There are years in history that are truly exceptional. We remember 2001 when the Trade Towers in New York were toppled and the Pentagon was set ablaze; 1929 when the stock market crashed and the world plunged into the Great Depression; and 1969 when, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were beamed from the moon. And 2020 will long be remembered as an exceptional year. We watched the entire world go on the defensive, beaten back by a tiny virus called COVID 19. Everything we knew as normal in 2019 suddenly changed. Hugs became taboo, face masks turned into stylistic accessories and gatherings of people labeled danger zones.
In 2020 the church body suffered. Throughout history, whenever something deadly threatened, people ran toward the church to find God and safety. Even the Russian leader Stalin, a homicidal maniac, recalled the church leaders he’d exiled to Siberia when the Germans came knocking on his front door. In the case of the pandemic however, the opposite happened. Due to social distancing mandates the church found itself relegated to a members only club whose fellowship continues to be tethered together through technology.
In this new environment, evangelism and relational discipleship were replaced with debates like, “After the vaccination is widely distributed, will the physical church ever be able to make a pre-COVID comeback? Or should it even try?” Along the rest of the Christian world, the Army, birthed on the streets of London, is asking these same questions. It’s certainly reasonable for us to consider whether or not we should bring back our 2019 corps program face after the inevitable moment of inoculation liberation.
As the Christian body reasonably discusses future programming face, what if we as the Army took this COVID granted opportunity to become what we once were: unapologetically unreasonable?’’ What if we grabbed hold of the same irrational vision William and Catherine Booth had? As Methodist church leaders, the Booth’s pastored a reasonable church, in a reasonable town, ministering to a reasonable congregation until one day when they followed God’s call to be unreasonable. Due to their absurdity, God exploded their ministry movement around the world. COVID has provided to us an opportunity to recapture the vision which William Booth wrote about in his early manifesto, How to Reach the Masses with the Gospel,
“Our purpose is to go out into the highways and hedges, and bring in the thousands who at present seem to be outside the pale of all religious influence and operation; who, if not positively and bitterly opposed to Christianity, are totally indifferent to it.”
An Unreasonable Agenda:
- Remember and Recapture Why our Predecessors were an Unstoppable Force. Our forebears, the people on whose shoulders we stand, lived and breathed the gospel mission and message. They understood, embraced, and relentlessly pursued the salvation of souls. William Booth and his cohort sought to meet the desires of God by ministering to the societal least and lost. These early Salvationists lived out a ministry philosophy which held that saving every single soul in the world was the ONLY reason to exist. How very unreasonable.
- Be Bold!! The reasonable church focuses on current programming and looks for the best avenues to protect what it already has. However, William and Catherine Booth, along with the early Salvationists were fully willing to use anything and everything that was available to them to trumpet the saving message of the gospel to the whosoever. For instance, our spiritual predecessors were willing to look at street corner Open Airs and incorporate a loud brass band to catch the attention of more people from farther away. As individuals we need to capture the boldness to succeed in reaching others, and yes, risk possible embarrassment.
- Be Courageous!! The reasonable church analyzes statistical declines and wonders how to fine tune itself in order to remain at worst, numerically static. With the COVID lockdown we can do more than just fine tune who we’ve been in the recent past. Instead, we can critically examine and courageously take steps toward who we want to be in the future. And couldn’t our future be best focused on what made our past so successful, SOULS. The church has been in decline for decades, and in many corps we find ourselves hanging onto the scraps of past glory, if even those are remembered. Do we stand by and watch the continuing decline? Or do we go for broke and reinvigorate those parts of our DNA which made us an international success: SOULS, SOULS, SOULS!
- Opt for Optimism. The early Salvationists believed that they could save the entire world for Christ. Today, that idea sounds ludicrous and unreasonable. So what? Think of it as fishing. If we cast a net out into the ocean, we’re not going to catch every fish. However, every fish we catch is a cause for eternal celebration. But if we stand on the shore with our net in hand and decide not to take a risk because we know that it’s not reasonable to catch every fish, then we’ll end up catching only the fish which wash up on the shore.
The Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of William and Catherine Booth and told them to be unreasonable. He led them to leave their reasonable life behind and to follow Him into an irrational endeavor. How many souls have been redeemed through the decades because of their vision of “Boundless Salvation?” Will we look for answers from the rest of the church body? Or will we look to the Founder, steel our hearts and minds, and decide that we’re going to victoriously fight for every soul we can claim for the Kingdom and let God handle everything else.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw