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Friday, August 20, 2010

David and the Army

David, dressed in his overall,
     Daddy's cap with his horn and all,
Wants to go to the Army hall
     To play in the Army band.
First he must practice and learn to play,
All of the musical terms obey,
That is the only proper way,
David must understand.

So he plays in his yard at home.
Loudly beating his little drum.
Calling the children all to come.
All in the neighborhood.
David's the captain of all the crew,
Telling the rest of them what to do,
Singing and playing and preaching too,
     Just as the Captain should.

On Sunday he wears his Sunday clothes,
Off to the Company Meeting he goes,
Often the Golden Text he knows,
     Saying it all alone.
David will treasure his childhood days,
When he was led into Christian ways,
Giving his parents grateful praise,
     When he is fully grown.

Irena Arnold. Youth on the Platform. Atlanta, GA: The Salvation Army, 1947.

Youth on the Platform

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Christianity in Action: The International History of The Salvation Army

I want to highly recommend the book, Christianity in Action: The International History of The Salvation Army. It is written by Colonel Henry Gariepy (OF) who was Promoted to Glory in April.

I had the privilege of regularly meeting Colonel Gariepy when he would come to the School for Officer Training in New York to teach Cadets. You could always see the love of the Lord shining through his eyes and the passion to tell the story of God's Mission through the vehicle of The Salvation Army.

Christianity in Action, which was published in 2009, could be described as a primer on The Salvation Army. It combines broad brush strokes that capture the meta-story of this movement with masterfully crafted details which connect the great characters and events of the past with contemporary illustrations of how the Army remains faithful to its primary mission. Gariepy is truly a literary craftsman!

Colonel Henry Gariepy (OF)
General Shaw Clifton has endorsed that "...with incredible skill he has compiled a most readable record, crammed with human-interest stories." General Paul Rader (R) states that "Salvationists will read it with a swelling sense of gratitude for the privilege of being a part of the story. Those new to the movement will find here a thrilling saga of Christianity in action."

Some are of the opinion that in order for a work of history to be of value it must be filled with harsh and candid critique. This work isn't trying to be an academic history book. It is unabashedly populous - it's written so that anyone - regardless of their knowledge and experience of The Salvation Army, their age or education will be able to enjoy the adventure stories told in these pages.

I was really pleased that this book is in so many formats. You can order the book, the CD, you can read it on Kindle - it's even available on iTunes so that you can listen to this great story in your car or in the gym.

Finally, I pray that young people will read this book. This is our heritage. This is our birthright. Read it and be inspired to write the next chapter by becoming boys and girls, men and women who will embrace the forward-advancing faith of Christianity in action.

Karl Marx, the Gospel and Spiritual Transformation

Did you know? That Karl Marx memorized by heart all four of the gospels? And yet the founder of communism died an atheist? This is why we must teach with spiritual transformation as our goal. Head knowledge without heart experience leads to Hell - let's not simply hear the Word, let's do it!

‎"But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget... what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it."

James 1:22-25

Monday, August 09, 2010

"The Great Purpose of The Salvation Army" - Bramwell Booth

The great purpose of The Salvation Army is to save. It is for this we fight; it is for this we suffer; nay, it is for this we exist. Our Master and great Example seems to have found that the only road to achieve that great work was by the road of suffering. The whole story of His triumph seems to say: 'If you would be a saviour you must be crucified.'

How true it has been of us! Indeed, one may say that from this very beginning to the present day, in every land in which we have lifted our hands to God, this has become our experience. The Salvation Army was born crucified. If it is to remain alive and powerful, it must go on being crucified. If it is to ultimately triumph it must be from the Cross of suffering for the world that it ascends to the Throne and Crown.

Then do not let us complain because, like our Master, we are sometimes forsaken by those who would so gladly have kept with us in the struggle; or because, like Him, we are sometimes betrayed, denied, and denounced by those who promised so loudly to be true to the Cause; or because, taking advantage of our rule of silence, they sometimes say of us what is not kind or even true.

Let us submit and take care to be true to ourselves. Let us carry our own heavy cross as He carried His. It will no doubt sometimes seem in the eyes of men a weak and foolish thing to do. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

To Him be the glory!

Bramwell Booth. October 10, 1910 - The Salvation Army Canada & Bermuda War Cry, p.8

Saturday, July 31, 2010

12 Reasons Why Every Corps Should Invest in Junior Soldiers

Here are 12 reasons why I believed that every Corps should be promoting Junior Soldiers. I have recently embarked on an analysis of the 10 courses over 5 years and have become absolutely convinced that if every Corps invested in Junior Soldiers, that this could change the world!

Here are some of my reasons:

1. It grounds our kids in biblical knowledge.

2. It lays the foundation of sound doctrine into their lives

3. It connects kids to the historic Salvation Army - familiarizing them with our history, key personalities, structures and symbols

4. It relates all of this to the challenges of childhood and early adolescence

5. It approaches kids from a theology of childhood that emphasizes agency - believing children can be saved, sanctified, discipled, engaged in ministry... and that they can even suffer if needs be for their faith.

6. It focuses on a covenantal pledge (promise) that is a sacred rite of passage that helps a child confirm their faith.

7. It prepares our kids at an early age to sharpen their minds - thinking about their faith as they navigate through the pressures of today's child/youth cultures.

8. It is standardized (the curriculum in the American territories is nationally standardized) so that wherever a child were to move, they would be able to continue their training.

9. Research has shown that if a person puts 10,000 hours of practice into something, this can really define the impact they will have later in life. Junior Soldiers starts the discipleship journey on at a very young age - allowing them early on to put in the time, gain this knowledge and engage in discipleship and ministry experiences.

10. Junior Soldiers leads the child towards ACTIVE faith. It breaks the misunderstood perception that kids need to be passively kept at bay until they are 'old enough' to engage in ministry.

11. The uniform and the promise unite our kids with a historic and worldwide movement of peers who are covenanted to a similar standard.

12. Hey... It's a load of fun!

What would The Salvation Army look like in eighteen years if we all committed to this?

Who are the leaders we are entrusting this sacred trust to? How are we training them?

At Railton School for Youth Worker Training, we are covenanting to do our best to train youth workers who will thoroughly understand this material and will be able to use it for the glory of God and the salvation of the world!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GRAIN, RAVENS AND MACARONI CHEESE - Beyond the Entitled Life: Christian Leadership in the Midst of Economic Crisis

Beyond the Entitled Life: Christian Leadership in the Midst of Economic Crisis

“We are very early in the cycle. We are going to see the fury of the Old Testament for what we have done to the economy.”
Peter Morici, Professor at Robert H. Smith School of Business,
University of Maryland

I sat with my jaw dropped as I heard Brian Williams utter these words on Tuesday night regarding the current economic crisis (to hear this broadcast: Nightly News). I am aware that at times things can be over-sensationalized and that creating a ‘culture of fear’ can ensure increased ratings as viewers await the coming apocalypse. I began to ask myself: are we on the cusp of a second great depression?

Statements like these can quickly spiral into a spirit of self-preservation. What will happen to The Salvation Army? Will I be able to draw my salary? How will I pay my bills? Will I be able to provide for my family? The actor, Arthur Sommers Roche states, “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all of our thoughts are drained” (Roche).

It’s easy for hope to drain from our beings and sink into a spirit of despair. Just this past weekend, my family visited the Palisades Mall only to find a growing number of the stores closed for business or on the verge thereof. For generations that have grown up only knowing a culture of excess, these days of recession are hard to fathom. Jean Twenge, the social anthropologist who has studied today’s teens and twenties culture provides insight into what has been ‘normative’ for the past twenty-five years:

So many products now cater to the tastes of the individual. Instead of listening to the radio and hearing what everyone else does, we program our own special mix on our iPod, put in the headphones, and enter an individually created world. We even choose unique ring tones for our cell phones. Instead of three or four network stations, we can watch cable channels dedicated to our own interests. Instead of watching our TV live with everyone else in our time zone, we TiVo it and watch it when we want to… Individualism has driven the increasingly large universe of consumer choice in other things as well… From clothing to cars to jewelry, consumer products are designed to exhibit the wants of the unique self.

Jean Twenge, Generation Me, 2006: 101

Many of us might grieve the loss of Circuit City or KB Toys, but do we really understand what it means to struggle financially? Are we aware of what it means to be destitute? I was recently quite shocked to see how wealthy we are in the United States when I visited the website Global Rich List. I can plug in how much I make in a year to find how much money I have in comparison to the rest of the world – talk about a reality check! The truth be told, having to pull the belt in a bit pales in comparison to the destitution that others have to live with daily – and yet it is so easy to bemoan our circumstance and ask why we should have to suffer…

In Luke chapter 12, Jesus provides a roadmap that will help us to navigate through such times by providing us with clear direction on appropriate and inappropriate responses to financial crises. In light of our theme of stewardship for this month, I thought it would be helpful to explore these verses to help remind us of how now we should live.

One day Jesus encountered a man who interrupted his teaching to ask him to settle a dispute which he had with his firstborn brother. (Luke 12: 13-31). He insisted that Jesus order his older brother to give him his fair share of their father’s inheritance. According to Jewish Laws of Succession, this man was entitled to receive this. Little did this man realize that Jesus could see between the lines of this request: he wasn’t asking that Jesus decide on the merit of both claims, but that Jesus would make a decision that would favor him getting his share. I find it interesting that nowhere in this passage does it state that this man was actually wealthy – in fact it seems like he really needed (or at least wanted) his inheritance. In modern psychological terms, we could say this man had an ‘entitlement’ complex!

This encounter motivates Jesus to call this man’s bluff by telling a parable about a “rich fool”(Luke 12:16-21). In this story, we learn about a man who was consumed by greed. Already having an abundance of crops to take care of all of his needs, he tore down his barns to build larger ones in order to be able to horde as much grain as he could for himself. This man couldn’t see beyond himself. This man uses the word ‘my’ four times and ‘I’ eight times in this one parable! He had an aggressive, ingrained self-centeredness! His life was defined by what he had (or more appropriately, what he still wanted to get!). Unfortunately, his inability to see beyond himself made him myopic to seeing beyond this world. God looks at this man and says, “Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods – who gets it?” (v. 20, MSG). Obviously the rich man ‘didn’t get it’ – literally and figuratively! Gary Inrig says that, “To be a fool in God’s eyes is to have missed the point in life.” (Inrig, 1991) Eugene Peterson translates, “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.” (v. 21)

How easily we can find ourselves trapped in the same foolish myopia – not being able to see beyond ourselves. What really scares me about this passage is that greed is not conditional upon the amount of money we actually have – this is a state of the heart… In other words, we are all susceptible to the disease of entitlement.

Thank goodness, the story doesn’t end here. I can imagine Jesus shifting his attention from this greedy brother and gazing into the eyes of his disciples. He says, “Therefore…” In other words, he directs his attention to those who have been following Jesus for some time. “Therefore” means that this entitled attitude of heart is not exclusive to rich farmers and disgruntled siblings, but can also imprison those of us who are in ministry. “Therefore” (v.22), also means Jesus is saying, “Hey everybody! PAY ATTENTION, because the solution to the problem I have outlined is hinged in what I am about to say”:

"Don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more.

"Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can't even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don't fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?

"What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.” (Luke 12: 22-30, MSG)

Snap! I don’t know about you, but reading these words of Jesus is like putting on a pair of glasses and seeing reality for the first time! Sure, I’m not going to be able to pick up a latte from the Italian cafĂ© that just closed (right by Bed, Bath and Beyond at the Palisades Mall…), and we could possibly feel the fury of an ‘Old Testament-like economic crisis,’ but how am I going to live and who am I going to focus my attention on? Myself, or others? My latte, or my Lord? I think when we weigh things up in the light of eternity and the mission God has invited to participate in, worry seems a bit overrated! As the saying goes, “Worry is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

John Wesley understood this. He said, “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” As a student in Oxford, he received £30 per week. Of this, he lived on £28 and gave away £2. As he made more per year (60, 90, 120), he continued to live on £28 a year and gave away the rest. He stated, “I have two silver tea spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate [Old English = possessions] which I have at present; and I shall not buy any more, while so many around me want bread.”

My Mom also understood this. When I was a child, my family lived in Zimbabwe. This was before e-mail and internet – in fact, people still sent packages on ships rather than airplanes… (I know, I’m giving away my age!) God had called my parents to serve as missionaries in Africa and He had assured them that He would supply all their needs – particularly caring for their family of five.

One day, my Mom opened the cupboards to discover that there wasn’t a single bit of food left in the house (this was a country that when there were peanut shortages would use flying ants – yes, flying ants – as a substitute in their chocolate bars!). My parents had no money to buy groceries. We went to school that day and my Mom and Dad spent the morning in prayer. That afternoon, they went to the post office and discovered that there was a package that was sent from some Home League ladies in Canada who six months earlier had sensed the Lord tell them to buy six boxes of Macaroni & Cheese and send them to missionaries serving in Zimbabwe… I have never tasted a better meal than the manna we ate that day! That day, Jesus filled our barn with exactly what we needed for that day.

Jesus concludes his talk by stating, “But seek his kingdom, and all these things will be given to you.” (v.31)

In these days of crisis, let’s throw off the spirit of entitlement. Let’s abandon the spirit of me-first. Let’s surrender our meager attempt to control the future and entrust it to our loving Father who supplies all our needs. In the midst of this storm, the world needs a Salvation Army that will place others before self and Christ before a culture of greed. Let’s throw ourselves into the arms of a God who tells us not to worry about grain, takes care of ravens and even occasionally sends us a box of Mac & Cheese.

Not a shadow can rise
Not a cloud in the skies
But his smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt nor a fear,
Not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Song 397 SASB

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Delinquent Miracle - The Spark that Set The Salvation Army on Fire in America, 1879

Over this past year, I have been busy researching the historical development of children’s and youth work in The Salvation Army in the United States. This has been an incredibly exciting journey – and one which continues daily to amaze me as I realize what a rich, vibrant history we have. So often, children are easily crowded out of our memory. In recent years, there has been a movement of historians and theologians who have sought to rediscover the voice of children – identifying their significant place in history. This is true of The Salvation Army, for without our ministries to children’s and youth, we would probably cease to be all that makes us The Salvation Army.

I would suggest that without children, The Salvation Army might never have succeeded in coming to the United States. In Dr. Ed McKinley’s book, Marching to Glory (1980), he provides an account of the ministry of the seventeen year-old, Eliza Shirley and her family – who are considered the pioneers of the Army in America. The Shirley’s came to Philadelphia in 1879 with a precondition from General William Booth that he would only officially launch the work in America if the Shirley’s mission “…was a success” (McKinley, 5).

Knowing that the mission of the Army was to “Go for souls and go for the worst,” they immediately set up a ‘Salvation Factory’ in one of the poorest neighborhoods they could find. They visited saloons and preached on perilous street corners, but were met with a spirit of apathy and failure. McKinley comments, “Penniless, friendless, and discouraged, they prayed for some sign from the Heavenly Commander that He favored their dying crusade, and would yet bless it” (McKinley, 7f.). That blessing would come – through a most unconventional means!

Delinquent. The term originated in the 15th century and continues to be a word used to highlight those who break the law. During the 19th century, the industrial revolution helped to churn out juvenile delinquents. In 1849, the New York City Chief of Police reported on “the constantly increasing number of vagrant, idle and vicious children,” whose numbers, he claimed were, “almost incredible” (Cunningham, 145). Children would not be tried separate from adults until 1899 (Cunningham, 151). Children would have to wait until 1906 before the Playground Association of America would be formed to provide organized play activities for urban children (Zelizer, 34). One wonders whether these kids were simply depraved hooligans or whether they were good children who happened to be the byproducts of an abusive, negligent, high-risk environment that provided the fertile ground for delinquent behavior.

The Lord would answer the Shirley’s prayer for a miracle through a gang of ‘delinquent’ boys who chose to entertain themselves by setting fire to a barrel of tar. McKinley elaborates:

…the horse-drawn fire engines had arrived promptly. Fire was a desperate threat in the crowded, wooden, gas-lit cities of the late nineteenth century; fear, along with the self-important clang and bustle of fire engines, always drew large crowds to fires. The Shirleys were certain the fire was providential, and threw themselves on the startled crowd with thankful hearts, singing, “Traveler, whither art thou going, Heedless of the clouds that form?!” (McKinley, 8)

That day, a delinquent act by a group of ruffian children became a delinquent miracle that helped to spark a literal flame that sparked a more profound spiritual flame that blazed a path for an array of ministries that would seek to reclaim hundreds of thousands of children throughout America for the next one hundred and thirty years – and continues to do so today. Without these children, the Shirley’s mission might never have been successful. Without these boys, William Booth might never have officially launched The Salvation Army one year later.

Today, boys just like these young men have an opportunity to enter through the doors of Salvation Army Corps and Community Centers. The Salvation Army provides a safe space where all of their needs: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, moral – and most importantly, spiritual; can be met. It is our prayer that at Railton School for Youth Worker Training, that we raise of a generation of young leaders who will be ready to welcome such children; and be committed to developing a reclaiming environment where new delinquent miracles can spark opportunities to blaze a trail into the lives of this next generation.


· Cunningham, Hugh. Children and childhood in Western society since 1500. Essex, England: Longman, 1995.

· McKinley, Edward H. Marching to glory: The history of The Salvation Army in the United States of America, 1880-1980. San Francisco:Harper & Row, 1980/1992.
Zelizer, Viviana A. Pricing the priceless child: The changing social value of children. NY: Basic Books, 1981.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Phoebe Palmer on The Children

This is one of the most beautiful poems that I have read on children's work. It was written by Phoebe Palmer - Catherine Booth's inspiration and mentor for ministry.

The historian Norman Murdoch has written in "The Origins of The Salvation Army" about the significant influence of Palmer not only upon the founders of the Army, but in forming the evangelical DNA of the movement. Palmer - a staunch advocate of the Holiness Doctrine - not only inspired The Salvation Army in terms of women in ministry, but also regarding slum work (The Five Points Mission), temperance, and abolition (I would also add Sunday School). I am beginning to sense that this movement's perspective on children at-risk in slum communities
must have had an impact on the Booth's.

Read this poem from The Old Brewery and the New Mission House at The Five Points, published in 1854 (around the same time as the events portrayed in the film,
The Gangs of New York:

‘Who bids for the little children
body and soul and brain;
Who bids for the little children –
Young and without stain’?
‘I bid,’ said Beggary, howling,
‘I’ll buy them one and all,
I’ll teach them a thousand lessons –
To lie, to skulk, to crawl.’

‘And I’ll bid higher and higher,’
said Crime, with wolfish grin,
‘For I love to lead the children
through the pleasant paths of sin.
They shall swarm in the streets to pilfer,
They shall plague the broad highway,
Till they grow too old to pity,
And ripe for the law to slay.’

‘Oh shame!’ said true Religion,
‘Oh, shame that this should be
I’ll take the little children –
I”ll take them all to me
I’ll raise them up with kindness
From the mire in which they’ve trod,
I’ll teach them words of blessing,
I’ll lead them all to God.’

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Emma Booth Tucker on Salvation Army Children's and Youth Work

This is a portion out of Frederick Booth-Tucker's biography of his wife (and daughter of William and Catherine Booth), Emma 'The Consul" Booth Tucker:

"Amid all our plans and schemes for the ingathering of the parents, Christ pleads on behalf of the children, "Let them come! Forbid them not! Unto Me!" Not merely within earshot of the tidings of His life and death; not merely within range of a system of theories, or ceremonies, or dogmas, but unto Him - the living, personal, saving Christ, who can rectify the young heart as well as the older one, and who inspired the child Jeremiah as well as the veteran Moses.

"The Salvation Army takes its stand there, and it will be increasingly powerful and increasingly great in so far as it legislates and labors for the rising generation; in so far as it takes to them, and brings to bear upon them the vitalizing, renovating and uplifting forces of a living Salvation.

"Therefore, let us gird ourselves afresh for battle, strong in the conviction that our work will fail to win the Master's approval, and be utterly inadequate to the needs of the hour, unless our efforts result in bringing the children unto Him; unless genuine conversion is the outcome. Let us remember that the Holy Spirit is pledged to work with us, to interpret our words, to carry home out teachings, and to answer our prayers. The Savior of the lambs knows how to carry them in His bosom; knows how to pierce the little heart with the shaft of His love; knows hot to woo even the stripling to the hidden glory and honor of Calvary-loss and Calvary-triumph.

"Children can be saved! Thousands of changed hearts, evidenced by revolutionized lives, are bearing testimony to this fact all over the world to-day; and in many instances, even further miracles of grace are wrought by the child-saint becoming the child-Soldier, and Salvation and inspiration for the Salvation of others becomes the growing ambition of the Christ-captured disciple.

"It has often been marvelous in my own eyes to recognize the early impress of the Spirit's work. Even in babies of two and three years of age I have seen with wonder and praise that Jesus has made His presence unmistakably realized.

"I remember the case of a baby girl not two years old, who would only go to sleep with her little hands placed through the bars of her cot, "Holding Desus," as she expressed it. And again, another who, after any little childish wrong or forgetfulness, would never rest content with the pardon and kiss of those around, but must run to the window, and gazing up into the skies, with simple baby lispings, wouldas forgiveness from the great Parent Heart to whom neither the old not the young appeal in vain."

Her own experience was often referred to by her in after life as an encouragement to Christian parents to seek the definite conversion of their children by all means within their reach, and never to despair of its possibility.

At the age of seven she was converted, but the tenderness of her conscience made her at times doubt the reality of the change, because occasionally she still gave way to temper. So she determined to definitely settle her doubts, and came forward in a Meeting and freshly re-surrendered herself to God at the age of eleven.

Living in the warm atmosphere of Consecration and active service created by her parents during these early years, Emma had, of course, a great advantage enjoyed by few children, and from her youngest years the child spirit seemed readily to absorb the greatest influences that surrounded her.

Realizing how few children had enjoyed the special privileges that had fallen to her lot, she was tireless in her subsequent efforts to urge her fellow-Officers to make this a leading feature of their work.

Booth-Tucker, Frederick. The Consul: A Memoir of Emma Moss Booth-Tucker. King's Cross, London: Salvationist Publishing and Supplies, pp.6-7

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Wesleyan Influence on the Rights of Children

I just discovered that many consider the Methodist Wesleyan, Hannah More (contemporary of John Wesley, William Wilberforce and Robert Raikes), one of the modern founders of Sunday School), to be the first person recorded on speaking about the rights of children and youth:

"The rights of man have been discussed till we are somewhat wearied with the discussion... To these have been opposed, as the next stage in the process of illumination, the rights of women. It follows, according to the natural progression of human things, that the next influx of that irradiation which our enlighteners are pouring in upon us, will illuminate the world with grave descants on the rights of youth, the rights of children, and the rights of babies." 

Hannah More quoted in Steven J. Novak, The Rights of Youth: American Colleges and Student Revolt, 1798-1815. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977.

Reclaiming Children's Ministry

I have just come off of a non-stop, action-packed, three months of touring around the Territory with our Railton students, teaching cadets YP Corps Programming, teaching leadership and theory classes with our Railton students, setting up apprenticeship plans, and spending a great amount of time (my peace in the midst of the storm) with my amazing wife and daughters. Man, I love what I get to do!

It has been amazing to see the Lord move in mighty ways through our students as they have been out on the field. In Myers-Briggs personality tests, I rate as a high 'T' - processing things firstly through my brain rather than my heart, but I have been consistently in tears as I have seen the passion, knowledge and skill grow in our budding youth workers - preaching their hearts out, kneeling with teens leading them to Christ at the Mercy Seat, engaging in deep conversations with children... These things touch my heart in such a deep, profound way.

In the midst of this all, the Lord has been whispering to me about a quiet revolution taking place in our movement - revolution in our understanding of children's ministry.

This revolution is not so much about new techniques or magnetic personalities, it's more about the heart of God consuming a group of men and women who have consecrated themselves to reclaiming children and youth for Christ. I think it's also about a group of people who have begun to recognize the dynamic heritage of children's and youth work that we have in The Salvation Army - and who wish to continue to be faithful to this incredible tradition of making kids a top priority in our local Corps and Community Centers.

In the midst of all of this madness, I have been reading my Bible looking out specifically for a clear understanding of a biblical view of ministry to children and youth. I have also been digging through a variety of historical books (many of these references you can see on this blog). I am beginning to understand that there are a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us in this ministry. This is so incredibly exciting! 

I believe that in order to reclaim children and youth for Christ, that one must reclaim children's and youth ministry - and to reclaim children's and youth ministry means that one must reclaim leaders of children's and youth work... When I think about our students who will be transitioning to apprenticeship in two short weeks, and the new students who will be joining our school in September, my heart is "strangely warmed" when I consider the possibility of what will happen in the next few years as these young leaders bud and bloom in local Corps and Community Centers around our Territory and the world! I can't wait to see!

John Wesley has said, "Give me one hundred men who love only God with all their heart and hate only sin with all their heart, and we will shake the gates of hell and bring in the kingdom of God in one generation."

Do this, Lord, in my generation!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

General Shaw Clifton - "Children"

I was truly blessed the other day when I saw that the seventh Pastoral Letter from General Shaw Clifton, the current General of The Salvation Army is entitled, "Children." I pray that as you read it, that you would be as challenged as I was - and that each one of us would be moved to action - giving children 10 000 times more attention!


Dear Fellow Salvationists,

In this seventh Pastoral Letter I feel led to think aloud with you about the children of the Army and the children of the world. In doing so I send you warm greetings from London where Spring has come early and is now in full bloom. God's handiwork is matchless. So is God's love, a love that extends in a very special way to embrace our children and children everywhere.

We know from the words and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ that there is a special place for children in the heart of God. That is why we too as individuals and as an Army must also hold the children in high esteem and look to their wellbeing at all times. Jesus had harsh words for any person harming a child. Also he made time and space for children, letting them come to him even when those around him tried to prevent it. He prioritised the children.

We must do so too. General William Booth visited India twice and published a clear-headed strategy for winning India for Christ. A key part of the strategy addressed our attitude to the children of India. Booth said that for India to be won for Christ we must pay, not just 1,000 times more attention to the children than to the adults, but 10,000 times more attention! This was a bold statement but it applies still today and not only to India. It would break the Founder's heart to visit corps that have no work for children and where throughout a whole Sunday you will not meet a single child. What a tragedy!

Our Junior Soldiers are infinitely precious. Every child is a gem for Christ. A child who loves the Lord with a simple childlike heart can be used by God in turn to win the parents for the Kingdom. Also, the children are our role-models in simplicity and trust, just as we are their role-models in loving and caring for one another. As I write I offer up an earnest prayer for all who teach the children of the Army, for theirs is a very great and privileged responsibility.

In today's world we must protect the children from all kinds of evil and harm: impure literature, the temptations of the internet, drugs and alcohol, those who would prey upon them seeking to damage and abuse them, materialism, low self-esteem, peer pressures of every kind, premature sexualisation - the list could go on and on. Every Army centre in the world is expected to have clear and effective child protection procedures in place. These procedures are not an optional extra.

Let us take a step back and ask ourselves if we are fulfilling our duties to the children within our influence. Do they sense that we respect them? Are we supportive of their family life? Do we teach them, at a suitable age, about the importance of marriage and fidelity? Do we have imaginative, effective programmes for them? Is our teaching for the children sound and true? Are we settling merely for entertaining them or are we intentional about leading them to Christ?

I know that the Lord speaks into the lives of children because he spoke to me when I was only 12 years old. He told me what he wanted from me for the rest of my life. No one else knew what he had said to me, until I was ready to share it. So today this still happens and we who are adults have no idea what God is whispering into the souls of our children. For this reason we must respect them as tender plants growing up for Christ to do his holy will in the world.

God bless the children! Thank you for looking after the children! They are beyond price in the eyes of their Creator.

This comes to you all with my strong love in Jesus Christ and my ceaseless encouragement in the great Salvation War.

I commit you to the perfect love of Christ.

Shaw Clifton
April 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Metaphors of Children's & Youth Work: The Uniqueness of the Dominant Metaphor in The Salvation Army

A while ago, I picked up the book, Children matter: Celebrating their place in the church, family, and community by Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse and Linda Cannell. I picked it up because Beth Posterski was once one of my professors back when I attended Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University). I have always enjoyed the experience and depth of wisdom which Dr. Posterski shared in class - and so I was anxious to read about her perspective on children's ministry. After reading through this book, I can say that I was not disappointed - in fact, I found myself viewing children's and youth work in a whole new light.

One of the most profound perspectives came early in the book in their first chapter, 'Metaphors Shape Ministry.' They state, "A metaphor is simply a literary device using analogy or comparison that affects our perception of reality." (p.4) They argue that within children's work, there are micro-metaphors which describe the role of the learner, the teacher and the curriculum; and that these are complimented with 'macrometaphors' - which are "the dominant metaphor [that] tend to become the ministry model." (p.10) 

The macrometaphors identified in their book include:

1. The School Model
2. The Gold Star/Win a Prize Model
3. The Carnival Model
4. The Pilgrim's Journey Model
5. The Dance With God Model

In contemplating these models of children's ministry, I found myself recognizing in my own ministry practice how I have found myself embracing several of these models - often for the strengths... but have recognized the accompanying weaknesses. I would like to share my perspective on each of these models while proposing a sixth model which is unique to The Salvation Army - The Junior Army Model.

1. The School Model
There have been times where I have approached children's and youth programs like a school. There are some benefits to this, such as investing in the development of a knowledge of who God is and what it means to serve him in this world. I believe that it is very easy to slip into an anti-intellectual form of children's work which says, "these are just kids - they don't have an ability to comprehend who God is or truth that can apply to their lives." I find that this opinion is both condescending and underestimates the cognitive ability of our kids.

From the earliest of days, Sharon and I committed to communicating theological truth to our girls - and they have been able to both understand and reinterpret these ideas - often in ways that I had never thought of as adults. I don't think it's coincidental that Jesus challenged adults to follow the lead of our children. As Paul iterates in 1 Corinthians 1 & 2, the most profound truth cannot be comprehended by those whom the world considers wise because it is perceived as foolish... Our children do have the ability to wrestle with such ideas - and we should never underestimate their ability to do so. I recently picked up a book called Conversations with Poppi about God written by Princeton theologian Robert Jenson and his granddaughter. It's an amazing testimony to the ability of our children to engage in deep theological dialogue.

With this being said, the metaphor of education can often mean that we apply negative models of education to our children's and youth work. The famous South American educator, Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, discusses the difference between a 'banking method' of learning and 'critical pedagogy.' Often in children's and youth ministry, our education metaphor slips into a skill-and-drill mode - simply opening up kids brains and pouring in rote knowledge that we expect them to parrot back to us in robotic style. Often this isn't intended, but due to lack of time, lack of planning or a lack of creativity, we resort to such modes.

This ministry style - while it might appear effective (kids can quote scripture, doctrines, score high in 'Bible drills,' etc.), this can easily dampen the spirit of wonder that should be fanned into flame in our children and youth - something which it seems that most of us lose as we grow-up, yet is an essential quality that is required for spiritual growth. Often we give up the opportunity for our kids to learn how to think about what it means to be a Christian in order teach them what to think. Without a doubt, we do need to speak truth into our kids lives, but if all that we do rote Christian education, we are doing a great disservice to our kids. Today's market-driven culture is targeting and exploiting our kids at an unprecedented rate (for more on this, see Kinderculture, Cool Hunting,  The Great Tween Buying Machine). If we don't cultivate theologically- and ethically- critical thinking skills that are going to equip our kids with the ability to navigate their faith and ethics through the labyrinth of hyper-commercial culture, all the Bible lessons and memory verses will eventually succumb to the pressure to conform to the lure of the pied piper.  

My prayer is that we would deepen our kids ministries beyond simple fun environments that uncritically mimic whatever is the latest gimmick produced by Nickelodeon or Disney. That means, to some extent the educational model remains critical - as long as the curriculum and the teachers are driven by a Christocentric practical theology and a critical faith pedagogy that grounds our kids faith, but also prepares them for living our a vibrant missional lifestyle in today's kids' culture.

2. Gold Star/Win a Prize Model

The second model that is presented is the 'Gold Star/Win a Prize Model. We all know about this methodology... and I have to admit, this approach motivated me as a kid - and even as an adult Sunday School teacher... For some reason, those cheap, little gold stars seem to get all the competitive juices flowing. Even recently, I have joined Weight Watchers that gives little stars for every 5 pounds lost. For some reason, I find myself suckered into working for those stars - even when I could simply go down to the store and buy them myself! 

It seems that when an incentive is put before us like a carrot dangling from a string, this creates a motivation that fuels commitment, efficacy and hard work. So why not utilize this in children's ministry? A couple of years ago, I watched a documentary from Pastor Bill Wilson of Metro Ministries who says that he will do anything that is morally alright to bring a child under the influence of the gospel. During the documentary, we watched kids entering into a glass box filled with $1.00 bills who would have thirty seconds to grab as much money as they could. As I watched this documentary, I reacted with a mixture of both horror and curiosity. Was this ethically right? Can you buy kids into the kingdom? Is this sustainable? All of these are questions which are amplified and accelerated when looking at a mega-model of children's ministry as represented with Metro Ministries, but are the same types of questions which should be asked when we hand out lollipops, stickers and less glamorous prizes.

In one of the introductory psychology classes I took in college, I learned about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. As parents, my professor said, we often use rewards to motivate positive behavior in our kids - so a kid at a grocery store might get a candy bar for behaving or a trip to Chuck-E-Cheese for scoring well on their report card. The problem, he mentioned, that as a child becomes conditioned to receiving these types of rewards, they become what motivates the child to succeed. Suddenly a Hershey bar or a pizza party won't produce the same desired result, which requires a more significant form of motivation. By high school, parents are buying cars and promising trips to Mexico for a teen to study. What he was saying was that short-term solutions create long-term problems. An increase in external stimuli naturally decreases internal motivation.

What are the implications for children's ministry? Does this mean that we have to produce bigger events? Larger prizes? Greater spectacles? At what point does this cross the line? At what point does this become counter-productive? At what point does this hold a child back from internalizing their faith?

I must clarify at this point, that at Railton School we have continued to visit Metro Ministries annually - for a Friday afternoon sidewalk Sunday School and their Saturday extravaganzas in Brooklyn. I deeply respect their commitment to sharing the gospel to kids at risk - and they are making a significant impact in the greater New York community. Along with this, their methodology is far more complex than candy bars and big events - this does not do justice to their overarching missional strategy - which is far more complex. I have learned so much from their ministry and am blessed by my brothers and sisters do for the kingdom of God  - and I pray that God continues to use them in mighty ways.

I do believe that the 'gold stars' methodology does have merit, but should be utilized carefully and strategically. It cannot be the dominant strategy. In the earliest days of Salvation Army children's work, they wrestled with this same issue. They would give out books to award kids for coming to Sunday School/Company meetings. Their Life-Saving (now Adventure Corps, Girl Guards) programs award badges for different merits earned. I think these types of strategies have their place and can be used to help to stimulate motivation to develop their faith, life skills, etc. I liken it to adding spice to food - it's about the balance. A little bit enhances a dish, but too much spoils what's been made. External rewards have their place, but this cannot be the main course of what we serve in ministry.

3. The Carnival Model

When reading Children Matter, this model hit me square between the eyes... because I know that I have uncritically embraced this approach without thinking through the extent of the consequence of this being the dominant metaphor in ministry. 

As I have mentioned already, we live in such a commercial culture. A trip to your local shopping mall's kids toy store, a half-an-hour viewing kids TV or a surf through kid-centric websites like Club Penguin and Webkinz will illustrate that kids eternally live in a candy-coated world. I once heard a comedian discussing how when they were a kid, playgrounds were metal (that heated up to searing temperatures in summertime!) and cement (that weren't fun at all to come crashing down on!). Today, playgrounds have been 'nerf-proofed' - where everything is plasticized, cushioned and theme-driven. If a kid falls down, they simply bounce right back up! I know that this is obviously hyperbole, but the romanticized, garden-like, protected, sanitized world we have constructed for kids has been taken to a whole new level - it's Jean-Jacques Rousseau on speed! 

French sociologist, Jean Baudrillard would call this a 'hyperreality' - a world that is more real than the world that really is real (think about it...). Think about Disneyworld, "the happiest place on earth." Think about McDonald's, wherever an individual goes in the world, they never need to conform to a different culture because a "happy meal" can be accessed for a minimal price. How does this relate to the concept of the kingdom of God? 

I think that it is important for us to recognize that our faith and theology both exists and develops in context. With that being said, our contextualized theologies do require an engagement with Scripture, historical tradition, reason and the experiences of other believers from around the world.  Such dialogue will help to highlight blind-spots in our contemporary missio-ecclessial expression and identify ways in which we must choose differently to those around us. Without such dialogue, we enter into the very dangerous ground.

It is my fear that those of us living in modern North American culture have sought to build our churches and ministries upon the shaky ground of what has been called the 'society of the spectacle.' As the biblical story goes, this foolish decision can ultimately compromise the integrity of what is being built... My fear is that too often our children's ministries are so enamored with being relevant, fun and enticing that we find ourselves simply amusing kids on their way to Hell.

Dick Staub in The Culturally Saavy Christian says that, "The word amusement means 'to entertain or occupy in a manner; to stir with pleasing or mirthful emotions,' but if you read the word amuse as a ('not') and muse ('to think'), you could define it as 'to be absent in mind' " (p.7f). Neil Postman in the early 1980s warned that we were 'Amusing Ourselves to Death.' 
Does this mean that I need to pack away my Batman costume (don't even ask...) and embrace an 18th century puritanical posture in which we suck every ounce of joy, laughter, wonder and culture from our ministry to children and youth? Of course not! I believe that eating blue cotton candy at kids carnivals and running through big inflatables (inducing heart attacks!) are at the heart of kingdom life. A solution to carnival-centric children's work is not to circle the wagons and beat off SpongeBob and Patrick. It's not striking to ban High School Musical from our churches (though part of me wishes it was!), but about ensuring that we are not simply enjoying the culture of childhood, but that we cultivate the spiritual pallet of our kids so that they will be able to "taste and see that the Lord is good."

I think that this is why it is important to integrate these models - there is almost a tension between the educational model and the carnival model which requires balance. Maybe this is the answer to this challenge... To clarify, this isn't a bid for faith-based 'edutainment,' but I would argue that learning and growing in the faith is fun and should demand our ultimate creativity and commitment.

I think the challenge of creating a stimulating learning environment that draws kids into the experience of learning takes a lot of time, effort and imagination. Imaginative learning is modeled most profoundly by Jesus - think about it: storms and fish, seeds and trees, captivating stories, shared experiences... all of these formed the canvas upon which he taught his followers what it meant to be His disciple. However, we think that sitting around a circle, in a cold room with an adult speaking in the vernacular of another generation to be a stimulating environment? As Paul says in Romans, "By no means!" 

A couple of years ago, my father-in-law, who is the Territorial Commander for The Salvation Army in the Southern African Territory, visited Mozambique for a Youth Councils. Mozambique is one of the most impoverished nations in Africa and the ministry of The Salvation Army began recently within the past couple of decades. They don't have the opportunity to download creative ideas from the internet, they can't go and buy a program-in-a-can from the local Christian bookstore, but utilizing the resources available to them (mud, wood, paint, etc.), they built one of the most amazing backdrops and sets for this event and attracted hundreds of youth to come out to this event! Now that's commitment, that's imagination... that's what I'm talking about. How committed are we to communicating the gospel and discipling our children and youth? How much effort are we willing to put in? Is it possible that we have stunted our imaginations by simply purchasing our plans? 
Let's recognize the dangers of the carnival model, but let's also seriously commit to creating an creative environment conducive to effective gospel transformation.

4. The Pilgrim Model

In our world, we love stories of sojourners on a mission. Whether this be classic stories like Pilgrim's Progress, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, we are interested in the journey - the process of becoming or discovering something more... The image of the Emmaus Road has become an image or metaphor of discipleship - of Jesus traveling on a road with two believers wrestling with the possibility of the resurrection - only to discover that He has been traveling with them. 

In many ways, our children are on a journey - a faith journey. As they traverse through stages of cognitive, moral, emotional, physical development, so too does their understanding of who God is, what He does, how He engages with this world... In the gospels, we often read of Jesus invitation to discipleship as an invitation to follow Him. I think similarly, this metaphor or model seeks to define children's and youth work as a path discovering more about knowing God and His redemptive plan. The image of 'guide' or 'fellow traveller' replaces that of teacher. While on the path of discipleship, the child learns how to navigate through the treacherous paths, climbs mountains, crosses valleys, they come to forks-in-the-road where they have to make decisions... All of these help to train our children how to read their spiritual compass and map, how to make wise decisions, how to survive in the wild, etc.

I think that this is an important metaphor to think about. For those living in more urban settings, it might be better to think of this journey like learning to navigate a subway route!

More to follow shortly...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Out of the Ashes: The Rise of the New Self - A Call to Holiness

This morning, I was blessed to be able to sit in chapel under the ministry of my good friend, Captain Young Kim. I arrived a little bit late as my daughter is home today with a flu bug.

As I walked into the chapel, the worship team was singing an absolutely beautiful song, "Lord have mercy." As I walked through the doors, it became apparent that there was solemn awareness of the transcendence of God as cadets, faculty and students didn't simply sing these words, but cried them to the Lord. Shouts of "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" echoed through the chamber. There was something unusual happening.

After a beautiful time of worship and prayer, Young preached a wonderful sermon focusing on the theme of Ash Wednesday. He delved into the the reasons why this day is so important in the church calendar - particularly as this is a day in which we stop to ponder our humanity.

It dawned on me as he spoke, that we have become a culture in which there is great temptation to construct gods in our own image. In many ways, we construct mirrors that are able to reflect back to us who we ultimately worship... it seems what we worship the most is ourselves. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is an individual, egocentric quest in which we seek to place our will above others. What are the outcomes of this focus? Narcissism, entitlement, pride, self-absorption - let alone innoculation from hearing the suffering cries of 'the other,' the marginalized... in many ways, those who are the victims of our own self-indulgence.

Ash Wedensday is a day when we are called to pause and to reflect on the fact that we are dust - that we are ash. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." A life that is void of the breath of God is nothing more than an exercise in hopelessness... and yet I often find myself on the course of pursuing such vain goals.

However, dust is also a symbol in Scripture of humility, repentance and malleability. Young reminded us that ashes in Hebraic culture were used to express grief and humility; that it was a symbol of repentance from pride; and that it is dust or ash which forms the base of clay - which, when surrendered to the potter's hand can be molded and shaped into new possibilities.

The German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann in his theology of hope, discusses the concept of 'creatio ex nihilo' - that God 'created out of nothingness' - that He breathed meaning and life into dust and ash to create us. Similarly, if we are willing to tear down our idols of self - what the apostle Paul referred to as 'the old self' or 'the flesh' (i.e., 'ash and dust') - then out of the ashes can emerge 'a new self' - a self that considers others first, that places Christ's will above ours...

I can't help but think this morning of the image of a phoenix - that God would have me on this Ash Wednesday surrender the dust and ash of my life to His sacred will - that every facet of my being would be humbled, forgiven, molded and formed into whatever God would have me be - that the Holy Spirit would breathe His breath into me. This act of complete consecration is the essence of holiness - the surrendering of self over to God's sacred will. Holiness, then could be described as the ashes of self-sacrifice being reforged into a new self that has reformed purpose and possibility - as determined by the will of God.

This is my prayer this ash Wednesday:

"Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee."

Thank you, Young, for being a vessel through which the Spirit spoke to me today.