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Jan7TueGeneral André Cox shares his vision for a Christ-centred Army that practises what it preaches from the top leadership down. January 7, 2014 Interview by Geoff Moulton
"How would you see your last day in office as the General of The Salvation Army?” That's the question then-Commissioner André Cox was asked at the 2013 High Council. It caused him to put into words his vision for The Salvation Army.
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After being elected as the Army's 20th General, he shared his “I Dream” statements with the world.
I Dream …
- I dream of a committed, effective and joyful Army, rooted and confident in the Word of God and on its knees.
- I dream of an Army that truly reflects the mind of Jesus in our commitment to the poor and the marginalized.
- I dream of an Army that practises what it preaches from the top leadership down, an Army that is a visible and living example of kingdom values.
- I dream of an Army that values its youth, where our young people feel that they have a voice.
- I dream of an Army with strong, relevant and streamlined administrative structures and a much more effective use of our financial and material resources.
- I dream of an Army where all cultures are equally accepted and celebrated through the spiritual ties that bind us all together.
- I dream of an Army that shuns the dependency culture.
Salvationist's editor-in-chief, Geoff Moulton, spoke with the General six months after his election to hear more about those dreams and find out how to turn them into a reality.
General Cox, what inspired you to communicate this vision? What do you hope to achieve?
Proverbs 29:18 says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). If we don't have dreams, if we don't have a vision, then there's nothing to aim for. Without vision, man wouldn't have landed on the moon. It's an impossible dream and yet someone had it. Having a vision helps us focus on a goal so we can work toward something.
I hope it will inspire people to reach for something more. I want to see an Army that will continue to grow, believe and develop. A lot of what I see in that dream is happening now, but we have the potential to aim even higher.
How do the “I Dream … ” statements fit with the call to One Army, One Mission, One Message?
This vision touches every aspect of the One Army, One Mission, One Message vision and reinforces that call. As one Army we talk about deepening our spiritual life, uniting in prayer, reaching out and involving children and youth. We also pledge to stand for and serve the marginalized, communicate Christ unashamedly, reaffirm our belief in transformation and increase self-support. All of those things are echoed in my dream, so I think the two dovetail quite neatly.
You envision an Army “rooted and confident in the Word of God.” With the rise of secularism, do you think Salvationists have lost some of this rootedness? How can this be restored?
I don't believe we've lost the battle on this because some of the challenges and economic realities that we're seeing in many western cultures are driving people to search deeper and rediscover some of the spiritual values that had previously been discarded.
In a multimedia society where communication is limited to 140-character tweets and screen time with your family exceeds your face time, we can become superficial. We can nibble at little bits of life without prioritizing time with God by studying his Word, meditating and reflecting.
I believe the Word of God has not changed and is still relevant in our 21st century. By engaging and being serious about the Word, we can regain that confidence.
As Salvationists, how should we interpret the Bible?
There is a danger in being judgmental, in seeing the world through a very narrow lens, but on the other hand, I also see an equally troubling tendency to try and adapt the Word of God to suit where we're at so that nothing has to change. The Word of God challenges us and the values of the kingdom are countercultural. It should make us uncomfortable in the areas of our life where we don't live out those values.
In some parts of the developing world, the Army is experiencing significant growth, yet in the developed world the numbers of soldiers are declining. Does this concern you?
It is a real challenge and I don't think we should paint a picture that's extremely rosy, but I do believe that we're seeing signs that offer us hope.
A lot of our corps in Europe, for example, are confronted with the reality of extreme poverty on our doorstep. Corps that had been given up for dead for a long time are suddenly taking on a new lease of life as Salvationists engage and support people. In a practical way, many people now come to corps simply because they need assistance with food parcels and basic necessities. This opens up new opportunities where corps are engaging with people and sharing the gospel message.
While travelling throughout the world, I am encouraged by the large number of young people expressing a calling to serve as Salvation Army officers. It's more than I've seen in the last 15 or 20 years! So I think there are possibilities for growth when we genuinely show Christ's compassion in the things that we do.
In the early days of the Army, greater numbers of soldiers were engaged in our work with the poor. Today we increasingly pay “professionals” to carry out much of our social work. What impact does this have on the culture of the organization?
I think there are obvious pluses when we work with professional people—when we raise the standards of what we're doing. But there's a danger in relying on professionals who do not necessarily subscribe to the spiritual values of the Army. When we take pride in being part of The Salvation Army and the wonderful works we do, but lack the driving passion to win the world for Jesus, there's a disconnect because we're only delivering half of the mission.
Jesus calls us to have a heart of compassion and reach out to a needy world. While we care for those who are sick, we should also be concerned for those who are dying in sin. Being a wonderfully run institution is not enough to meet all the physical, emotional and spiritual needs in our communities.
What does it mean to “reflect the mind of Jesus” in our interaction with the poor and marginalized?
Jesus often drew attention to the things that were insignificant, discarded. I think of the spotlight he put on the poor widow who was giving her mite or how he would draw children to himself. Or how about his compassion for the sick or for those who would have been outcast in their society because of the sicknesses they had? I don't think we should be looking for accolades and public acclaim, however pleasant that is, but we should be seeking to reflect that same concern for the seemingly “insignificant” or marginalized people in the world today, people without a voice who are considered to be nothing.
The typhoon that hit the Philippines in November has reminded me rather starkly that, very often, the communities that suffer most are the poorest of the poor because they're in the least secure locations. That's why it's important that we strive to reflect the mind of Christ and think of things that the world considers to be unimportant.
You dream of an Army that “practises what it preaches, from the top leadership down.” How are we currently doing with respect to this?
If you're looking for perfection, don't look to me. I'm still a work in progress, but I recognize the need to lead by example and not by words. In my travels to various countries in different cultural settings, I've been pleased to sense an energy and passion in those who serve the poor and the marginalized. When we present, believe and live out the gospel message, transformation takes place.
Can you give us a few examples?
I remember listening to the story of a man at one of our recovery centres in Australia who had an alcohol problem. He went out and bought himself a trombone even though he had no idea how to play it. The officer in charge of the institution played in the local corps band and spent time with this man, teaching him to play the instrument and mentoring him in his walk with the Lord. This man accepted Christ and can now speak confidently of his own sense of worth as a child of God.
In South America, I heard the story of a young officer who testified how the home league influenced her mother. Her whole household changed because her mother had heard the gospel message at the home league meeting and now she is an officer of The Salvation Army.
These stories are real and they're still happening today. Lives are being transformed and it's what makes it worthwhile to get up in the morning and do what we have to do.
You long for “an Army where all cultures are equally accepted.” How are we doing in this respect?
I sense a growing acceptance and celebration of our differences. I'm hoping we'll capture a sense of that in the 2015 International Congress as the world comes together in London, England. People say to me, “How do you deal with the tension between the developed world and the developing world?” I've been surprised that there are not that many differences. We are more of a family than we think we are.
There can be a tension between diversity and uniformity in the Army. What are the non-negotiables when it comes to Army distinctives?
What binds us together is our common belief that the Bible is the inspired message of God, that it reveals his plan of salvation for the world. That's the bedrock to start with. We're also a covenanted people—we sign the Soldiers' Covenant and Officers' Covenant.
My wife and I have travelled to officers' councils in four of the zones this year and there is a sense of unity. Our doctrines also help in binding us together—they shape and guide the principles of our faith. Also, everywhere I go, people talk about how valuable the weekly prayer meeting has been for them. There is a sense of ownership for Salvationists in knowing they are praying for the Army around the world.
Another thing that brings us together is our use of the mercy seat. I've been moved in each of the zones that I've visited this year to see how naturally and wonderfully people make use of the mercy seat for prayer, dedication and commitment.
Lastly, our dress code is a clear, visible way to show that we belong to The Salvation Army. I know there are negative connotations to wearing the uniform in some parts of the world, but I've found that it's a wonderful way to open doors. As we travel, people stop us in airports and talk to us about their connections with the Army. I don't believe in God's secret service. This is an easy way to make sure we're visible.
Is the Army too top-heavy in its administration? How do we restructure to maximize our resources?
I'm a firm believer that good administration leads to effective mission outcomes, but there's a fine line between good administration and undue bureaucracy. I think we should be continually reviewing the relevance of our policies and procedures and the cost of our administration. The only reason headquarters exist is to support the front-line mission and be a resource.
Getting the balance right is a challenge in many places and we should never lose our focus. I know that in every territory that I have served in, we've had a careful look at our structure because, if we get the balance wrong, we can suck up far too great a proportion of our resources just to keep the machinery going, and that's not our purpose. We're there to continue to ensure that souls are being saved, suffering humanity is served and that we're growing disciples.
Last fall, you invited young people to share their voice by submitting videos for the January 2014 General's Consultative Council. How did that project go?
We received more than 200 videos and were very pleased with the exceptionally good response. I viewed a large number of the videos and I don't feel a huge disconnect with the visions and dreams youth have and the things that they aspire to. This was a great way for us to build bridges, rather than say there's a generation gap.
The Council was the first springboard to opening opportunities for youth in many territories.
What other steps will the Army take to ensure that youth have a voice?
I don't want young people to be considered the Army of the future … they are the Army today. Only they can effectively reach their generation. And so we need to empower them, support them and engage them. Instead of looking at young people with the mindset of, “In a few years' time, they might be able to take over from us,” we must see it as a partnership that's real now.
For the 2015 Congress, I've asked planners to ensure that we don't marginalize young people to an alternative platform, but to include them as a very visible part of the main events.
You dream of an Army that shuns the dependency culture. What does this mean?
If you look at the One Army vision statement, we talk about increasing self-support and self-denial. In the developed world, how many corps are self-financing and how many rely on mission support grants? I think there is a certain dependency culture—even in western society— when it comes to the evangelical work of The Salvation Army. I believe that if all Salvationists tithed, a lot of the financial problems would be resolved, certainly with regard to the sustainability, development and growth of our evangelical and corps work.
The dependency goes further in other parts of the world, where we simply say, “Here's a desperate need and we're looking for someone to fund it.” I think that many of our territories have more resources at our disposal than we readily recognize. We might be cash-poor in some areas, but we are usually asset-rich when you look at our buildings and properties. We need to be a little more savvy about how we maximize our stewardship and management of some of those facilities. With a bit of creativity and thought, we could do a lot more and not look to someone else all the time to pay for our next meal. We do have resources at our disposal, so changing that attitude is going to give us a huge start.
What are the top challenges facing the Army today? What keeps you awake at night?
Emergency situations such as the Philippines typhoon in November make me uneasy because I know just how thinly it stretches our personnel and financial resources to respond to crises of that magnitude.
Another major concern is when I hear of people who belong to the Army—whether soldiers or officers—who fail to maintain the standards, particularly in cases of abuse. Those are horrendous issues that we have to deal with and often have huge repercussions in the lives of individuals, often to the point of scarring them for life. Those issues challenge me to the core of my being and cause me to reflect in the hours of darkness.
Fortunately, there are a lot of positives in this organization. Seeing a lot of positive change and evidence of transformation is what helps me get through a lot of the other challenges.
How can Salvationists help make these dreams a reality?
My only call or challenge would be to ask them to consider these dreams. I'm not saying they should just go and do it without proper reflection, but to pause and think about what they would need to change in order to make these dreams a reality in their own lives.