Over the past several months I have felt a growing dissatisfaction in my spirit with the language that I and other Salvation Army Officers use to describe who we are and what we do.
In an attempt to bridge the communication gap between the quasi-military culture of The Salvation Army and Australian culture when explaining who I am as an "officer", I have described myself as a pastor, minister, church leader or minister of religion. While these titles capture elements of what I do, they don't adequately describe who I am as a Salvation Army Officer.
When it comes to discussing what I do in casual conversation, the reference to 'my work' or 'going to work' grates against the very heart of my calling as a Salvation Army Officer. Let me be clear, this is not because I have an aversion to work! I have a strong work ethic that borderlines on compulsive (according to those closest to me). Although, the term 'work' flows naturally off my tongue, it feels like an inadequate term that reduces my divine calling into a dutiful career. Maybe this tension between calling and career is because I am so passionate about what I do that I can't separate it from who I am.
Is it just a matter of semantics? I don't think so, because language is powerful. Our choice of words are often a window into our soul revealing the heart of who we are as people. Jesus reminded us of this when he said, "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). So when I communicate about something as significant as the fulfillment of my calling, I am no longer content to default to language that will simply align who I am and what I do with what is familiar in a religious or social context. I want to find and use language that casts a powerful vision of God's mission to the present age through The Salvation Army.
One of the best examples I have read of a church leader communicating effectively who he is and what he does is Erwin McManus, the lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles. He describes himself as a Cultural Architect, which suggests that his role is not about trying to keep up with the current culture, but reshaping it through influence and innovation. It is any wonder that his church has been named as "one of the most influential and innovative churches in America."
While I have yet to discover how I best communicate who I am and what I do as a Salvation Army Officer in concise and compelling language, I do know that being referred to as a 'minister of religion' and 'going to work' just doesn't cut it! I am privileged to be a part of a select few who are "CALLED BY GOD to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as an officer of The Salvation Army" and embrace this calling as a lifestyle not a job!
So, I do not get up and go to work, instead I get up and enter the mission field "to live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life."