Conferences are a venue where people talk. And that is true of the 2014 International Conference of Leaders too. But I personally find that the dominant factor here is that we listen. Salvation Army leaders from all Territories and Commands in the world and from International Headquarters are listening to each other. And fundamentally it is listening to what our Triune God is saying. To us, in this time.
As I write we are halfway through the week we spend in Singapore. Every morning starts with small-groups, sharing and and praying around Bible passages relating to the subject of the day.
The first two subjects were Adherent membership and Leadership development. We listened and shared and usually come to some points where there are varieties, often for cultural reasons, as well as finding a common foundation and goal of embodying the life and message of Jesus so the world can be saved into God’s Kingdom
Cultural differences in connection with a personal Christian faith can concern serious issues but also be quite funny. I had breakfast with a couple from Eastern India now serving in England. He at first thought it so strange to sing about the sun and using words like “there is sunshine in my life” as a metaphor for knowing Jesus. In my country, he said, we go and hide from the sun.
The overall subject for the last one and a half day has been lifestyle issues. There my listening has really given me new knowledge and understanding of the complexities when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus and giving guidelines for salvationists in various cultures. For example, in Hindu and Muslim dominated areas people come to faith in Jesus but do not dare put their name in a roll book.
Another example and question is, what constitutes a Christian marriage? Is a couple properly married when they register legally or have the church ceremony or when the dowry is paid, which can be years later? There is no use talking about exchanging rings in our international ceremony book as that never happens in many countries. You give a cup of tea or tie a string or slaughter an animal. Not to mention polygamy, whether it is official or unofficial. What shall be required of the man when he gets saved or if it is one of the wives?
The Church and homosexuality had a thorough presentation and we listen to the great variety of how this is a big or small issue in various countries. A general difference between Asian-African cultures and the West is that the West is very individualistic in its view of marriage while it is a matter for the whole family in many cultures.
Truly, my impression so far is that this conference is a learning and listening experience. We will see what will come out of the next half. New issues are on the agenda – Impact measurement and Accountability. It will be interesting to see which biblical passages they have found to prepare for that.
Here is a link to the official Conference reports.