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.