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The Leadership Gap

The Army needs leaders, but we’re struggling to develop enough of them. Is the cost of commitment too high?

November 8, 2012 by Captain Rob Kerr and Major Stephen Court


Yes, leadership in the Army’s culture and structure comes at a price many are not willing to pay.

BY CAPTAIN ROB KERR

There are very few people who would argue that the work we do as an Army is not worth doing. So, if the Army’s mission still resonates with people, then there must be something else that is holding people back from joining our ranks. From where I sit, I can see that there is a tension between western culture and the Army’s culture and structure. This has amplified over the years as societal norms have changed and the Army’s structure has remained essentially the same. Tension between society and the church is nothing new—the church has been counter cultural since day one—but our denominational structure is certainly becoming more distinct. The question at hand is not whether our structure is right or wrong, but whether it is impacting the recruitment and development of leaders.

Over the last 30 years, the local church has become a consumer product. As church attendance began to decline, churches started advertising and marketing campaigns, promoting programs, creating seeker-friendly services and building churches that are ergonomically designed. In an attempt to draw people back into the church, we pushed the church into the consumer market. It changed the mindset of the person in the pew from “How can I contribute to the work of the church?” to “What does this church have that I want?” This paradigm shift has greatly impacted how the church functions. I can’t count the number of times a new person or family has come into one of our corps and said, “We are looking for a church home. Can you tell me what programs you offer?” If the answer is not what they are looking for, we won’t see them again.

Contrast this with our corps structure that is designed around the idea that attendees become soldiers and soldiers become leaders. Corps sergeant-major, young people’s sergeant-major, songster leader, bandmaster, corps treasurer, corps secretary … the list goes on. It’s not that these positions aren’t relevant; I believe they serve a necessary and fundamental purpose in the life of the corps. But the expectations put upon these leaders (either implied or explicit) tend to add a great deal of additional duties into which most don’t want to be drawn. My experience has been that people will do things that they are passionate about and find worthwhile, but they don’t want the extra “stuff” that comes with the position. I also think that in many places there is still the fear that once a person fills a position they may be stuck in it for a very long time. This structure and the written and unwritten expectations surrounding these positions require a commitment of time and energy that few can or are willing to give.

Let’s not forget that our corps structure comes from a different age. Dual income households are now the norm with both adults commuting longer distances to work. This means dinner happens later and household chores happen in the evenings or, more likely, on weekends. Children are involved in all sorts of extra activities that are outside the church. Single-parent families don’t have the option to leave the kids with the spouse while he or she runs down to the corps. With this chaotic life, family time is rare. I wrestle with the fact that corps leadership consumes what precious time people have to give. Is it right to take people away from their family in order to fill a role in the corps? Shouldn’t the local corps be encouraging family values and supporting the family unit rather than putting added stress on it? Corps that can afford it hire employees to fill some of the leadership responsibilities. There are many who want to be involved in ministry but need to earn income. They can’t work full time and take on a leadership role in the corps as well. I think this is a valid and realistic response to the current situation, but it certainly isn’t a financially viable option for many corps.

One would think that if our mission is relevant (and it is) and people believe in our work (and they do), then there should be more people signing up for full-time ministry. There are many people who are passionate about the Army and would like to be involved in it full time. In fact, many are, but as employees, not officers. I think that our appointment system and unique compensation package play a significant role in this. If officers were paid market value for the positions they held and the level of responsibility they assumed, we might see more candidates for officership. If officers could apply to positions when they wanted to and where they wanted to, there would likely be more signing up. I know there are people in our congregations across the territory who are called to officership and have resisted this call because they have counted the cost too high.

Is our structure hindering people from stepping up into leadership at the corps level? Yes. We need to find ways to run our corps without expecting so much from those who are willing to give to leadership. As far as recruiting officers, our structure is also hindering people from stepping up. Should we change? Can we change? Can we be who we are if we change our structure? These are the questions we need to explore more fully to determine the cost of change versus the cost of staying the same. One thing I do know is that society is not going to adapt to our structure.

Captain Rob Kerr is the corps officer at Toronto’s Scarborough Citadel.


No, our leadership structure remains an effective method of recruitment. The problem is that too many people have rejected it in an attempt to resemble other churches.

BY MAJOR STEPHEN COURT

It’s not trendy. And for some, the Army system, with its unique vocabulary and peculiar traditions, might even be regarded as defunct.

Corps sergeant-majors? Recruiting sergeants? Quarter masters? I mean, come on!

But our discipleship and leader training system, from junior soldiers through corps cadets, into senior soldier training and local officership and corps council, complete with orders and regulations and followed by options in candidateship and officer training, still works well today.

Part of the problem is that we’ve forgotten what we are. As Major Harold Hill explains:

“The Army’s own history, the history and doctrine of the church, the pattern of sociology, the Word of Scripture, all testify against any great need to be ‘a church.’ Our own history provides us with a clear precedent for retaining our identity without resorting to denominationalism; the history and doctrine of the church provide an ecclesiological and theological base, the sociology of religious movements provides a rationale, and Scripture provides a mandate.”

We are not a social agency only. We are not a church. We are not a denomination. We are an order.

And we have orders and regulations, not suggestions and recommendations. “Obedience to properly constituted authority is the foundation of all moral excellence,” wrote Catherine Booth. That is fine in regard to ethics. But Florence Booth takes it further when she testifies:

“Looking back over 44 years of officership, it seems to me impossible to speak too highly of the value and importance of Salvation Army discipline…. I realized very clearly that if all leaders had a truer idea, a stricter ideal, of obedience to rules and regulations, a much greater advance would be made throughout the Army world.”

This isn’t popular today. But the issue is not that obedience to orders and regulations has been tried and found wanting but rather perceived as irrelevant and obsolete (and maybe a little too hard) and so not even tried.

Our desperation for success has sometimes led us far astray from Salvationism. You can possibly identify corps in your division that are more or less imitating the Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans and others (including poor substitutions of church for corps, service for meeting, pastor for officer, offering for collection, member for soldier, etc.). The problem is that most of these methods and terms don’t work very well when clothed in Salvationism.

We are not free to make things up on the fly. We’re part of an Army. We’re actually obligated to apply the Army system. If you aren’t applying it, you are compromising The Salvation Army and limiting the pace of advance of the salvation war.

Applying other methods and programs and non-Army doctrines and theology in attempts to mimic their success while we play the role of pastor and church, is doomed to failure.

Strategically, it is mistaken. The significant majority of Canadians have voted with their feet that church is irrelevant. Why would we pretend to be a church?

Biblically, it is near-sighted. There are all kinds of biblical metaphors for the people of God—body, temple, vineyard, building, flock, etc. But the Army of God is not a metaphor—it is not compared to something it is not. We are engaged in actual spiritual warfare. Biblically, we are on solid ground.

So, to present ourselves as a church is neither accurate nor effective.

What goes for church goes for its leaders. In the NIV translation of the Bible, pastor turns up once in Ephesians 4:11, though the Greek word poimen appears 18 times in the New Testament, 17 times being translated as shepherd. Pastor is a biblically rare synonym for the much more popular shepherd, so it makes much more strategic and biblical sense to use shepherd instead of the term pastor, packed as it is with negative connotations today.

Oh wait, except that shepherd relates to flock—a metaphor—in contrast with Army, in a very real spiritual war against the forces of evil.

So, let’s agree that the term pastor is another term we should avoid.

Let’s stop pretending. Let’s embrace The Salvation Army. Let’s embrace Salvationism, its leadership system and structure.

Major Stephen Court is the corps officer at Crossroads in Edmonton.

Comments

  1. Kathie Chiu says:

    While I know this will seem strange, I actually agree with both positions. Is that possible? Is it reality? Can we embrace Salvationism and still find ways to change to make our unique way of ministering to the lost relevant to a new generation? I think we can and we have all the information we need at our fingertips.

    We live in a culture that is vastly different than even 20 years ago when I was commissioned. We are a consumer driven culture, easily distracted by our smart phones. We are informal and if you live on the west coast you’ll find many people attending services in their shorts and flip flops. Back east it’s a bit different in style, but still much different than before. We are a more informed people – more than ever before. We know dysfunction – in families and in the church, from Dr. Phil and others. Today’s younger generation has a healthy distrust of organized religion. Did I miss anything?

    So, in the midst of all of that, should we change? Or should we cling desperately to the traditions of the past while the world around us moves forward at breakneck speed? We cannot afford to let our traditions, as lovely and dear to us as they are, become the idols that separate us from pursuing the God given vision our founders staked their entire lives on. The vision was not what we wear, what we sing, or HOW we minister. The vision is for the lost, the broken and the damaged of our society. Do we care more for the former than the latter?

    As for recruiting officers, what is holding us back in that effort? Is it possible our officer model needs to change? When so many reject it, you have to wonder if it’s relevant for people today. The authoritarian leadership structure is seen as archaic and out of touch with more modern methods of leadership today. I agree with Rob in this one. People today are not willing to place their future to an organization’s leadership that dictates and controls most aspects of their lives. Is there another Christian organization besides the Catholic church that operates this way? We need to change.

    The question is, can we embrace change and see it as gaining something new and exciting rather than losing something precious and comforting. The public and even members on our advisory boards may love how we look, but are they signing up as soldiers? If our corps/churches die, will there be anyone left to lead the social ministry? The corps/churches?

    I pray for our leaders to be brave and embrace new ideas, and for wisdom to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, you’re right Steve – we don’t have to look and be like the other churches – but we don’t have to cling to the past either. Let’s be who God wants us to be and be creative with how we fulfill the vision He has for us.

  2. Captain Rob had some excellent points here and I don’t think they should so easily be dismissed. Also, I do not believe it is his intent is to in any way diminish the Army or its’ values. Rob you are in good company as General Jon Gowans also saw gaps in our leadership structure. Many of his concerns and ideas on the matter are found in the book, “High Council”. Check it Out!!!

  3. Heidi Adams says:

    I am 25 years old. I am a youth pastor for TSA to the teens of my community and province. Many that I work with are considering God’s call to be an officer. It is the complete surrender of all control, comfort, and power required from Officers in the late 19th century and the Army today (although officership has a lot more perks now than back then) that motivates me to consider officership myself. If we have to make more and more concessions to increase the stability, control, and comfort of our officers and, equally, our soldiers, will we ever be who God wants us to be? Will we ever be able to do more than simply sing the words of “I surrender all” or just read Paul’s heartfelt prayer to KNOW Christ and Fellowship in his sufferings? Have we forgotten about the crosses we should gladly bear that give the message of Jesus Christ such irrelevant and countercultural power?

    Speaking for myself and the young people I work with, all of whom need to see an Army and a Jesus who stands against the current tide of our consumerist self-driven society, we will cease to be the Army God raised up, will the snuff out the light he gave us to shine, if we continue to try and make ourselves more comfortable.

    It is officers like Steve Court, my current Corps Officer, and many others I have met throughout the territory who are truly giving everything they have with little or no concern for themselves who are pulling off the best officer recruitment plan there is- visible holiness and passion for serving Jesus no matter the cost.

    That makes me want to follow in the footsteps of those who have so dearly sacrificed to bring us this far, stand up, and be counted in their number!

  4. Jeremy Thompson says:

    I must say as someone who has grown up in the Army, and considered Officership on and off over the years, I have to agree with Rob on this one. It seems I have seen many lay leaders, and officers who end up at the church (church said cheekily with intention) and yet fail to know their children…fail to spend the precious moments with those closest to us, and that we are all charged with raising with the knowledge of our Saviour.

    As for effectively recruiting officers, and lay leaders – to say that our leadership structure is effective, and that the problem is that “too many people have rejected it in attempt to resemble other churches” I believe is a misguided statement. We are a culture…we change…agreed, not always for the better…and not always for the glory of God, but as a movement… as an “order”, if we do not change to meet people where they’re at (meaning Soldiers, and adherents), then I am not convinced that we will grow.
    From an organizational standpoint, this makes sense. No other organization can not change their practices and survive. I believe God can sustain us if it His will, but I also believe that we have a responsibility to adjust to the context in which we live. We do not live in 1865 anymore. This doesn’t mean we can’t have the same drive, or the same vision and mission, but it does mean that we can do it in a different way without compromising our core doctrines and values. Remember that it’s not about The Salvation Army…It is about God’s grace sent through Christ Jesus, and sharing that message should be our priority.

    Recruiting new officers and leaders probably needs to start looking a bit different. If people aren’t coming, we need to ask ourselves why? Our current leaders are faced with the daunting task of looking at the next generation of people coming up, who are vastly different the other generations, and really try to understand them. Open eyes and ears and I bet you will learn that passion is great, but it looks a heck of a lot different, and it might need to be teased out a bit. But then again, what do I know? I’m just a guy (with a Bible School education – only mentioned to hopefully give me a bit of credibility) who has had successes and failures working for the Army (in the past) and has contemplated what leading this next generation (Gen Yers) looks like.

    Kathie – well said.

  5. In my readings and my devotional life I have been increasingly convicted about a core gospel message: that our lives are not about ourselves. That a well-centered life places a primary focus on who God is, what He is doing in our world, joining Him in His redemptive work and loving others.

    I am concerned that it might be possible that we have become too greatly influenced by our consumer-driven society and that we increasingly struggle with the sacrifices that discipleship demands of us. If this is true, then we must be very careful in considering changes to our standards for leadership – particularly what has been expected of our local officers and commissioned officers. Our self-focused society is not a Biblical worldview and if we are to be a people raised up and led by God, then we must center our leadership on Biblical holiness – that is a demonstrated willingness to forego our freedoms and desires to serve God and others (Mark 12:28-34).

    In reaching out to the lost and hurting, in our forms of worship and service we must be flexible and relevant – willing to try anything and everything to share the Gospel with those who need it. In discipling believers into maturity and leadership we must focus on the Kingdom and conforming our worldviews with God’s, not bending His to fit our culture.

    Abandoning personal freedoms and rights does not appear relevant in a modern context, and it will not attract many into leadership; those who have felt the convictions of the Holy Spirit on their hearts and truly desire to serve will be compelled to relinquish control to God and trust in the leadership He has raised up because their hearts will burn for the lost.

    God will provide when we focus less on leadership and address the heart of the issue – holiness living, which will compel those who God is calling into service.

  6. Andrew Evans says:

    Good articles and discussion. Thank you Captain Rob and Major Stephen.

    I trust that God has great plans for The Salvation Army to fight on many fronts and that His Holy Spirit will guide us. All it takes is a spontaneous burst of Fire to raise up more leaders. God will provide.

    Since we don’t know what changes we want to make or agree upon, let’s stick together and support what we presently have.

    Andrew

  7. Art Vandelay says:

    “So, let’s agree that the term pastor is another term we should avoid.” Major Stephen Court. Perhaps if the Army’s leadership were more concerned about “pastoring” (caring about their well-being, their emotional, mental & financial needs) of their Officer flock instead of casting them aside like refuse when they feel they are of no more use to the organization, they would not be facing this leadership crisis. The Army has always been good at caring for the down & out and undesirables in society, but have done a very poor job of caring for their own, something the scriptures admonish pastors to do before thinking of ministering to anyone outside their family. If they don’t think they is so, I am afraid they are living in a bubble.

  8. Brother Moe says:

    There is no doubt I agree with Capt Rob on this matter. I was gasped to hear some of the comments that Major Stephen is raising in this article. I am trying to consider if our church should now be called an “order” Should we rename our church The order of Berkshire or Berkshire Order. Nevertheless, it is comments like Major Stephen is suggesting that makes the brand of The Salvation Army very difficult to tell others that we are not just a social service agency but also a church. The vast majority of people that I speak with on day to day had no idea that The Salvation Army had a church connected to its social service structure. The Salvation Army in my opinion has no choice but to change its structure in order to grow in future generations. The average 25-30 year old person today has no idea what the uniform represents or the purpose of it. In Calgary, not even 10 years ago, there have been 2 Army corps closed due to lack of support and attendance.
    Overall, change is inevitable. Be the change Salvation Army or suffer the consequences!

  9. Book of Doodleonomy says:

    I think Stephen is most right because the battle is between flesh and Spirit -Not some of the time, not most of the time but all of the time. And especially in Leadership in Christ Church./Army This is a war. it’s called the law of Antagonisim and it operates as much in the spiritual realm as in nature. Health is only maintained at the price of struggle or sacrifice. Just as healty bodies are only possible by constant warfare with the host that surrounds it and seeks to destroy it, churches that fail to pay the high price of sacrifice become spiritually impotent. Not saying they will not grown numerically or prosper in some other way, but the Holy Ghost departs even though the stadium can be full. The real danger of the those days is that we will settle for Human contrived religion. I think that God sets a very high bar for those who seek His presence and fire (and this is what true leaders in Christ Church must respond to) but I also believe as the lack of response to leadership proves that a great many in our ranks are determined to bring it down. Our Army history shows that their is something in us that responds only to sacrifice. and I think Stephen’s article calls for more of that- Fire a Volley

  10. Have to agree with Major Court on this issue.

    To my mind the rapid and seemingly inexorable decline in the Army as a spiritual force began when we tried to become “more like the others”. We were never meant to be, and we shouldn’t have tried. We should have retained our distinctiveness. Now it seems we have all sorts of combinations and permutations of Salvationism out there, and while there are extraneous factors the Army can do little about I fear we will continue to witness corps close and the entire notion of the Army as a form of Christian expression dwindle to where we are nothing more than a well meaning social service organization.

    I agree that we can and indeed have changed with the times. I can’t remember the last time I saw much less danced a Hallelujah joy jig or saw a drumhead conversion. Times and practices can change; they should. Values and essentials should never change. While a bit cliche it is unfortunately so appropriate -stand ( and be) something or fall for anything. I am afraid we have adopted more of an “anything” mentality.

    We should have stayed “the Army”. Otherwise why bother?

  11. Eleanor Burne-Jones says:

    Reading this from the UK, I was surprised by neither point of view. (Just for the record I’d say a missional Order is far closer to what we are supposed to be than a local church or organisation which provides social services, but then who’s asking me? ) But there is a third possible perspective. Rather than taking the ‘excellence is key’ route, producing a kind of sparkly church which tries to offer brilliant worship, gripping sermons and a proliferation of activities to meet every need both for the poor and the worshippers – or being a psychologically brutal army-style organisation which sacrifices its own in the greater cause – we can simply make disciples. That involves modelling holy behaviour which values everyone, inside and out of the church. It means keeping ‘church’ relatively basic and accepting its usually unspectacular reality . But it shifts the key questions it asks of believers – from what can you do for us, or what can we offer you for spiritual gratification, to how can we help you live missionally? It asks, what are the blocks stopping you from being confident in communicating the gospel, and how can we help? It asks where and how would you like to be following Jesus five years from now and how can we help you grow into that? It asks, what’s your vision for our church? Can we all dream together and tell imaginative and playful stories round the table tonight about how our little congregation turned together from impasse or decline into a life-giving Jesus-centred renewal? It focusses on – disciplemaking. That’s all. That’s my dream army.

  12. Alonzo Twyne says:

    When God puts something in place as He did with The Salvation Army then He will bless and guide but only if…………….and the History of the Israelites that God gave as an example fits us well. If we are not obedient and do as the world system does then He will pull back and leave us alone. What am I saying? Yes, I see The Salvation Army doing just that. I have to realize today that God would still call me to be an officer but The Army would not because I am not educated (worldly) enough to fit with the mold. All due respect to education but without the Spirit of God and His wisdom then I am not going to be visible enough so that the world will see God. Programs cannot be run with worldly wisdom and expect God to bless. Just imagine servicing tables or running any type of program without being filled with the Spirit of God and using His Word as a guide. So how do I pray, talk to God, about sending recruits?

  13. Having grown up in the Army it saddens me to go back to corps that my family once attended and see no youth still attending from when I was there as a child. It has become fairly evident that something is wrong if we are losing so many youth. The question is what are we doing to keep and retain these people and develop them for future service in the Army? Sadly in many cases Youth programming is not deemed a priority as camps close, and youth programming disappears in the process of providing services to seniors and other adults in the corps. The sad part in all of this is that then we cry about not having youth leaders when nothing was done or is being done to retain them in the first place. Until corps (mine included) start to focus on the young people we will continue to see a lack of youth interested in officership and other roles in the church and many of them leaving corps and The Army to go somewhere where their spiritual needs are met and encouraged to grow.

  14. Nathan Swartz says:

    While reading the articles on officer shortege as well as their responses it became clear that there is certainly no shortage of passion or well thought out opinions on the matter. With so many we’ll argued thoughts I feel like I have little to offer, but I will try my best to express my concern. First I want to share a troubling observation of the above arguments. The scriptures, which according to our first doctrine were given by inspiration of God, and constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice were quoted overall less then army “celebrities”. Now, I understand the rhetorical need to appeal to tradition in order to prove loyalty, but I think we can assume loyalty from everyone who has responded based on the fact they feel so linked to the army that they read The Salvationist and feel so strongly about the lack of Officers that they risk their opinions before their peers and commanding officers. This being said I would like to suggest the miracle solution to our problems will not be found in O+R or in Relavant magazine. The answer is in Scripture.
    If we as leaders in The Salvation Army take the Holy Bible and use it for for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness then we will increase the numbers of capable leaders in the very real spiritual war that is taking place, at this very moment all over the world. True, these leaders may not carry the tri colour banner that so many hold dear but they will be loyal to the only one worthy of worship. I believe that if we can succeed in this task then bible beleaving young brave warriors may see that the Salvation Army has room for red hot Christians hungry to see souls saved by the Grace of God and in the name of Jesus. To succeed in this task we will need to live the scriptures we preach. This means that we need to wear sanctification not uniforms, or polo shirts or high collars.
    From Traditional, Barmy, Social Service, and Pastors I have seen all kinds Jesus loving officers succeed in their MU’s. each has been succsessful, not because one model is better then another, but because these bible believing amazing leaders believed and lived what they learned in scripture.
    The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, it cannot be broken and it lights the path under our feet. If we truly believe we are in a spiritual war, then lets turn to the arsenal that will equip us to win this war.
    God’s people have faced defeat before and he offered them these words;
    Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
    Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. Let Us Reason. Come now, and let us reason together,”Says the Lord,“Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
    Victory is sure if return to our first love, Salvation of Souls.

  15. ‘Salvation of Souls’. That is no longer our motto. On our front lines are not the soldiers of God but people with the expertise of the world, only. A leader at a recent conference held by The Salvation Army, said, when the question came up about employees not having the Spirit of God, replied by saying but they signed indicating that they would abide by the guidelines. Pardon? What if you go to the airport and hear your pilot say, ” I have never flown before but I signed that I would abide by all the guidelines”. When we take matters into our own hands God pulls back and then you see trouble. Commissioner, it is not difficult to understand why the lack of officers and trouble rising at the front. The Salvation Army is out of order. Just check the example that God gave us so that we would not fall into the same situation – the Israeli ties
    .

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