Friday, 27 February 2015

The Gathering

On Wednesday and Thursday this week The Salvation Army made its debut at the biggest event in Scotland’s third sector calendar. We had a stand at The Gathering - a free annual event organised by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).

Thousands of people gathered in Glasgow over the two days - and Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Roberts, Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland, said it will be a great chance for The Salvation Army to showcase all areas of its work.

Lt-Col Roberts said: "We are pleased to have our first ever stand at The Gathering and a new platform to promote our work.

"Over the two days we'll have staff from all areas of The Army, including our Homelessness Services Unit, Older People's Service and trading company, speak to visitors about our work.

We've already had a lot of people at our stand and many of them have been wishing us a happy 150th birthday."

Shelley Jones, a volunteer from Glasgow, said it was great to have The Salvation Army at The Gathering.

She said: "I didn't realise the scope of The Salvation Army in Scotland. It's massive.

I always knew it did good work but from speaking to its representatives today, I was really impressed by just how good that work is".

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

'Fit for Mission' Corps - S


This is the last of my blog pieces using the letters of the word ‘corps’ to spell out what makes a Salvation Army corps (church) fit for mission. ‘S’ is for ‘Spiritual’.

In this series we’ve already thought that a corps must be outward looking. If so, then being deeply spiritual might appear to be too self-indulgent and other-worldly. After all, we might become too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good! But of course, being spiritual is fundamental to our relationship with God – and when we think of mission, and of the society which we are called to reach, it’s clear that being spiritual is actually a missionary necessity. That’s because there is a lot of spirituality out there with which we need to engage.

Dr Michael Voas claims that around a third of the population have something called ‘fuzzy faith’. He says, ‘Despite the decline in both believing and belonging, residual involvement is considerable. Many people remain interested in church weddings and funerals, Christmas services and local festivals. They believe in “something out there”, pay at least lip service to Christian values, and may identify with a denomination. They are neither regular church-goers nor self-consciously non-religious: what they show is fuzzy faith.’

Then there’s prayer. According to a Tear Fund survey, 42% of adults in the UK say they pray and one third say ‘there is a God who watches over me and answers my prayer’. And in a recent study of 9,000 people born in 1970, only 28% said they were not religious. This is, as the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said, ‘a society haunted by religion and not clear on what to do about it’.

The question for us is, ‘are we clear on what to do about it’? One answer seems to be that we need more spirituality. If someone came to your corps seeking to explore faith, would they find a place of spiritual depth or of spiritual shallowness? Many people avoid the church because they see themselves as spiritual but not religious – and what they see in the church is religion but not spirituality! To engage with spiritual seekers we need to be spiritual corps – places of wholehearted discipleship and passionate spirituality. This means deepening our relationship with God and taking faith seriously enough to allow it to inform and influence our lives.

In this series of blog pieces we’ve discovered that, to be fit for mission in the twenty-first century, a corps needs to be Connected, Outward looking, Responsible, Participatory and Spiritual. Is yours?

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland

Thursday, 19 February 2015

'Fit for Mission Corps' - P


In the previous three blog pieces we thought about a fit-for-mission corps as:


The next letter in ‘corps’ is ‘P’, which stands for ‘Participatory’. What I mean by a participatory corps is one where as many people as possible are encouraged and enabled to take part.

Some years ago Colonel David Guy wrote: ‘In the early days of Methodism evangelism was regarded as the work of every member. With the passing of time it was no longer the responsibility of every member but of the class leader, minister and visiting preacher. Then of the minister only, then of the visiting revivalist, and then of nobody. God forbid that The Salvation Army should ever be compelled to admit a similar declension’. Unfortunately, in many places, we have to admit just that. And it’s not just in evangelism – participation of every kind is often lacking. What we need are corps where everyone has the maximum opportunity to get involved.

Being participatory is not just about every-member ministry. It’s also about participation in leadership and decision-making. Contemporary writers on leadership say that the current need is for participatory/collaborative leadership. That is a style of leadership where the decision-making process is shared.

Dr Tim Elmore traces the way leadership styles have evolved over the past fifty years.[1] In the 1950s the ‘military commander’ style predominated. This was top-down leadership that demanded loyalty. By the late 1960s the new leadership image was the Chief Executive Officer who had to cast a vision and persuade people to follow it. In the 1980s the entrepreneurial style of leadership developed, characterised by innovation and creativity. By 1990s the leader was more often seen as a coach, ensuring that team members found a role which made best use of their strengths and skills. Elmore sees a new kind of leader as more appropriate for the twenty-first century. He calls this the poet/gardener leader. As a poet puts words to what others think and feel, so a poet-leader articulates the thoughts of the leadership team as they discern the leadings of the Spirit. And in the same way that gardeners cultivate the soil and create an environment where plants can grow, the gardener-leader develops, equips and empowers people.        

A participatory corps is one where the load is spread – where everyone is encouraged to use their gifts and where the leaders work, pray and talk together to discern God’s will. That’s a fit-for-mission corps!

 Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Give up and Own up

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This forty-day season leading up to Easter is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection and fasting. Though few people actually fast for Lent these days, many do give up something they enjoy.

Some churches hold an Ash Wednesday service where people have the mark of the cross made in ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance.  It’s a ceremony that recalls the ancient practice of putting on sackcloth and ashes to acknowledge sins and to show sorrow for them.

In day-to-day life, admitting we’ve made a mistake is not always an easy thing to do. Instead we protest that ‘it wasn’t my fault,’ and we look for someone else to blame. Blaming someone else is actually something that society encourages us to do. Only the other day I was handed a leaflet that asked: ‘Have you had an accident in the last eighteen months that wasn’t your fault?’ That’s just one symptom of the so-called ‘a blame-culture’. Of course, it’s not an entirely new thing – as long as there have been people, there have been people to blame!  As the old story goes: Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on!

Now there are times when people have a good case for blaming others. But we can’t always point the finger at someone else - sometimes we are at fault. We need to recognise that and take responsibility for our own actions – responsibility before others and before God.   

That, I think, is what Lent is about. Giving up something for Lent can be helpful, but it can also just become a re-run of our failed New Year’s resolutions. For Lent to be really meaningful we need to do more than ‘give up’ - we need to be honest enough to ‘own up’.

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland

Friday, 13 February 2015

'Fit for Mission Corps' - R


How can a Salvation Army corps be fit for mission? In these blog articles so far we’ve used the letters of the word ‘corps’ to think about being a ‘connected’ and an ‘outward-looking’ corps. The letter ‘R’ stands for ‘Responsible’.  

A Salvation Army corps (church) needs to take responsibility for its own vision, ministry and resources. Within the broad framework of Salvation Army strategy, every corps needs to take ownership of its mission. The Army’s structure might seem to inhibit responsibility if we view it simply as a command and control system, but that’s not how it should be. The key words are freedom and accountability – and these ought to encourage responsibility.

Of course there are issues where compliance to some form of regulation or guideline is needed – but when it comes to how a corps does mission there is a lot of scope for initiative, creativity and imagination. A corps shouldn’t wait for headquarters or anyone else to tell it how to reach its community. The corps is in the community and the community is the corps’ responsibility. Ideas from elsewhere can be helpful, but in the end it’s up to a corps to take an idea and run with it!

A corps is accountable to the wider Army for how it conducts its work. But its greatest accountability is to the Lord. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is often taken as a lesson to individuals to make sure they don’t waste the gifts God has given them. The lesson is bigger than that, however. It was the servants who took a risk with the master’s money who earned his commendation. This is a lesson for the corps about how much energy, commitment and thought it risks in its mission.

So, here’s another ‘r’ – ‘risk’. Being responsible and taking risks might sound like a contradiction! But actually God asks us to be adventurous, to be sacrificial and to take a risk in our service for him. This could mean all sorts of things: launching a new activity and/or abandoning an old one, spending money on new forms of outreach or an innovative community project, planting a new corps or relocating an existing one, and so on. Because we are accountable to him we dare not play safe with the gospel. We have a responsibility to take a risk!

Taking responsibility might be a daunting prospect, but we can be sure that when we step out in faith God’s resources are available to us. After all, responsibility is really only our response to his ability. 

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

'Fit for Mission Corps' - O


William Booth said a corps (Salvation Army church) is ‘a band of people united together to attack and Christianise an entire town or neighbourhood.’ That’s still a good description as long as we interpret it for the twenty-first century! In the previous article I used the first letter of the word ‘corps’ to say it needs to be ‘connected’. Now I’m using the second letter and thinking of the need to be ‘outward-looking’ if a corps is to be fit for mission.

Booth wrote: ‘When an officer receives an appointment from head-quarters, it is not contemplated that he shall deal merely with those who are already gathered within the walls of certain buildings, or with those who are already enrolled in our ranks, or with those who may be induced to come inside them; but it is intended that he shall be an Apostle of the Gospel to all those who live around’. You can’t get more outward-looking than that! But what does it mean for today?

  • Be focussed on the world out there.
That’s not to say that internal matters don’t matter, but that even these need to have an outward focus. For example, do our seating arrangements suit newcomers, is our use of terminology easily understood, is our weekly programme accessible? Not only that, but do we prepare our members to live out their faith at work and at home?

  • Be aware of the needs of our communities.
Do we know what the real issues are that people around us face? One of the characteristics of a healthy church (according to the Natural Church Development concept) is need-orientated evangelism. But before this can be effective we need to know the needs. Community surveys are an excellent way of finding out.

  • Be programmed to release not to restrict.
Do we expect our members to be busy in corps-based activities or can we allow them time to build relationships with people outside the corps? Having time to be a Christian friend or neighbour to someone is what really counts. And, as well as having activities in our buildings, how about encouraging our members to join other groups, such as a running club or a book club, so they can be a Christian influence there.  

  • Be open and available to the community.
We can be outward-looking by allowing our buildings to be used by community groups. Some may say this restricts what we can do with our own buildings, but this might be what God is calling us to do with our buildings – to make them a community asset and offer a ministry of hospitality.

These are just a few ways we can look out and reach out. It’s not easy to have such a commitment to those outside our walls, but it’s what The Salvation Army was created for.

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland

Monday, 9 February 2015

'Fit for Mission Corps' - C


 The Salvation Army in the UK is currently thinking about being Fit For Mission. This prompts the question 'What is a fit for mission corps?'  In this series of blog articles I’m going to use the letters C.O.R.P.S. to help us to answer this question.
The first word is ‘connected
In The Salvation Army our local churches are called ‘corps’. The word is from the Latin ‘corpus’, which means ‘body’. The dictionary defines a corps as ‘a body of troops for special service’ or ‘a body of persons engaged in the same activity’. That’s a good description of a congregation of Salvationists, but we need to be clear about what the special service or activity is!

Once upon a time you could walk into any Salvation Army corps and find almost exactly the same things. It was as if there was a blueprint that everyone had to follow. Nowadays a better image is of the fingerprint – each corps with its own individual identity. Of course there are similarities and there are ‘non-negotiables’, such as our doctrines and our basic mission purpose, but in many ways each corps is distinctive.

What makes a corps distinctive? According to Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, ‘Two things shape the church and its mission: its own inner dynamic and the world in which it finds itself’. Let’s look at these two things:

1.    The inner dynamic

The inner dynamic of a corps includes the gifts and abilities of its members. These are not random, but purposeful. If the Spirit ‘gives them to each one, just as he determines’ (1 Corinthians 12:11), then the gift-mix of a corps says something about the kind of ministry and mission that corps should have. The size of a corps is also part of its inner dynamic. A small corps is just as important as a large corps. It needn’t try to be a large corps in miniature – it should work according to its own dynamics in terms of leadership, worship-style and relationships. Similarly a large corps shouldn’t try and operate like a small or medium-sized corps. Its particular inner dynamics might mean, for example, that the corps officer is assisted by a pastoral team. So, don’t neglect the inner dynamic – be connected to it.  

2.    The world around

The life of a corps should also be influenced by the world around – not in the sense of adopting all the values of society, but in the way it responds to and serves local people. Although a corps sometimes needs to challenge the assumptions of its community (for example, where injustice exists) and must sometimes counter the prevailing mood (for example, by being a beacon of hope where there is the despair of unemployment or family breakdown), it should also reflect something of the community’s culture, aspirations and outlook. By connecting with its community the mission of a corps is more effective.

Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago says, ‘The local church is the hope of the world’. That’s only true if it’s connected with its inner dynamic and connected with its local community. 

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland

Monday, 2 February 2015


Lieut-Colonels Jayne and Jonathan Roberts

It's been just four months since we moved from London to Scotland to take up our new posts – Jayne in the East Scotland Divisional Headquarters as Divisional Director for Personnel and I in the Scotland Office as Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland.

Having never lived north of the border, we've enjoyed this time of getting to know new people and new places. As Salvation Army officers, moving house is not a novel experience! This time, however, there's been a new dimension. It's the first time we've moved without any of our children, Daniel (27), Sonia (24), Joanna (21), Rebecca (18). All of them are living and working or studying in the London area.

We met just over 30 years ago when we were both training to be Salvation Army officers. Jayne was commissioned a year before I was, so her first appointment was as a single officer at Crawley Corps (church), Sussex in 1985. A year later I took up my first appointment at Caterham in Surrey, where Jayne joined me when we were married later that year. Next we moved to Plumstead in South London, then Cwmbran in South Wales before our final corps appointment (so far!) at Cardiff Canton. Corps leadership is a rewarding experience, and we were privileged to know, and minister to, many lovely people during those years. Of course, this kind of ministry also has its challenges and frustrations, but God works it all together for good!

In 2005 we headed to the East Midlands Divisional Headquarters in Nottingham – Jayne as Divisional Family Officer and I as Divisional Director for Evangelism. After six weeks in these posts we had a phone call asking us to an interview in London with the territorial commander. We wondered what we'd done wrong in such a short time! But the TC informed us that we were to be the divisional leaders the following year. Supporting and resourcing those in front line ministry was a tremendous privilege and an awesome responsibility, but we were blessed with a great team to share the load with.

Then in 2010 we were appointed to International Headquarters in London where Jayne became the Editor of the Year Book and I the Under Secretary for Europe. This gave us new insights into the internationalism of The Salvation Army, at work in 126 countries, and opportunities to meet many fascinating people.

Now here we are in Scotland! Jayne's work is mainly with the officers in the East Scotland Division, whereas my role covers parliamentary and ecumenical work, as well as helping to co-ordinate Mission Scotland.
God is good, and we’re excited about what he has in store for us – and for the Army – in the days that lie ahead.