By Captain Sam Tomlin (Corps officer, Liverpool Stoneycroft Corps)
War has once again come to Europe. The tangible shock and horror is evident across the world. Writing but a few weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, all major news outlet leads with updates, and almost every other news item is pushed well aside.
What ought followers of Jesus to make of this war, and war more generally? Specifically for the purpose of this article, how should Salvationists respond? Is it possible to love your enemy and kill them, as just war theory suggests, or is a pacifist approach a more faithful route for discipleship, where lethal violence is off the table? We have been here before, of course, and in order to answer this question, it will be important to briefly reflect on how our predecessors have responded.
By Captain Callum McKenna and Lieutenant Sam Tomlin
There is a scene in the Lion King where Rafiki finds Simba, who has ran away from his destiny to be King and is wandering around without too much direction. Rafiki confronts Simba with a question about who he is. Simba replies, ‘I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.’ According to Rafiki, the main reason for this is confusion about his identity. The moment where Simba recaptures his purpose and desire to become the rightful king is when he sees a vision of his father who tells him that he has forgotten who he is.
As the parents of five children under five between us, we’re used to spotting the profound in Kid’s TV and this short clip, we think, captures something deep for The Salvation Army today. Something else we have in common is that we are officers in The Salvation Army in the UK Territory, with a deep love of the Army and its history and a conviction to serve faithfully in its ranks in the present. We also have serious worries about the future of the Army as it faces the challenges of postmodern culture in the UK. These worries aren’t new and neither are questions about the Army’s identity; Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle wrote, in 1930, that these particular questions are ‘as old as the Army itself’. Contemporary articles calling for greater passion for Christ and a renewed disposition for risk taking join in Brengle’s tradition. Despite some of the most incredible, faithful followers of Christ we have met still leading within the Army, ever-decreasing membership within the UK territory (and similar stories across the Western world), officer burnout/resignation and record lows of cadets indicate there are serious questions that need to be considered. We don’t claim to have all the answers, or even all of the questions, but will attempt in this blog to outline some of the reasons we think might be at the heart of losing much of our historical and spiritual zeal.
I saw a quote recently by Eugene Cho which said ‘The Salvation Army will die if it loses the commitment it exhibited in the past for creativity.’
My immediate reaction? Oh no! The Salvation Army cannot die! We need it! My second reaction? Well – if it’s not creative, then it’s not having the impact on the world we would desire it to have, which means it’s not The Salvation Army, which means it’s dead already.
My third reaction – admittedly after some more reflection than the first two – was to consider the phraseology.
‘The Salvation Army will die…’
‘If it loses…’
‘In the past…’
Although Cho is not (to my knowledge) a Salvationist, he has captured a mindset which seems quite common.
Walter Brueggemann explains how we can operate on the basis of two possible assumptions about the World and God’s provision: scarcity and abundance. Scarcity is a constant anxiety that there isn’t enough. I’m sure Cho did not intend his quote to come across as an example of scarcity, but it really struck a chord with a perspective that seems to have become too normal. We’re scared of the death of the institution. We haven’t got enough money. Corps are closing. We don’t have enough Officers. We haven’t got enough Soldiers. I haven’t got enough time. Fear, death, trepidation. We haven’t got enough… never enough. Brueggemann credits Pharaoh with introducing scarcity into the world economy in Genesis 47 after he dreams of there being famine throughout the land. This introduces a fear of there not being enough, leading him to try to get control of everything. The ripple effects of this are numerous as he gets into a mindset of constantly coveting what his neighbor has. Cho’s quote seems inadvertently to capture this, assuming that death is the outcome we need to fight against, fearing loss of creativity, coveting what we had in the past.
Abundance, on the other hand, is a confidence that we have more than enough for our needs. It’s like that meme that says ‘the pessimist says the cup is half empty, and the optimist says the cup is half full. the child of God says my cup runneth over.’ Brueggemann outlines how abundance runs as a theme right from Genesis 1 with the repeated refrain ‘it is good’. Matthew 25:31-46 also demonstrates an attitude of abundance. I have enough food to give to someone who is hungry, enough water to provide to someone who is thirsty, enough space to welcome a stranger, enough time to visit the sick and imprisoned. Salvationists are good at these practices of abundance. At Ilford Corps we are working on Project Malachi, based on an initial donation of £5 by a boy called Malachi (pictured below), which says ‘we have enough to be able to build accommodation for people sleeping rough with no recourse to public funds’; at Raynes Park and other Corps, Salvationists are working on community sponsorship which says ‘we have enough to be able to welcome people seeking refuge from other countries’; The Salvation Army emergency services supports Fire Brigades during crisis events which says ‘we have enough to help provide relief for the firefighters and victims’. There are too many examples of this to name in The Salvation Army. We can do abundance when we decide we want to!
Why, then, do we get into a mentality of ‘not enough’? I confess to being guilty of it as well, but I am committing now to do my utmost to view things from a perspective of abundance.
God has given us everything we need to do that to which he has called us.
So, in considering this, I wonder if we might re-phrase Cho’s quote to something such as ‘The Salvation Army will change the world and win it for Jesus by exhibiting our commitment to creativity.’
By Ben Cotterill and Ryan Wileman featuring Roger Coates
Today (30th September 2017) we celebrate the 16 Salvationists who have begun their training to be Salvation Army officers in the UKI Territory. Within our celebrations, though, is the sober recognition of the fact that this low number represents the continuance of a trend decline in the quantity of candidates and cadets. We thank God for those stepping forward, but we also look to God with this concern! As in most strands of Christian life, we hold positives and negatives in live tension. …
Dave Morris has been an intern based at Ilford Salvation Army, from the Centre for Theology and Community. You can read some of his reflections here!
“Dave Morris took part in this summer’s Urban Leadership School, interning at Ilford Salvation Army. In this blog, he reflects on the central role of sharing and listening to stories in the practice of community organising.
Something that has brought together all of the interns on the Summer Internship is story-telling. In the remembering and the telling we have all learned so much about ourselves and each other. Sometimes we are in stitches laughing; other times they’re followed by a weighty silence. But every single story has given me insight into who that person is.”
by Captain John Clifton (Ilford Corps) and Lieutenant Ben Cotterill (Keighley Corps)People become Salvation Army Officers for different reasons. For some, it’s because God wrote it for them in the sky. For others, it’s because they were inspired by other officers, often parents making a difference in the world. For others again, it’s because something finally gave way after fifteen years of running from the call whilst others took heed of these all too common Jonah-like testimonies and said ‘yes’ in a heartbeat!
But it’s rumoured that this September’s intake of Cadets (trainee Salvation Army Officers) will be particularly low, possibly the lowest ever.
A simple comparison shows that in 1990 there were 1,793 UK active officers, in 2000 there were 1,539 and the most recent stats for 2017 show there are 1,042. The following table shows the rate of decline in cadets being even steeper in proportion to the astonishing decline in our soldiership membership.
With more people retiring than being commissioned there will of course be implications; officers running multiple corps/centres, retired officers being called on to undertake active appointments, corps/centres un-officered, crucial roles in departments and other jobs led by people who may not even be Salvationists or Christian to name but a few.
How has it come to this?
Salvation Army officers are afforded the wonderful privilege to be released from secular employment to focus on leading the mission of The Salvation Army. However, when officership was instituted in Victorian Britain it was the norm for people to stay in their job for the entirety of their working lives. Today, “job hopping” and having numerous careers in a working life are now the norm although this trend has apparently slowed since the financial crisis.
Furthermore, as the membership of the Army increasingly leaves ‘darkest England’ well behind and joins the swelling middle-classes, home ownership, often changing jobs and settling down has become the norm. The idea of committing to one vocation and being told where in the world to live does not fit comfortably into this norm. At the same time our multi-cultural diversity has not been reflected in the cadets at training college.
So, is officership out-of-date?
Well, it has rightly become recognised as being one option in a marketplace of vocational choices. Another healthy development is that it no longer receives higher kudos than other vocational choices. It seems also that there are good numbers of people who are deeply committed to the mission of the Army who are seeking out opportunities as full-time employees, with specialist niche roles, as opposed to generalist ministries. There is generally a healthy understanding of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ in The Army. We know about the immediacy of God’s grace and that its not the role of an Officer to administer salvation. However, sometimes we forget that we still require people to fulfil particular functions in the life of the Church. We still need people set apart for the task and vocation of leadership. It’s important to celebrate all avenues of leadership, including Officership.
How we hold these trends in tension with the need to develop leaders of our mission is a challenge. It is really positive that non-officers are released into pioneering ministries and specialist roles, but not every corps can produce capable local leaders at a given point in time and will need officers. So, has God stopped calling people? If yes, what does this mean for us? If not, why are numbers so low?
Are people saying “no” or ignoring their call to serve as officers? The reasons for this we believe are many: waiting for a spouse to ‘get the call’; being put off by bad officers; confusion over what constitutes ‘calling’; being hurt or seeing others handled badly by the Army; feeling inadequate as a leader; theological and faith issues; a reluctance to lose their autonomy; a sense that the ship is sinking so better to find a new sea worthy ship outside of the Army. We could go on.
Now we’re not suggesting that every person with a hint of leadership skills, social competence and desire to serve God should necessarily be an officer. After all, we need local leaders. But we’ve met too many people over the years who are called but don’t take the next step.
Between us, we have nine years experience as Officers. This is more than some, less than others. For our generation, that’s quite a long time in any job. What we have seen tells us that God has more to do with our Army. We’ve seen families come to know Jesus. We’ve seen people arrive as refugees from warzones and receive a warm welcome in our churches. We’ve got to know people on first-name terms, from those sleeping rough on park benches to those sat making laws on parliament benches. Every day, we get to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends.
We’d love for every Salvationist (and every Christian?) to ask themselves whether God is calling them to be a Salvation Army Officer. We are convinced if people opened their heart, then more people might make the seemingly outrageous decision to offer themselves.
We want the best leaders, the humblest souls, world-class intellectuals, straightened-out street brawlers, passionate teachers, recovered drunkards, powerful business-people, public servants, white anglo-saxon, recently resettled refugees – people from all walks of life who are deeply resolved to love and serve God all their days – to step up.
Why not you!? Most leaders in The Bible had something wrong with them to start with – murderers, liars, cheats, the mute, the comfortable, the not so special – you name it they’re all in there.
Leading won’t be easy. That doesn’t get you off the hook, it’s just something you need to expect. The opposition and challenges are inevitable, but they’re never unbeatable.
Tony Blair once wrote that the Labour party created a situation for itself where ‘normal’ people felt inclined to walk away, leaving the manically ambitious and the weird in their stead (now it’s also been said that no-one sane every changed the world!). But it is just so important that this generation brings through obedient, capable and teachable leaders (amongst other things) who continue their adventure in the Army for God’s kingdom.
God has not stopped calling and the need is as greater if not greater than ever before.
So why not you, why not now?
Also published at: https://disciplesofthecross.wordpress.com/2017/05/06/salvation-army-officership-why-no-one-wants-our-job/
 Research by Lifelong Learning and Linkedin outline the trend of job hopping.
We’re delighted to announce that Marching Towards Justice (Marchando Hacia La Justicia) is now available in Spanish. It can be downloaded for free here on The Centre of Theology and Community website. Thanks to our friends in The Salvation Army USA Eastern territory for their support!
20 years ago there was an organiser called Neil Jameson, who had to have as many one to one face to face meetings as possible in East London. There was no hidden agenda this disciple of Civil Society and Democracy was carrying with him. He was all about getting the East End organised. “Organising was what East London needed most in those days as it does need it now” says Bishop Paul McAleenan, who was a local priest at St. Scholastica’s in Clapton 20 years ago and now the Bishop of the Diocese of Westminster. Bishop Paul was there 20 years ago at the founding assembly and he has once again come back to join the 1000 strong delegates to celebrate the 20th year anniversary of The East London Citizens Organisation (TELCO).”