It has been an incredible privilege and a significant challenge to have been able to serve as the international leader of The Salvation Army. A five-year term seems to fly by at tremendous speed and still, in some respects, it is a long time. I can certainly attest to the fact that there is never a dull moment!
Without doubt, Commissioner Silvia and I have been privileged to travel and see the Army at work. God willing, we hope that by August 2 we will have been able to visit every territory, command and region where the Army is present. It would require more than a five-year term to see the work in all 128 countries.
The thing that stands out clearly for us is the fact that The Salvation Army is still effective, strong and growing in places where we have remained true to our unique and God-given calling. We struggle in some places when we deviate from our holistic mission, which is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.
As I prepare to leave office I believe in a great future for the Army, but that future will only be ours if we remain true to our calling—faithful, diligent, active and mobilized in fulfilling our God-given mission.
When these two aspects of our mission are evident, whether it be in a corps or a social centre or program, lives are being changed and transformed. It is a model that still functions well after 153 years of our history. Where we have divided or separated the mission, it does not work.
It has to be said that in some places, there is a danger of disconnecting the mission from our ministry. There are soldiers in corps who have never engaged in any kind of social service or in providing practical support to people in need.
Sadly, there are still places where we have more non-Salvationist volunteers who are out on the streets doing Salvation Army ministry than our own uniformed Salvationists, who actually signed a covenant that they are called to this kind of sacrificial service.
Corps that do not have a clear expression of social care and outreach in the communities in which they serve struggle for a sense of identity and purpose that should set us apart from other denominations. Social centres and programs that have a weak focus on spiritual life and development are not as effective in the transformation of lives.
As the time approaches for me to hand over to my successor, I express a word of heartfelt thanks to Salvationists and volunteers around the world for the countless examples of faithful, sacrificial service we’ve been privileged to witness firsthand. The Army is still as needed and relevant today all around the world because of what you do day in and day out.
While many things have been accomplished in these past five years, I am mindful of the fact that we are not in a sprint. Our work never ends and never will, until Jesus comes again. We are, therefore, in an ultramarathon relay race and the time is fast approaching for the handover of the baton to my successor. I pray that he or she will experience the incredible power of prayer support from all around the world, as has been our experience.
I am happy for history and those who come after us to determine what, if anything, is noteworthy in this five-year journey.
One of the questions that those who were nominated for election in the 2013 High Council were asked was: “Describe The Salvation Army on your last day in office. How would you as the General bring this about?”
In response, I stated: “I see a vibrant, committed, effective and joyful Army, rooted and confident in the Word of God and on its knees. I see an Army that truly reflects the mind of Jesus in our commitment to the poor and the marginalized. I see 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 see an Army that values its youth, where our young people feel that they have a voice.
“I see an Army with strong, relevant and streamlined administrative structures and a much more effective use of our financial and material resources. I see an Army where all cultures are equally accepted and celebrated through the spiritual ties that bind us all together. I see an Army that shuns the dependency culture.”
Little could I have imagined when addressing the High Council, how dramatically the world would change for me and my wife on August 3, 2013, and how suddenly I needed to begin making a dream a reality. Throughout my term I have kept returning to this vision, which has shaped and defined the agenda that I have pursued.
If I were asked to highlight some of the things that stand out for me, I would include the following, recognizing that it is both difficult and dangerous to highlight specific points with the fear of forgetting or overlooking others.
Perhaps the most defining experience for me was the run-up to and follow-on from the 2015 Boundless international congress. How important it is for us to be mindful of our spiritual relationship with God and, undoubtedly, this was an important event in the spiritual life of each of us, but also of the Army as a whole. We still see vibrancy, life and new spiritual growth as a result around the world.
Coupled to this has been the important legacy of Boundless, which has seen us seize the initiative and take every opportunity to be a fully mobilized Army wherever we serve. How vital it is that we are not introverted and inward looking, but always reaching out with the most precious, most important message of God’s salvation to a world that is lost and ever sinking further in sin. Our founder, William Booth, said: “When The Salvation Army ceases to be a militant body of red-hot men and women whose supreme business is the saving of souls, I hope it will vanish utterly.”
Of course, the Accountability Movement has been a strong focus during these past five years. It recognizes that strong structures and effective use of resources are not an end in themselves but are vital because they facilitate mission. The Accountability Movement ensures greater transparency, more inclusion, more space for participation and accountability, more delegation and distribution of leadership, and a more equitable access to communications and technology.
This enables us to better connect internationally and foster stronger, safer relationships, ensuring that for many years to come the claim to operate in each country where The Salvation Army is present is legitimate and secure. I am particularly pleased to have seen the finalization and the beginning of the roll-out of the new international financial and accounting standards, which bring the Army into high-quality best practice when it comes to accounting for our financial resources.
More than half the territories have taken or are taking a serious look at their governance structures and this will ensure that we maintain the highest standards, reflecting kingdom values in the way we operate and manage the mission around the world. More importantly, it ensures that we keep the main thing the main thing when it comes to the delivery of our God-given mission.
We now have in place a robust framework for child protection and, moving forward, we need to ensure we work diligently and live up to the commitments and statements that we make in our public policy. At times, we have struggled with impact measurement. Clearly, we are beginning to make progress in tracking lasting outcomes rather than just collecting statistics. We want to see the Army having an impact and making a real and lasting difference in the world.
While much has been achieved in this five-year period, still much remains to be done. There are many battles to face and trials to overcome until we experience the final victory when Jesus returns. Undoubtedly, there are significant challenges ahead for the international Army, some of which will certainly face my immediate successor. We will need every ounce of wisdom, grace and courage that the Holy Spirit can provide in order to make the right decisions.
As I prepare to leave office I believe in a great future for the Army, but that future will only be ours if we remain true to our calling—faithful, diligent, active and mobilized in fulfilling our God-given mission. You will be in my thoughts and prayers now and in days to come, as I will look from afar with a sense of great anticipation to see what God will do with his great Salvation Army.
General André Cox has been world leader of The Salvation Army since August 2013. He will step down from the position on August 2 this year.
Reprinted from Others magazine (The Salvation Army Australia).