The Salvation Army believes in integrated mission. That is, an understanding that God’s salvation is for the whole of creation in all its dimensions: spiritual, physical and social. This includes proclamation through evangelism, holiness through discipleship, service to those in need, the pursuit of justice and societal transformation, and the stewardship of the earth. [1] A concept of integrated mission emphasizes that this holistic understanding is necessary because a reductionist [2] view of mission that neglects one of these ministries develops a hierarchy of mission imperatives, or seeks to separate out the streams of mission, leading to a skewed sense of God’s calling on all Christians, and has practical consequences for the church.

The Historical Development of Mission

An understanding of mission in The Salvation Army continues to be developmental—sometimes the result of an evolving, internal conversation, and sometimes in dialogue with trends in the wider church and world.

The Wesleyan heritage of William and Catherine Booth instilled in the Founders a dual understanding of mission as both evangelism and social activism. This sprang from John Wesley’s theological commitment to social concern alongside his belief that “whosoever will may come.” [3] As The Salvation Army advanced, the early leaders developed their own thinking about mission in response to the context in which they were operating. Before the 1870s, the Booths were mostly concerned with evangelism and personal spiritual salvation. However, as they encountered the poverty in the East End of London, England, an additional work developed with numerous initiatives to tackle the symptoms of deprivation. This did not replace the zeal for evangelism but grew into a balanced position where both spiritual and physical salvation were regarded as equally important and interconnected. By the 1890s, this thinking had developed further with a social activism that focused beyond simply meeting personal needs to focus on societal transformation, too, evident in the Maiden Tribute campaign (1885) and the In Darkest England and The Way Out scheme (1890).

“Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.”

Shifting Dynamics

While integrated mission has been a distinctive of The Salvation Army from its early days, wider movements and theological trends have from time to time exposed fault lines in missional practice and created spaces where ideas about mission have been contested. For example, The Salvation Army, born in London during an age of colonialism, was able to spread internationally through the sending of “missionaries” around the world in tandem with dominant Western culture and economic power. Only later, with hindsight, this era of mission has been widely looked upon with some ambivalence. Likewise, concerns within the evangelical churches in the early 20th century about the rise of a “Social Gospel” [4] created fears about devaluing evangelism in favour of social action. In more recent times, evangelical movements have reconciled this tension through embracing the idea of “integral” mission: “Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.” [5]

Today, in some contexts, there are fears of justice being given too much prominence, while conversely in others, real uncertainty toward missional ideas that do not take matters of justice seriously enough. Furthermore, in recent decades growing attention to the emerging climate crisis has galvanized fresh reflection by Christians around creation care as an integral part of mission.

Ideas about mission are not static. They are informed by past practice, they evolve and shift dynamically depending on context, and are subject to influence from inside and outside the church. [6]

With this in mind, the following principles ground a theology of integrated mission.

1. Mission is God’s Initiative

God is the source of all mission. Missiologists describe this as Missio Dei—the conviction that God, who is missionary by nature, initiates mission in order to redeem and restore the whole of creation according to the divine purpose (see Romans 11:36). People are invited to partner with God in this great enterprise and sent to fulfil it. [7]

The Bible describes this through the arc of Scripture. God created the world, made human beings and assigned them as co-workers and stewards of creation (see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). After the Fall this relationship was compromised and human activity marked by individual and corporate sin. God’s mission, however, could not be hijacked and therefore a pathway was provided for the reconciliation of all things, beginning with a covenanted people sent to bless all nations (see Genesis 12:1-3), and culminating in the sending of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death and Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-5) emerged a new community of redeemed people, the church, modelled on his example (see 1 Peter 2:9), empowered by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2), and co-workers in God’s salvation plan (see 1 Corinthians 3:9). All mission, then, is integrated through the source from which it springs.

2. The Trinity

At the heart of the Trinity lies the supreme example of integrated mission. In the unity of Father, Son and Spirit we discover a mutuality and interdependence maintained through relationship. God is not confined to heaven or earth, flesh or spirit, but defies such categorization. The persons of the Trinity do not relate to one another through hard, static boundaries of their individual identities but in a dynamic “mutual indwelling,” where they make space for the other through love. [8] This “God-in-community” reaches out to humanity with the invitation to respond likewise and build integrated, inclusive communities that reflect the generosity, genuine acceptance and mutual love of the triune God. [9]

Integral to the trinitarian nature of God is the concept of sending, where the Father, Son and Spirit become a “fountain of sending love” toward creation [10]—the Son is sent into the world to redeem it (see John 3:16) and the Holy Spirit is sent into the world to empower believers (see John 14:26). In turn, the church is sent into the world (see John 17:18; John 20:21; Matthew 28:16-20) to fulfil God’s missionary purposes. In this understanding, God’s missionary nature is expressed in the persons of the Trinity sending across borders and operating in multi-dimensional spheres. The church, as a participant in the mission of God, expresses in its mission this integration at the heart of God.

3. “Salvation for Both Worlds”

Integrated mission is an emphatic rejection of a false dichotomy in the understanding of salvation. In Scripture, the Hebrew worldview emphasizes that there is no artificial divide between body and soul, physical and spiritual, sacred and secular. Just as Genesis begins with a fully integrated created order in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 1-2), so in the final analysis, the Book of Revelation concludes with a vision of heaven and earth joined together and restored under the rule of Christ (see Revelation 21:1-5). The work of salvation in its fullest sense is not only about God saving people from sin so that they can go to heaven after death, but also the beginning of a new life characterized by God at work in and through a person within their present reality.

In 1889, William Booth wrote: “I had two gospels of deliverance to preach—one for each world, or rather one gospel which applied alike to both. I saw that when the Bible said, ‘he that believeth shall be saved,’ it meant not only saved from the miseries of the future world but from the miseries of this also.” [11]

As inheritors of this understanding of mission, there is no room for dualism in Salvationist thinking. Integrated mission inherently assumes that evangelism and social activism cannot be separated.

4. Jesus as Model

There is no greater proponent of integrated mission than Jesus. His very nature, as both human and divine, is a sign of an interconnected heaven and earth. His ministry consistently demonstrates a concern for both the spiritual and physical dimensions of life extended to individuals, communities and the breadth of creation. He proclaims a gospel of individual salvation and forgiveness of sins (see John 3:1-21) that is often accompanied by a physical demonstration of reconciliation and renewal (see Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 7:36-50; Luke 19:1-10). When Jesus declares, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), he is talking about present and future realities. Likewise, when launching his ministry in Nazareth, reading from Isaiah 61, Jesus is announcing that his earthly mission has both physical and spiritual dimensions, relating to individuals, communities and societal structures: ‘“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’” (Luke 4:18-19).

5. The Kingdom of God

At the heart of Jesus’ preaching, life and ministry is the concept of the kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven. Jesus, who saw himself as inaugurating this kingdom (see Mark 1:15), seems to understand this as the rule of heaven breaking into the present world. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, may “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is heaven” (Matthew 6:10), he is providing them with a prayer that encapsulates the essence of integrated mission. The kingdom of God, launched by Jesus, will lead to both the transformation of individuals and the transformation of communities, societies and structures as they are rescued and liberated from the sin and powers of this world. This is accomplished through Jesus’ life-saving work on the cross (see Romans 6:1-11) and the redeeming power of the Resurrection (see Colossians 1:15-20). The work of the kingdom, while present in the here and now, has not yet been fully realized. Until then, in mission, God’s people are called and sent as agents of this kingdom into the world, “awed to heaven and rooted in earth.” [12]

6. Holiness

For the Salvationist, it should be impossible to divorce the work of mission from a lifelong commitment to holiness through discipleship. A truly integrated understanding of mission recognizes that the embodiment of the gospel comes from an inseparable connection between personal salvation and active service in the world. Those who have experienced God’s justifying and sanctifying grace are propelled into a life of mission through the missionary Spirit living within. This is expressed in Salvation Army covenant-making where for adherents, soldiers and officers, personal faith is intrinsically linked with a commitment to mission.

At the Great Commission Jesus commands his followers to make disciples (see Matthew 28:16-20). In the Great Commandment he ties together loving God and loving neighbour (see Matthew 22:36-40). In Matthew 25 he explains that his presence is revealed through serving those who are often marginalized (see Matthew 25:21-46). At his Ascension he tells his followers that the Spirit will come upon them to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The pursuit of holiness, then, is also the pursuit of mission, where the inner life of the believer becomes a wellspring for action and witness through word and deed in all dimensions of life—personal, relational, societal, environmental and political. [13] Simply put, integrated mission is far more than a program or activity—it is a way of life.

 7. The Church

The universal church, both gathered and scattered, is a witness and sign to the future restoration of all things and the present breaking in of Christ’s reign (see John 17:21-23). As a corporate embodiment of integrated mission, the church must be a place where Christ’s visible presence in the world is evident through the lives of a people in community, reconciled to one another in fellowship, committed to growing in holiness and sent to participate in God’s mission to the whole person and the whole world (see Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37; Ephesians 5:26-27). The Salvation Army, as an integral part of the body of Christ, exists within this framework and is most true to itself when embracing this missionary calling.

While The Salvation Army seeks to embody the integrated nature of God’s mission, it also recognizes that God’s mission is broader than any one movement or denomination. The entirety of God’s salvation plan is predicated on the understanding that all mission flows from the purposes of God and the church is invited to join in and fulfil its responsibilities.

Some Implications

The vision for a truly integrated mission within The Salvation Army poses a constant challenge and corrective practice. Some practical implications include:

  • With the recognition that God is the source of all mission comes the possibility that we are led into fresh and reconfigured understanding about God’s activity in the world, and calls us to new missional ventures that must be synthesized into the whole. In recent times, seeking justice and creation care have required a renewed evaluation and integration.
  • Since The Salvation Army is not the instigator of mission but a willing participant in God’s redemptive plans, mission should always begin from a posture of humility, open to discovering God’s active presence in the communities and individuals we serve. Paternalistic approaches and strategies that seek to impose ministries upon others or assume they have all the answers should be avoided. Instead, an integrated mission approach calls all participants to be attentive, to listen and learn from others, committed to building relationships, and taking seriously the context they are placed in.
  • Integrated mission, with its broad and inclusive definitions, should not give license to the neglect of evangelism. The proclamation of the gospel, however, can never be only verbal, divorced from loving action, relationship, a life of holiness and the wider witness of the church. Evangelism can take many forms and centres on drawing people closer to their Creator.
  • Ministries that do not make space for witness alongside practical action are not embodying the whole gospel. Where funding bids, contractual arrangements or other circumstances compromise this principle, integrated mission can be denigrated.
  • With the inseparable connection between mission and discipleship, it becomes paramount that programs and activities are not divorced from the spiritual life of The Salvation Army. Where such work has no meaningful link with worship, prayer, Bible study, covenant making and other spiritual disciplines, it is possible that the core principles of integrated mission have been conceded.
  • Organizational structures that separate elements of mission too sharply can contribute to a less than integrated mission. There can be unintended consequences where there are misunderstandings of the holistic nature of integrated mission with different ministries becoming disconnected from the whole.


In a movement as complex as The Salvation Army, having a theological understanding and framework for integrated mission is important. The term is one that has gained usage and resonance in varied contexts around the world to describe how the wide spectrum of activity undertaken by Salvationists, employees, volunteers and friends fits together within the purposes of God. Ultimately it is this faithful commitment to participating in God’s redemptive purposes for the world that will not only make sense of the past but will give life to the mission of The Salvation Army in the future. May our mission, then, be wholly integrated, united in purpose and solidly rooted in the mission of God.

Photo of Major Nick Coke
Mjr Nick Coke

Major Nick Coke is the territorial co-ordinator for justice and reconciliation in the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory, and a member of the International Theological Council.

Photo: Jevanto Productions/

Reprinted from The Officer (October-December 2023).


[1]The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2010: 253

[2i] Defining mission too narrowly.

[3] The Song Book of The Salvation Army, 2015, 945

[4] “A Theology for the Social Gospel,” ed. Robin W. Lovin, Douglas F. Ottati and William Schweker. Library of Theological Ethics (Louisville, KY: Westerminster John Knox Press), 1945.

[5] Lausanne Movement, Micah Network, 2001:

[6] David Bosch highlights six paradigm shifts in mission throughout church history. Bosch, Transforming Mission, 1991: 181-189

[7] Ibid 1, 85

[8] Volf, Inclusion and Embrace, 1996: 175ff

[9] Ibid 1, 75

[10] Ibid 6, 390

[11] Booth, Salvation for Both Worlds, 1890: 2

[12] Brueggemann, Walter, Awed To Heaven, Rooted in Earth, 2003

[13] Street, Robert, Called to be God’s People, 1999: 79.



On Wednesday, March 13, 2024, James Read said:

Major Nick Coke has given us a sound, brief theology of integrated/integral mission. We should not only be grateful to him for this, but should use what he has written for discussion and reflection at various gatherings of Salvationists.

The hard edge seems to me to be living out the theory. The struggle to do so gives another sense to "integrated mission"--i.e., missional planning and activity that integrates theological reflection as more than a "devotional" to kick things off; and theological education that integrates reflection on praxis into the studies.

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