. When we engage the public and forget one or perhaps two legs of the stool, our ministry is not complete.
General John Larsson (Ret.), speaking in the Western Territory, and in his autobiography, explained it a different way. He compared the dual nature of our ministry, social and spiritual, as the wings of a butterfly. If the butterfly lost one of its wings it could not fly. The Salvation Army would not be the movement God called it to be without both its social ministry and its spiritual ministry.
I trust that this Christmas you are putting as much planning and effort into the spiritual ministry as you are to meeting the social needs. The best way to do that is sit down with your staff, key volunteers, and Corps Council and plan for integration of the people who come to the Army into your regular programs. Do the clients know about Adventure Corps, Guards and Sunbeams, and the other character-building programs of the corps? Do they know about the worship services? Have they been invited to Home League, or been given the opportunity to participate in Community Care in order to give back to others who find themselves in need? Do you have tutoring programs, after school activities and musical training that could serve as outreach programs for the corps? How about SONday’Scool? Has every client been personally handed a corps brochure outlining the weekly activities of the corps along with a War Cry?
One great benefit of the Christmas application process is that you have the name, address and telephone number of every family you have helped. Why not invite them to a rally day at the corps? We tried that once at the Long Beach Corps and had over 500 in Sunday school that week. Are your clients aware of the Bible studies offered by your corps, or have new mothers been invited to the BabySong program? In the planning process, it is important to set up visitation teams to follow up on any first time visitors to the corps. Visitation is the most effective means to demonstrate that you really care about your congregation.
Christmas is indeed a busy time. It is a time of wonder, of celebration and excitement. It is also a time to invite others in—into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and into the corps. May God bless you as you share the gift of the Christ child this Christmas season.