Re-igniting The Salvation Army's pioneering spirit (Andrew Vertigan)

Monday, 22 July, 2013

Andrew Vertigan discusses the re-igniting of The Salvation Army's original pioneering spirit.

As William Booth looked out on the life and community of east London in the late 1800s, he recognised that he was surrounded by very real, tangible, physical needs.

He saw people who were desperate for help, people with need of the Saviour, but he also saw a disconnect between Church and those in such obvious physical and spiritual distress. He was compelled in his spirit to do something.

Based on his inherent belief that you had to meet a man's physical need before you could offer spiritual food, he birthed a Christian social action response and the future Salvation Army came into being. In today's language, Booth understood the culture and context and set his beliefs and ministry into it.

Booth encouraged his young converts to live incarnationally - not to live at a distance, or separate from, the society they wanted to reach. Instead they were to become totally immersed in it. So it was that teenagers of 17, 18, or 19 would be sent to a new place with just £5 in their pockets and a passion for Jesus, with the simple remit to transform and save the world!

This early day pioneering spirit brought about over 400 new expressions of Church within the first 20 or so years. That growth is continuing in parts of The Salvation Army, but like many churches, we face challenges in a post-Christendom world, and by moving from the mission initiative to a denomination and organisation, the dynamic growth 'flatlined' in some areas.

However, over the past two decades, this pioneering spirit has been reignited within The Salvation Army's UK Territory because of the realisation that:

  • we must fight to stem the tide of secularism and growing numbers of people who simply do not believe in God;
  • we need churches who are able to reconnect with their communities and their needs;
  • we have no other option than to rebirth, under the Holy Spirit's direction, new expressions and communities of faith.

It appears to me that, in recent years, there has been - across the Church in the UK - a growing awareness of the pioneering Spirit. As The Salvation Army is now an official partner in the Fresh Expressions movement, I believe we have much to add to this dialogue. This relationship has the potential to not only be exciting, as we journey ecumenically forward, but also creates a magnificent opportunity to encourage disciples to step out in faith and try new things.

Fresh Expressions offers us support structures through FEASTs (Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Teams) as well as wide-ranging training opportunities - things that we have been lacking and urgently need. The very nature of the partnership has also heightened our expectancy of new things and made creativity in mission very much a 'live issue' in front of our church leadership and congregations.

I believe that, in return, The Salvation Army offers a great deal to all the other partners in Fresh Expressions, including:

  • experience of social justice and action;
  • a prophetic edge with regard to community engagement issues;
  • a voice that is respected and listened to.

I am personally living a dream. I have prayed, believed for, and dreamt for many years that mission would once more be the driver and heartbeat of our movement; that we would be in a place where creativity is not only encouraged but also resourced, a place where we see new things appearing from the ground every day as growing vibrant expressions of Christ's transforming work on earth.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Yes Lord we do see - and are blessed to see you moving throughout this land by your Spirit.

About the author: 

Andrew Vertigan is The Salvation Army Missioner for Fresh Expressions and Commanding Officer of Wetherby Community Church.

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