In this round-table discussion on Salvation Army officership, John McAlister, features editor, speaks with Major Fred Waters, candidates’ secretary, Captain Mark Braye, corps officer, Temiskaming Community Church, Ont., Kevin Slous, youth pastor at Mississauga Temple Community Church, Ont., and Megan Smith, a student at the University of Toronto.
JM: What is officership? How would you describe or define it?
MB: It’s an avenue of full-time ministry, although in a sense all Christians are called to full-time ministry. It’s giving up secular employment to be a servant.
KS: It’s a life surrendered to full-time service and leadership within The Salvation Army.
MS: It’s a calling and purpose that God has for your life. It’s a life-long commitment that is sealed by a covenant.
FW: That’s a key difference between employment and officership. I am a covenanted leader in The Salvation Army. I could have done ministry in a variety of different avenues, but I felt God specifically calling me to this ministry. So, I entered into a covenant with him to be an officer and then allowed The Salvation Army to focus how that calling is worked out.
JM: What is the difference between someone serving as a covenanted soldier or a covenanted officer?
FW: A soldier’s covenant revolves around behaviour. Much of it has to do with lifestyle issues, so there are the “I promise to” or “I promise not to” statements. With an officer’s covenant, the aspect that keeps me awake at night is the haunting phrase, “I will live to win souls.” Our mission is held in the hands of our officers, not by function but by covenant.
KS: I don’t think you can be a soldier and not give officership serious consideration. The officer’s covenant is different in that officers give their lives wholly in service to the Army. It’s necessary to have officers as leaders who embody the mission of Salvationism.
MS: God raised up The Salvation Army, and part of its DNA is the role of officers. In order to fulfil his purposes for the Army, God needs officers who will maintain and lead us in our mission.
JM: Will the Army always need officers?
FW: When General Linda Bond installed Commissioners Brian and Rosalie Peddle as our territorial leaders, she said that we will know when God is finished with us because he will stop sending us leaders. It seems that mission and leadership are always tied together. In The Salvation Army, we view that in terms of officership. As the demographics change, it will be a greater challenge for officer leaders who can help us find our way forward. We’re not only looking for people to answer God’s call, but people who will bring with them the skills and abilities to lead in a complex and ever-changing world. We not only need officers; we need many different kinds of officers. We’re starting to see that with our officer training programs, people come to us from around the world with different languages, skills and education. Rather than sending out missionaries, we need people to come and be missionaries here. The challenge for us organizationally is to find a spot where those people have valid ministry. There needs to be an openness to changing the way that officership—and training—looks in the future.
KS: Officers must carry the mantle of leadership in the Army. How that looks can change over time. But we still need officers who are willing to offer their lives and serve where they are most needed. We need that mobilization to be an effective Army.
FW: That’s the tension of our present generation. As an organization, we’re still looking for people who will say, “Tell me where you need me and I’ll go.” I think that’s a great adventure, but we’re dealing with a generation that wants a greater say in where they serve.
MS: Not only that, our education system and societal norms are influencing people’s career choices. More people are pursuing specialized and graduate degrees, and even in high school, students are already choosing—and being encouraged to choose—intentional paths to follow.
KS: It’s a reality of our culture. For example, I feel a strong calling to minister to children and youth and to resource their leaders. But I’ve asked myself, would it be more obedient or disobedient for me to pursue officership when I know that I could be placed in whatever ministry the Army decided for me? Would I feel that same peace if I pursued officership?
MB: If you become a Salvation Army officer, you’re giving up control. However, in recent years, officers have been given increased input into their appointments. I think that this is a healthy way for officers to discuss the type of ministry they feel gifted for.
MS: And there is still the choice for officers to say, “I’m open to going wherever I am needed.”
FW: As an officer I choose not only to submit to the Army and its systems, but also to the sovereignty of God.
JM: What are some of the barriers or challenges faced by those considering officership?
MS: The biggest thing is that it’s countercultural. My generation doesn’t want to let go of pursuing a culturally acceptable job after college or university or having a typical family life. As well, making a life-long commitment to one vocation is daunting. Most people today will have a number of jobs or careers over their lifetime. It’s going against the grain.
FW: I think one of the misconceptions is that officers are poor or have no money. While officers aren’t wealthy, they are certainly looked after financially and live quite comfortably.
KS: I think some people worry about whether they will be equipped to carry out the complex and broad role of an officer.
MB: Those of us who are officers’ kids have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ve witnessed our parents’ worst days and their struggles, but also the joy and fulfilment they’ve experienced in serving God. We’ve had an education of officership that will last our entire lives. This can either encourage or discourage us from pursuing officership.
JM: What inspires people to become officers today?
MS: For me, it’s that no matter what you are good at or interested in, whether it’s youth work or business, the Army has a variety of places to use you.
KS: The opportunity to connect with people. The Army can take someone’s passion for souls and use that to meet human needs. God can work in people’s lives in ways that are beyond what we can dream or imagine for ourselves.
MB: The privilege of ministering to others. When you become an officer, it gives you more possibilities to serve. Whether it’s talking with someone over coffee about the Bible, visiting people in their homes or preaching from the pulpit, there are exciting opportunities.
JM: Many people talk about the sacrifices of officership, but you’re suggesting it can be a freeing experience, too.
FW: That’s actually embodied in one of the definitions of officership—an individual who has been freed from secular work to be in full-time ministry. Essentially, our calling and covenant replaces our previous jobs so that we have the freedom to serve as officers.
JM: What can we do to better support those considering officership?
KS: It shouldn’t be left to the candidates’ secretary, but all officers should be identifying people who have the potential to be effective officers. Beyond that, other Salvationists should also take an active role in encouraging people to consider officership. As a youth pastor, when I recognize the leadership potential in my young people, I have a responsibility to speak to them about officership.
MS: Everyone should be a candidates’ secretary. As soldiers, we have a responsibility to pray for others and encourage them to use their gifts for God.
FW: God calls and the Church confirms. Not everyone who feels called will be accepted as an officer. It’s up to the Army to discern a person’s ability, health and capacity.
JM: How do people know whether or not they are called to officership?
MB: Some describe the call as a mystical experience; for others, it came down to considering the opportunity and praying, talking and wrestling over the decision with God and people that they love and trust. In my case, I knew that this was the right decision as I had a peaceful assurance from the Holy Spirit. I think we need to give people the space and time to discern this calling. From an organizational side, this can be a concern in that we do need new officers now. Perhaps this urgency is what drives an emphasis on candidate recruitment instead of focusing on candidate development, which can take time.
FW: Every person struggles to decide what to do with their life. It’s not unique to our Movement. Our hope, however, is that all Salvationists will take the time to consider whether God is calling them to serve as Salvation Army officers.