Commissioner Brian Peddle, territorial commander, speaks with John McAlister, web editor, about the importance of officers, the challenges of recruitment and retention and why he remains hopeful for the future.
Why do we still need Salvation Army officers?
The Salvation Army is first and foremost a spiritual movement. We need ordained individuals who are available to be appointed to ministry units across the territory. If we can’t access a reasonable number of officers through our appointment system, then we will have all kinds of inequities as to how we serve our communities and lead the Army. When people offer themselves for ordination and become covenanted individuals, and in turn make themselves available for appointments, they become a great gift to the Army in the territory as kingdom workers.
We also carry a responsibility to support the international Salvation Army by making officers available for overseas service.
How do we ensure that we have enough officers for the future?
We need to pray and ask God to give us more. One of the evidences of God’s blessing on the Army in this territory is that we continue to welcome cadets to our College for Officer Training. This year, 16 cadets have started training as part of the Disciples of the Cross Session. These are excellent people whom God has called to ministry. In each of their stories there is a divine dimension that they have responded to with obedient faith.
The question I sometimes ask is, Why not a few more to meet our needs? In that context, we need to continue unpacking this divine partnership we have with God. We need to take our understanding of God’s prerogative to specifically lay his hand on individuals in calling them to officership and balance that with our responsibility to keep the leadership needs of the Army in front of our people. We need to recruit and directly ask people to consider serving God through the Army as a Salvation Army officer. We need every Salvationist to offer themselves as recruiters. Strategies will be helpful but engaging in a holy conversation is also appropriate and necessary.
What characteristics do you think an ideal candidate for officership should have?
Let me start by noting the need for obedient faith in God which leads to listening to his voice and following through with what he commands. You need to be delivered from being judgmental so that you can love people without condition. You need humility and the ability to express yourself well. These are some characteristics but beyond these come a set of competencies that we try to unpack in each officer’s journey. How are they doing with their personal relationship with Christ? How do they manage their servant role with people? How are they developing spiritually with disciplines? How do they relate to being a minister of the gospel? How are they progressing at being a leader of God’s people? Do they invest in others? In the lifelong journey of an officer, it is important that the Army nurtures and develops these competencies.
Why do you think it’s so hard to recruit officer candidates?
I’m not sure that it is harder than in the past. I think that many things, such as demographics, have changed significantly. In many families, there were several children, so it wasn’t unusual for one or more in a family to offer themselves to officership. I don’t think there are as many young people coming into families, or into the Army, who are available for future leadership.
When people are deciding what to do with their lives or going through a life transition and trying to figure out the next chapter, we need to encourage them to be open to the reality that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. We need to be willing to talk about this openly in the Army and in our congregations. This doesn’t have to be a conversation left for a specific weekend when we bring people together to talk about vocation. We need to refresh our initiatives as far as our willingness to have the hard conversations about how God is unfolding his plan for all of us.
There is a huge need for new officers. At present, we have 830 officers as a resource. If all of the trends continue—taking our retirements and other losses and put them alongside those new recruits who are entering training college—in another decade we will only have 630 officers. Unless things change dramatically, then the availability of officers in the territory will be limited. This should be a concern, not just for territorial leadership, but for all Salvationists. I ask for all Salvationists to do their part and pray earnestly for this critical issue of candidate recruitment. We all need to play a role as recruiters.
While some officers are retiring, others have quit or been terminated. Why are we losing officers?
The retirement numbers are an important part of honouring those who have served. We can project those down to the day. We’re trying to foster a culture in which officers who are well in body and spirit can extend their years of service. I want to honour those who engage in ministry post-retirement and stress our renewed efforts to make this continuation of covenanted service worth pursuing.
Officers are called and covenanted to serve God through The Salvation Army. In some ways, we’ve set them apart. It should be noted, however, that they face the same challenges and stresses as everyone else living in the world today. So, there are outcomes when difficulties arise with family or marriage or when there are serious issues in regard to ministry. I wish I could point to a specific cause or pattern that leads to officers quitting or being terminated so that we could respond to it, but the situations of each individual or couple are unique so it’s difficult to establish a response mechanism that could turn this around. That’s why the Bible calls us to pray for those in spiritual authority over us. I call upon Salvationists to pray for the protection and well-being of their officers and to support them where possible. The Army has a huge responsibility to nurture our officers and ensure that their spiritual lives are strong.
With our leadership needs, what are some strategies that we should be looking at?
First of all, our leadership needs exist at every level of the Army and require almost every capacity that you can imagine. In just a second appointment, an officer can receive a significant responsibility with a congregation that is modest but yet a program with 20-25 employees and perhaps a budget of $2 million. Our leadership needs will continue to challenge us and we will have to keep responding to build the capacity of the people we already have—and add to their numbers.
I look to our leadership development team for the creation of personal development plans for our officers and employees. This isn’t simply an officers’ Army, but a partnership shared between our officers, employees and volunteers.
I commend Booth University College for developing programs that are helping us with our capacity issue, such as their chaplaincy and management programs. At present, we’re exploring a program designed to enhance the corps officer role. I would like to see Booth become our corporate learning centre, so that as we face emerging leadership needs and capacity issues, then Booth—with its resources and the Army’s commitment to it—becomes one of the means by which we respond as a territory.
We need to find ways to enable more Salvationists to serve as auxiliary-captains or in another service category and bring their life experiences to the Army. We also need to recognize the value of our 10,000 employees and find opportunities to maximize our investment in them.
As the numbers of officers decrease, does this open up new opportunities for lay leadership? If so, how is the Army moving to empower its lay leaders?
Those strategies are being considered. I don’t think we have enough in place to counterbalance the reality of our leadership needs. These are priorities for the territory. We need to be more open to providing ministry opportunities for people. When we look at our employee component, we are trying to develop and invest in them.
I do have some concern for what we call our local officers. I think there’s significant responsibility for the Army to continue to ask, appoint and train local officers who are able to support existing officer models and also step into the gap in situations when an officer is not available. I am personally grateful for our local officers who take on various leadership roles in the territory, particularly at the corps level. A great deal of work needs to go into the strategies to support them and in turn help the Army to respond to any diminishment of officer numbers.
Are you hopeful for the future?
I’m more than hopeful. I don’t have any sense at all that God has taken his hand off the Army in this territory. There is too much visible evidence of his blessing upon us. As I travel the territory, it creates hope within me and I am inspired to believe for greater things. As the territorial commander, I can’t just manage what we have. I have a responsibility as a leader to create a culture of growth that challenges the status quo and says that we can be greater than what we are because God needs us to be greater. We need to grasp the opportunities that come to us both as a social service agency and a credible denomination. We need to be a clear voice in culture and society.
Commissioner Brian Peddle is the territorial commander of the Canada and Bermuda Territory. Click here to read his columns.