Friday, December 30, 2022

Three Years as a Salvation Army Officer: Triumphs and Defeats in The Salvation War

This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

This post is to celebrate the one thousandth blog post to A Lifestyle of Peace blog, since Feb 2013, 1000 posts all glory to God.  This is written in the hopes that it will inspire ministry workers early on in their ministry to not give up, no matter what it takes, to bring the gospel to the world in Jesus name.

Year One - Big Dreams

I was afraid. I mean really afraid. The kind of fear that threatens to paralyze you completely. The first few months of leadership were like that. I felt completely unprepared for what I needed to do. I had been taught to take orders, not give them. What is the right decision? How do I balance all these tasks? Which duties do I perform and which do I delegate? 

I was in a town I had never lived in before. I didn't know a single person there, and I had never managed a staff, or run a church for that matter. 

If I could give advice to any pastor or officer stepping into a new role, it would be this: Don't give up in those first few months. When you're afraid and it seems impossible, keep going.  If you can push through that initial phase you'll be alright. It gets better. You'll feel faith and courage begin to replace fear and doubt.

Early on it felt like... Stop raining everyday. A mere thought could turn my emotions. Making it through a day at the office from morning to evening seemed like a major victory. There is definitely an emotional element, a battle, but it's also spiritual, the enemy of our souls is trying to drive us out. Stick in, when the attack increases, dig your fox hole deeper.

Coming home to the empty house was tough. No friends at first, no family, no girlfriend, just my cats and me. It felt lonely. But slowly I began to make friends, people that became family to me. 

I had to keep returning to the bottom line, the foundation: I'm called to this, and I will never give up. I kept running to God. And I kept believing that though man may have meant this to harm me, or shame me, but God ultimately won out, and it was His will for me to be exactly where I was. 

The battle had begun. I was ready spiritually. I had a strong prayer and Bible study life. They taught us that at college. I had prayed for my future congregation my second year at college and it paid off!  Soon a small band of faithful outcasts gathered around me at the remnants of the once mighty citadel of Owosso. Little John, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and I, Robin, gathering a mish-mash of kingdom outcasts. The citadel, once a legacy corps had fallen in past years. It had closed it's doors, then reopened years later, but had struggled ever since. We knew a light had dawned in the ruins, God was rebuilding the fortress.

The morning services had been shut down when I arrived, though we had a small dinner church gathering Sunday evenings. We would drive to the Flint Citadel Sunday mornings, a few of the newbies, myself, and the last soldier of the Owosso citadel named Scott. 

If it weren't for Scott, the last soldier standing at the age-old citadel, I might've given up. But there was always one guy there who was willing to say yes, and believed in the mission of the citadel. It makes such a huge difference to a new officer when even one person believes in you and wants to come along side you in your journey. Scott is not perfect, neither am I for that matter, but boy did he make a difference for me.

One day I spotted him bell ringing. I had asked him to step in for 2 hours at the post office site. 10-12. And no one showed up all day. So he stayed until 5:30pm. I pulled up in the darkness, in the cold, and there he was, frozen, ringing the bell, no one around, and I honestly choked up in the car. I got out and he said through frozen lips, "no help... no help." And I just hugged him. What a guy!

I had a large chip on my shoulder early on. I was sent out as an assistant, not a lead pastor like many of my session mates. I later found out from my CO just how far the seminary had gone to make sure I wouldn't be sent out in charge, and I was troubled by this. But I knew any true Christian would face persecution for speaking up on key issues of the day. My CO and DC quickly promoted me to corps officer after viewing our progress in Owosso over the first year.

Dinner Church was the big battle early on. I was so disappointed to not have a morning service where I could preach. I loved to preach. So I embraced Dinner Church. I remember when I was at training college, at a tenuous spring campaigns, we had finished our work, and stopped at a Goodwill to shop. I found a plate, with Van Gogh's Café Terrace at Night on it. Little did I realize, this would become a centerpiece of the dinner church model: Jesus in the middle of the dinner tables.

It was chaos at first. The basement dining room would be a mess when we arrived Sunday night, the janitor's term had expired just before I arrived. People would be piling in downstairs. I would be busy mopping the floors and wiping the tables. Scott would be doing pickups around town. I never knew if I'd even have someone in the kitchen to help prepare the meal. 

We didn't have a sound system, so I would be up there trying to talk over the roar of the crowd. I hadn't learned how to properly command a level of respect or decorum, so people would often stand up and argue with me. Some nights it seemed like every person in the room was talking at the same time. 

I had not expected that I would need to lead worship. I had no worship leader. Being fearful of leading songs, I at first had no music at dinner church. We would have an opening, prayers, testimonies, a sermon, the meal, and a Sunday school video after the meal. 

We had no leaders. But thankfully a promising new recruit at Flint named Lexy came to advise me on the "relaunch" plan for the corps. She would lead worship with great talent, which made dinner church a well rounded experience. We found the sound system, and at last we began to have new members who would come consistently to help in the kitchen. The roomed filled up with people hungry for something different. In a few months we'd gone from about five people to about twenty five. 

Amongst the new attenders, we gathered a group who became senior soldiers. They became the helpers early on, four or five of them. Though only one remains today of those who joined three years ago. We had great trouble with consistency. People would come for a while, we'd pour into them, disciple them, and after a year or so they would disappear. This happened numerous times. It cut deep into me each time it happened. You can't help but love them. To see them go is devastating.

We had worked on the relaunch plan for 9 months, connecting with  people in the community, and in March 2020 we relaunched the morning services. We had our first service with about 15 people in attendance, not too bad! The next week, the country and the churches shut down during the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. 

Year 2 - Troubles

I think the thing I regret most is what I did next, shutting down our church services and going to live stream only. Many churches did this. That doesn't make it right. Something seemed off about it. I felt convicted. The grocery stores stayed open, liquor stores open, abortion clinics stayed open, Walmart open, and yet, the small businesses had to be shut down, and of course, all the churches as well. What a shock! In China the Christian churches were forced to shut down during Covid, in America we did so willingly. I will always regret that choice. I wish I had stayed open, with precautions, but open. We communicated to the country that we weren't needed, and today, they respected that communication, church attendance is down 45%

Another situation came up in the summer of 2020. I preached a sermon in Flint on unity in diversity and found myself in trouble with our regional headquarters. I was removed from preaching for a time, and my future as an officer was brought into question. Thankfully many officers and pastors and friends were praying and advocating for me, and everything was worked out in a way that allowed me to continue to serve as an officer. It was a very difficult time, struggling with the ups and downs, the fear and anxiety, and yet faith and hope remained. Christ was with me. I had twin angels protecting me, my CO and his CO, they both guided me through a dark time, to come out the other side stronger in my faith. God is good. 

That kettle season we did very well, bursting past our goal by over 30% and our mail appeal did very well too. Unfortunately I think that led to pride to begin to seep into my heart. 

Year two would be defined by several Absalom's gathering around me in the ministry. I didn't know this at the time. I thought the Lord had surrounded me with a slate of new leaders, instead, they would become the seeds of a small revolt in our new church. But my pride had brought this in. I had let myself become double-minded. So God allowed it.

The election of 2020 and the slide of the country downward ever since has thoroughly convinced me that the body of Christ had as a whole become increasingly double-minded. And instead of hope and revival and victory, we sowed the wind, we called evil good and good evil, and God repaid us, by allowing the darkness to again grow darker. We had been double minded, one foot in the church one foot in the world. The growing corruption and evil in the world proves this to me today. 

Pride, pride, pride. When you've buttoned up all the other sins and repented and found hope in Christ and new drives, watch for pride which threatens from within. 

I'm grateful that at the beginning of 2021, we did a 21 day Daniel fast, eating only vegetables and praying for three weeks. Then, as we sought the Lord, the Absalom's released. Unfortunately their departure did great damage. One fourth of the small church God was building departed with them. I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back, and at the end of year two, I was wondering how I could recover.

Thankfully over Christmas I had met a beautiful young woman named Chelsey. She caroled for us at VGs with her friends. And she later invited me to a small group hosted at her home. It seemed just right because I needed a place desperately, to share the sorrows I was dealing with. Chelsey and I would become friends. Later during the revolt, Chelsey would come to be hired as the new program coordinator at the corps. 

The Lord revealed to me that the ministry work I had done in the second year had "burned up like chaff." It had had no kingdom value. I had walked double-minded, in pride, one foot in my work, one foot in the world. Thankfully better times were ahead, but it would take time to get there. Sometimes the new season begins but your heart takes a while to come into it.

Year 3 - Sorrow & Hope

One could say that the war the body of Christ failed to bring to the gates of hell came to the doors of our churches at the end of 2021. I'd seen the growing attacks on religious liberty in the west in the last seven years. I didn't think it would come so quickly to my door though. Right at the end of 2021 the increasing pressures to get the injection went from urging to insisting. You will do this, or you will pay a fine. You will be bankrupted. We thought well, we can just get tested weekly, a few days later it came out that testing was no longer free. The fix was in, the trap sprung, and I had come face to face with the possibility of having to resign my position as a pastor. That didn't take long! Scary stuff. But at the last minute, The Daily Wire sued the government and stopped the mandate from going into effect. Yet I'm certain such times will come again, with the recent "Respect for Marriage Act" passed into law. It's only the beginning of persecution.

During the spring and summer of 2021 I would hit a rock bottom of sorts in ministry. The church had dwindled in size, our worship leader had left after the debacle, my other leaders were gone, several attenders and soldiers left, and I had no heart to try to rebuild again. No one had rejoined of all those I had reached out to who had long ago been part of the citadel. I was also having increasing stomach problems, ulcers, dizziness, sleep problems, much of it I'm sure caused by massive levels of anxiety, and pressure I was putting on myself. I was also stress eating and gaining much weight. I found myself quite lonely, having lost my friends and my ability to trust for a time. Betrayal is a cold emotion, deep cutting, and takes long to heal from. 

Then my companion for the last 8 years died, Sunshine my wonderful cat. Many would think, well that's silly it's just a cat, but, being single, you learn to rely on your animals. They are the ones waiting for you at home, no wife or kids. 

Thankfully, Chelsey had come along side me in ministry. She started a women's group and brought in many new and wonderful ladies. Many of these women joined the corps as well. I was struggling each day to keep going during that time. But we did well that kettle season, and mail appeal was booming.

Dinner Church had sadly dwindled down to about 10-15 from 25-30. But it slowly began to rise again. The real story was the Sunday school and morning services at last beginning to grow. Sunday school slowly grew from 3-5 to 8-10, and morning church grew from 4-6 to 7-12. But my heart wasn't in it. 

Yet we did see victories in that time. We were asked to host the national day of prayer event, and we gathered twelve local pastors together to pray for the country, the hurting, and the lost. We gathered at the square near the center of town, and at that event we dedicated anew the city of Owosso to God. It was a Spirit-filled victory, and ever since, I look over at the square where we prayed and sense that something very important happened on that day. I don't fully understand what it means. But perhaps there is power in dedicating a city to God and His glory? All glory belongs to Him. 

In early 2022 we held our second Daniel fast, twenty-one days, only fruits and vegetables. During this time I found a new hope, a healing, and a renewal. The Lord gave me a word at the end of this fast, on the last day, a salvationist from the middle east messaged me a word from God. There was hope and God found me faithful. He gave me a hope for marriage and family for the future.

While I was on vacation after Christmas, I was outside praying, and I heard the Lord say, "You've been faithful in a dry season, now be faithful in a season of plenty." I didn't know what God meant at the time. 

But slowly as 2022 went on we saw growth, discipleship, and small victories. I continued to struggle, but found myself slowly gaining renewed strength, hope, humility, and a new mindset of single-mindedness, I had learned at last to give it all over to God, and reject worldliness, as well as pride. And during this time as winter bled into Spring, and the fourth year of ministry began, Chelsey and I became increasingly close. Year four would begin a new chapter, in the fall, of healing, encouragement, romance, peace, and joy. 

Ministry is wonderful and crazy. The internal struggle is the real struggle, the battle between hope and bitterness, the battle between fighting on and wanting to give up, the battle between pain and joy. It's real and it's crazy. But if you cling to God, very close, desperately close, and give it all to Him, and seek Him day and night, He takes impossible situations and gets you through to the other side. And that's true even if you were the one who messed it up in the first place! That's the truth. God will get you through. Keep running back to Him. If you ever run the other way, to the world, that's when you get yourself into real trouble. Giving up isn't the answer either. Unless it's God's definite command. Keep in mind that everything is temporary. Even failure is temporary. Pain is temporary. As long as you don't give up and quit, you can get through the season you're in, on to the next season. Things get better. God turns defeat into victory.

Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life, said Jesus. Don't give up. Endure to the end. It's worth it. I'm 100% sure of that. Nothing is more important on planet Earth than getting people to the feet of Jesus Christ, so they can find salvation. Any level of pain and difficulty is worth that eternal victory.