“Community In Mission” coming to SoCal

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By Robert Birks, Major –

Commissioner Phil Needham

Commissioner Phil Needham

I suppose we all have unread books on our shelves. One book given to me in the early 1990s, which I wish I had read at the time, is Commissioner Phil Needham’s “Community In Mission” (The Salvation Army, 1987). If I had read it—really read it—I would no doubt have entered into a lifetime of service as a Salvation Army officer with a much more biblically informed and Kingdom of God-oriented approach. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, right?  

At some point, around 2005, I think, I took Needham’s book from my shelf and read it. Wow. Many people say that certain books changed their life. “Community In Mission” is a book that, if read carefully and wrestled with prayerfully, has the potential to not only change your life, but the lives of others.

The book was written as a kind of response to the World Council of Churches Lima Document: “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.” However, the end result was not only a response to a document, but a reminder to The Salvation Army of our missional mandate to live out the gospel in such a way that invites people to share in God’s full salvation plan for his creation. Needham describes the Church in general and the Army specifically as being “Chartered by Christ, Created by the Holy Spirit, Called to a Journey, Commissioned for Battle, Encamped for Renewal and Committed to the Future.”  

Alan Hirsch

Alan Hirsch

In her 1987 foreword to the book, General Eva Burrows (1929-2015) called it “a positive statement from a dedicated Salvationist working from a biblical and experiential perspective…giving a sound and convincing view of The Salvation Army’s role and purpose in the Christian Church today.” This statement is as true today as it was 30 years ago.

By the time I read “Community In Mission,” it was out of print. Stacy and I purchased the last few copies we could find and asked our corps council to read the classic, so we could all be on the same page—literally and missionally. Our desire was to be a community in mission, in our part of the Army—our part of God’s kingdom. Since that time it has been a desire of mine to get Needham’s missional masterpiece reprinted.

About a year ago, Stacy and I began meeting, celebrating, praying, eating, evangelizing and laughing regularly with another community in mission called The Open Table—a group of Salvationists endeavoring to follow Jesus, love God and others, and cheer each other on to live lives of surrender, generosity and mission. During one of our gatherings, the idea of a Community In Mission conference arose. Such an event could serve as a reminder, to all who attend, of what The Salvation Army is, why it came into existence and what it is to be about.

The idea gained traction quickly and is now slated for Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 at the Tustin Ranch Corps, a co-sponsored event by the Southern California Division and the College for Officer Training (for more information, contact jacqui.larsson@usw.salvationarmy.org.) Guests include Needham, territorial leaders Commissioners James and Carolyn Knaggs, and Alan Hirsch, founder of the Forge Mission Training Network, author of “The Forgotten Ways” and a thought leader in the missional church movement. Eric Himes and The Singing Company from the Central Territory will lead worship.    

In connection with the conference, New Frontier Publications’ Frontier Press is reprinting “Community In Mission” with additional material, including end-of-chapter conversations with the author; “now what?” questions designed for group study, discussion and planning; and a new 21st century foreword from Commissioners Knaggs, which includes this endorsement: “This work doubles as a textbook in mission and a personal guide for those lost, or those helping the lost. In these pages you will read and be challenged to live a life of full on discipleship which will make the world of difference to a dying world.”

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