A Conversation about Corps Planting

Last summer Territorial Headquarters (THQ) restructured departments to help achieve the territory’s Mission Imperative of “More People, More Like Jesus.” Among these emerged a Corps and Community Mission Department with Majors Cassandra and Will DeJesús appointed to oversee it. Major Will was given the specific responsibility of corps planting. Recently, we sat down with him to get a sense of what this means and what to expect.

First, could you speak briefly to the department’s name change and basically what it means for people?

Sure, it was changed from Adult Mission Advancement to Corps and Community Mission to give greater emphasis to the mission of the corps and their unique communities. We want to proactively equip people by teaching and training, providing good models and systems, and coming alongside them, like in the case of corps planting.

How would you encapsulate the corps planting initiative?

I tend to shy away from the word “initiative” as we’ve had some good corps planting efforts in the territory before, and as an organization we’ve been establishing corps since our start. Also, we don’t want people to think of corps planting as a program with a beginning and an end. We really want people to see corps planting as a way of making disciples, communities of believers, a priority. We hope it will become embedded in our Army culture once again.

Would you elaborate on this connection between corps planting and making disciples?

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ commission found in Matthew 28 to “…go and make disciples.” As Christians we are called to be followers, disciples, of Christ and to fulfill this Great Commission. Every disciple also should be a disciple-maker. We have the privilege of forming congregations that worship together and provide discipleship to further God’s Kingdom.

So, corps planting is directly related to the Mission Imperative, what God has called us to as believers and as an Army?

Yes, we all are—or should be—on a mission with God of “More people, more like Jesus.”

In his book Church Planting: Laying Foundations, Stuart Murray writes “mission is not the invention, responsibility, or program of human beings, but flows from the character and purposes of God.”

Corps planting is a powerful way for corps to grow and evangelize. It’s both biblical and effective. We need new corps, expressions, fellowships, congregations and communities to spread—live out—the gospel of reconciliation between God and us, and also each other.

Sounds like there might already be a strategy?

It’s a work in progress.

We’ve been researching the current corps planting methodologies in our territory, other U.S. and the Canada and Bermuda territories, along with other organizations and churches. Finding what systems, models and resources are available.

As well, my wife, Cassie, and I had some experience in corps planting, or replanting, when we were stationed in Argentina which helps in my new role even though it was in a different context.

Do your other past appointments also inform your new ministry?

Absolutely, as a corps officer you kind of have a pioneer spirit; you’re appointed to a location and you begin assessing the needs and unique situation of the community and what might be introduced to further the mission.

Our very first appointment as officers to lead the Chicago La Villita Corps especially felt like the opening of a new work. When we arrived in 1998 the corps already had lots of potential for growth but met in a very small former funeral parlor. We didn’t have much meeting space, but we had a group of believers who were willing to share and live out the Good News in the community.

Once we moved to the new corps building, which was built five years later just a few blocks down the road, our ministry was still not about the physical space but more about the fellowship, the community of people gathering together, seeking relationship with God and others.

Who else is involved in getting the corps planting effort off the ground?

Of course, the members of our department, but we’re not just working with people at THQ. Cassie and I have been visiting the divisions and engaging in conversations with officers and soldiers to get their input and ideas.

We want all Salvationists to have ownership in this process.

Also, we’re forming a task force composed of lay leaders and officers, as well as experts outside of the Army, which will help to develop a comprehensive and intentional strategic plan to develop new corps and hopefully ignite in the territory a culture of corps planting, guided always by the Holy Spirit.

What does corps planting look like in tangible terms?

Well, the strategic plan is for the development of new corps—not necessarily buildings—but new fellowships, congregations and communities of faith.

For instance, a corps plant could mean a group of Christ followers meeting in a soldier’s home, a leased office space or a storefront. Initially, they might not even meet on Sundays but another day or evening of the week.

We need to think of corps planting more like multiplying and increasing the Body of Christ than increasing services or programs.

While we want to provide systems and models for corps planting, it won’t be a “cookie cutter” or “color by number” approach. We need principles that can be adapted to our diverse communities and cultures.

As cultures and demographics change, we must change our methodology while still sharing the gospel and pursuing our mission. We can’t just return to the principles, methodology and strategies of corps planting that were used even five years ago.

Mission stays the same, but the way we do the mission is constantly changing.

What would you say to those who might ask how we can engage in corps planting and still maintain the corps we already have with limited financial and human resources?

These are valid concerns.

First, let’s talk about the concept of “maintain.” As a biblical requirement, we need to move away from a maintenance mentality; we need to change the mindset of self-preservation. We must be willing to take risks and succeed—or fail and try again.

As for limited resources, in Luke 2 Jesus told His followers that “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” This is still the reality. There’s never enough money for our programs or leaders to help with them.

Sometimes I look at this verse, then look around me and I can become overwhelmed. But then I remember the rest of the verse. Jesus instructs us to “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

I wonder when we ask, listen to and obey the Holy Spirit and begin to plant corps where God wants them if we will see more disciples of Christ and will trust in the “God of the impossible” and even see corps making other corps?

We printed in July that the territory hopes to see a minimum of one new corps plant in each division in the next three years. Is this still the goal?

Yes, this is still the initial goal. Of course, it doesn’t mean we couldn’t surpass this goal in some divisions.

However, right now, we’re focused on why followers of Christ should replicate and how we will accomplish this task of partnering with God in Kingdom-building.

We ought to go into our communities with the expectation for growth; so, it’s not so much how many corps there are but whether those corps are now in the right places. For instance, when a new community emerges and we don’t have a Salvation Army presence, is it better stewardship to shift our focus and resources there?

Is there anything else you’d like to share about corps mission and planting?

Oh, there’s a lot more but perhaps just a few more thoughts.

In corps planting, or anything else, we must be more Kingdom-oriented than church-centered. Corps planting can advance God’s Kingdom if it provides a space for God to accomplish His mission. In his book, Transforming Mission, David Bosch talks about mission existing for the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the oppressor, the sinner and devout. Mission is about breaking down the walls of alienation and crossing boundaries.

As we look to partner with God and look for where He wants new congregations planted, our systems and strategies must be bathed in prayer, include assessments, recruitment of corps planters (both lay people and officers), training, coaching and resourcing corps plants, and celebration of what God is doing through us, His disciples.

How about if someone is interested in corps planting or feeling called to it?

I would encourage them to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to remember corps planting is about more than just buildings or programs or services. It’s about discipleship.

This is just a start. We want more conversations, ideas and creativity. I’d love to talk with you.

For more information, contact [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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