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Stop smiling, I’m insulting you!

 At a corps leadership meeting I chaired once, as corps officer, one of the members decided to put me in my place. He said that while my commitment to local community members and the time I spent with them was admirable, it was detracting from my ministry to members of the corps.


I reasoned with him that corps members were important to me, but my priority was seeing souls saved and seeing new people come into God’s Kingdom. Current members could be well-supported by each other, by small groups and by the pastoral care system in place, whereas we had people in our community who needed to be introduced to Jesus.


The corps member wasn’t happy and shot back at me: “You seem to care more for people outside of this church than those inside it!” This threw me for a moment because my brain had to process it: he meant it as an insult, but I was hearing it as a compliment.


I said to him: “That’s possibly the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” His face distorted in confusion and anger because he was trying to attack me, yet I was delighted at his insightful observation!


A former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once made a comment pertinent to this issue when he said: “The Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members.”


As with all ministers, I love it when non-churched people come to church. It can be a real privilege to have the view from the platform, especially when preaching, and seeing non-believers engaged with what you’re saying – laughing at the right moments, giving wide-eyed attention, looking thoughtful at the right moments, even wiping a tear away at the right moment.


I also love the honesty of non-churched people who don’t know church customs, protocols and behaviour. This becomes most obvious when the preacher uses rhetorical questions, which I often do.


Once I was preaching on Jesus’ parable about the great banquet (Luke 14) where invited guests make up excuses not to attend, so the master of the house invites in “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” from the streets and lanes of the town. I said, “What would you have done if you were invited to a banquet, knowing you were second choice as a guest and invited by a man you don’t even know?”


As I paused for breath, a hand shot up and Dennis, a member of our local homeless community, said: “I would have gone and absolutely stuffed myself.”


Well … it can be hard to recover after a comment like that. After general laughter, including from me, I said, “Yes, Dennis, I’m guessing that’s what many of us would do.” I went on to talk about how God invites us all to rejoice and feast with him.


The “non-members”, as William Temple referred to them, keep us honest and on our toes and embedded in the real world. They’re the people Jesus sought out and spent time with. Let’s keep serving them and praying them into the Kingdom.


– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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