Every morning at 6:02 a.m., my alarm pierces through the quiet of my bedroom and rouses me from another night of much-needed rest. While it always takes me a moment to transition out of slumber, I quickly find myself making a mental inventory of all that awaits me that day.
As a corps officer, the possibilities of what might be on my agenda are seemingly endless: sermon writing, visitation, meetings, funerals, finances and youth ministry are just a few of the items that show up regularly. This variety in responsibility is part of what makes ministry in The Salvation Army so exciting, as no two days are ever the same. These ministry opportunities also allow me to have contact with many different people representing many different demographics. One day I could be dining with a business owner whose three-piece suit is worth more than my entire wardrobe, and the next day I am rubbing elbows with a shelter resident while we eat chicken noodle soup out of disposable containers.
It can be argued that interactions with both the financially wealthy and the financially poor are vital to the mission of The Salvation Army. We have often been praised for our outward-focused ministry, which pays special attention to those who are hungry, thirsty, cold or in need of another type of assistance. But we could not function as we do without the generosity of those who financially support this work. We are truly thankful for every donation received, from the dollar bill dropped in a Christmas kettle to the multi-thousand-dollar donation that gets written on a gigantic foam-board cheque during a photo op for the local newspaper. Every donation helps.
But have our efforts become too defined by this equation? Money in + services offered = effective mission and ministry.
Are we successful in the regeneration of humanity (both physically and spiritually), or are we just good at raising funds and providing essential services? Are we actively pursuing transformed lives that demonstrate evidence of renewed hope through Jesus Christ, or are we just a dispenser of charity?
Admittedly, there are stricter guidelines and expectations surrounding the provision of services while proclaiming the gospel. Many of us have experienced the warning, “NO PROSELYTIZING!” attached to financial giving, and to be cooperative and not interrupt the flow of support, many of these warnings have been heeded.
We also recognize that a well-rehearsed sermon or an attempt at evangelism is no match for a hungry belly or a freezing body, so we focus our attention on the most obvious needs of those who come to us for assistance and may sometimes push the spiritual needs aside. We never want our community and family services ministries to be merely a conveyor belt of food or clothing, a never-ending cycle of transaction without transformation, leaving us simply hoping that our services have somehow made the recipient’s existence better.
But an Army that just makes things physically better was not what General William Booth had in mind when he founded The Salvation Army. In addition to caring for the people we encounter, we should also be concerned with their spiritual health. If salvation is truly our aim, we must not only fill the belly and warm the body, but also share the love of Jesus for the whole human being.
Recently, I had an encounter with someone seeking food. It could have resulted in no more than the exchange of a box of groceries and a word of appreciation. Instead, an invitation for conversation on the front steps of a Salvation Army building led to an hour of dialogue between two of God’s children, in which both lives were impacted mightily. The one seeking assistance was reminded of God’s love; I was reminded that winning souls is the first priority of my life as an officer.
Tomorrow morning at 6:02 a.m., the alarm will sound once again. No doubt I will find myself considering all that awaits me in the hours ahead. I pray that as I encounter and engage in a multitude of transactions, I will never shy away from seeking true transformation through the gift of God’s salvation. After all, we are The Salvation Army!
Reprinted by permission from Salvationist Magazine. May/June 2022.