Friday, September 30, 2016

Confronting the Brutal Facts of The Salvation Army

You are in for a ride. If you are reading this, brace yourself. Following on from a blog a few months ago called, Why The Salvation Army is in Decline and What we can do about it, I want us to continue our thinking about where The Salvation Army is and what God has in store for it. Though to move forward into a dynamic future one must first confront the reality of where they are.

Let me sidetrack for a moment (and stay with me):
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been in the top job in Australian politics for just over 12 months. That's long enough for the Australian public to demand he show something for his time. Australians want results. Leaders cannot simply provide nice catch phrases like, 'Jobs and growth' and 'I'm so excited about the future.' Leaders must deliver change. The same sentiment goes with President Barack Obama, who had a great approval rating when he first won the election to become President of the United States. People do not just want charismatic rhetoric and inspiring sound-bites on vision, they want action.

Here's my point: It is not enough to simply state that God is going to do great things in the future of The Salvation Army. Forgive me; I've said that 100 times. It is great to say [and I will continue to say it], but without coupling that with the brutal truth about where we are, and how we've got to where we are, pie-in-the-sky vision casting won't cut it.

Now, I'm all for vision. I'm all for gathering a crowd together and unleashing my best efforts in rallying the troops and calling people to action. I am just worried.

I am worried that if we don't step further back and have a deep hard look at ourselves and then make the subsequent difficult changes that need to occur, The Salvation Army will simply coast along, finally crystallizing into a warm and fuzzy historical artifact that we talk about in museums. 

Jim Collins in Good to Great says we need to 'retain faith that [we] will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.... and at the same time... confront the most brutal facts of [our] current reality, whatever they might be.'

The Australia One Project that seeks to unite two Salvation Army Territory's is leading the way in creating necessary change to forge a new future. The General of The Salvation Army has initiated an accountability movement that aims to embed accountability within our movement.

This is about confronting the brutal facts. See Adam Couchman's 'An exercise in self-deception.'

Now, let me stir you up. If you're still reading, this whole subject intrigues you. Let me lay it on the line for you today and confront some brutal facts (and maybe acknowledge some elephants in the living room) of The Salvation Army.

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Confronting the Brutal Facts of The Salvation Army

1. We no longer make the salvation of people the first purpose of our lives. There may be a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, maybe we are caught up in the endless administrative burden of ministry, and can create a legitimate excuse for why leading people to Jesus just doesn't happen (or atleast does not happen to the degree it did 100 years ago). Secondly, maybe we have lost the art of leading people to Jesus, have not been good at it, and have subsequently built for ourselves a theological framework that conveniently excuses us from such ministry. Thirdly, maybe we no longer have a hunger for souls that the revivalists once had.

[God, send the fire! We long for a great outpouring of your Holy Spirit, that would equip us and empower us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. May we lead many to the foot of the cross, that they might find fullness of life in Christ!]

2. We have allowed fear to cripple us. Call it a demonic spirit of fear if you like. Jesus needs to deal with this in us! You may ask, what do we fear in The Salvation Army? I'm glad you asked. Firstly, we fear making any great changes that would cause The Salvation Army to become less than what God raised it up to be. We fear losing our identity in the process (that's why we hold on to band concerts, and attempt to revitalize timbrel brigades - because if we can just make things like they used to be, we'll start being successful again). Change need not water-down who we are as a Salvation Army. Good, Spirit-led change may in fact revitalize us to become a movement that reaches heights we never even dreamed of in years gone by! Thirdly we fear we won't have the resources to do that which God wants us to do. We spend too much time seeking after funding in the process. Money follows mission. Let's keep it in that order. The Lord will provide.

[Lord Jesus, we command the spirit of fear to leave The Salvation Army, in Jesus' name. You have not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and self-discipline. Empower us by the Holy Spirit to walked courageously into a new era of opportunity to see great spiritual outcomes in the lives of the people we minister to.]

3. Our organisational structure has become burdensome. 'No dah,' I just heard someone say. Thanks for your intellectual input in this discussion. You should write blogs like me. I believe Salvation Army leaders are confronting this reality; at least in the Australia Southern Territory they are. The challenge is for leaders with the influence to do so, to make the difficult changes that need to be made to make decision-making agile and quick with a foundation of trust in the transaction of decisions. Enough on that, I'm boring myself.

4. God is not finished with The Salvation Army. That's the brutal fact. Though, I believe, even globally, God is taking The Salvation Army through a refining process. It's difficult and even somewhat painful. We know though, the story of the vine and the branches in John's gospel (John 15:1-17), where Jesus, 'cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful' (15:2). We have become a bloated Army. We have expanded things that should have been cut off years ago, and mistaken pruning for failure. Allow God to prune in you, and in The Salvation Army as a whole that which God wants to prune.

[Lord, we give you free rein to prune us, to chop off things that dishonour you, and rid us of egocentric behaviour that causes us to fail to humble ourselves. Ignite in us a new season of personal, spiritual growth. Re-ignite a Salvation Army that we believe you will use to fulfill your mission in the world. In Jesus' name!]    

Let me finish with these words. We must confront the brutal facts and all the while remain absolutely convinced that we will prevail in the end. Keeping those two concepts together will do us good.

If you believe this article may be helpful to others, please share it. Thanks. God bless.

Please note, the opinions on this blog represent my personal views and do not necessarily align with the views of The Salvation Army.


  1. Hi Pete -
    One thing that has come to my attention is that there's an increasing shortage of applicants for Officership. This is obviously a concern, but I suspect that the handling of the situation is inefficient.
    There seems to be quite rigid criteria and expectations for anymore considering going down that path, as one (individual or family) needs to commit themselves to being located and relocated as required by the Salvation Army, and while I understand that the officers do have a certain amount of say, there's no guarantees that they won't have to leave family and friends behind. This is a very unpleasant prospect to a lot of people.
    Secondly, they are required to fulfill two years of training at the college, which can be very expensive to both the Army and the cadets. That is very prohibitive to a lot of people too.
    When people decide to become full time ministers in many other churches,the training can be undertaken at a seminary or by distance education, and they usual stay at their particular church for as long as they wish.
    I've also a noticed a tendency for officers to post inappropriate postings on Facebook. It makes me cringe when I think that I'm in the same church as them.
    I know that even if I were called to Officership these are factors that to me would be a deterrent, and if the Army are as short of Officers as they claim to be then they need to look at alternative options for Officership.
    You may agree or disagree with what I've c said, but I'd be interested to know if anyone could add or subtract to it.

    1. The call and commitment to Officership is onerous indeed, but I'm not convinced reducing the training time would be a positive move. Our Cadets, and subsequent new Officers need and deserve as much training as we can muster.

      In fact, training and discipleship are things that would benefit all of us; Officers, Soldiers and friends alike.

  2. Thanks for this Pete. I am a support worker in a SA hostel In Cardiff, UK for homeless young people. I was in pastoral ministry in evangelical churches before that. It has been a burden for me for the whole of my nearly 11 years in employment with SA that in their social centres they have long since abandoned the 'Salvation' part. They rely on state funding so have to follow the state's agenda. It seems to me there is a glaring contradiction between the SA's mission statement (let alone its statement of faith and stated position on moral issues) and the practice adopted in social centres.

  3. Excellent stuff, Pete. Sadly, my prediction is a bit more gloom-and-doom, as I see our great Army quickly sinking into institutionalism and legalism. Fear is the enemy of change, without change we're history. Salvation for our organization would require intense courage and compassion at the leadership levels - I don't see that happening.

  4. I find a huge amount of truth in what you've written and share your positive view of what is possible. Whilst brass bands and timbrel brigades should not be the focus or reason for our existence, we should use them - and not be scared to use them - where they work (and, yes, in some places they are still the best way of attracting attention). Our focus must always and only ever be helping people meet Jesus.

  5. Typically we are creatures of habit and familiarity: we like to do the things we have always done and we usually go to places we have always been, at least places where we’ve always felt comfortable. Obviously, we don’t want to make changes where change will impact negatively on our position, sometimes we don’t want to leave our “comfort zone” but there are times when we do need to make changes to keep in step with what God is doing (Isaiah 43: 19) rather than what suits us. Sometimes we need to make changes but we are too focussed on what we’re doing, (we've always done it that way) and so we get tunnel-vision and miss the turn-off. Change is an inescapable part of life. Whether we like it or not and whether we approve or disapprove many things around us change and we need to adapt; we must be relative to our community and relevant to our audience at all times. if things haven’t changed already; they soon will and if we don’t adapt, we get left behind…in other words we have to change. Gods Word assures us that after every time of pruning comes a season of new growth; and we can be confident that after a time of cleansing will come a season of harvest. I believe that over the last 25-30 years there has been a time of cleansing in the churches, not just the Army and so we may boldly proclaim "Father your will be done" as we stand ready for a coming time of great harvest.

  6. Sadly this is far from being a recent problem. The situation has been developing now for many decades, and the stats show that SA membership has declined every year since about 1930. Presumably there is some connection between the two.

    What happened? Bramwell Booth was tasked with turning his father's radical social movement into an organisation, into an army, if you like. And he was very very good at it. He created the structures, wrote the regulations for everything. We became so hidebound, so wedded to our regulations and structures and subsequently our traditions, that we lost what the driving force was in the first place. Institutionalism and legalism is indeed the order of the day, and has been for a very long time.

    Don't look to the top for creative leadership. The only people who survive long enough inside the SA system to make it to the top are those who are suited to the existing system, and therefore can see nothing wrong with the existing system. And when we reach a situation where one man can take the resignation of the previous General, refuse to make public the reasons for her departure, call the High Council himself, and then get himself elected as General, you see the final fruits of the stagnation and institutionalism that has led us boldly to this dead end.

    1. I,too, remain profoundly unsettled by what happened when Linda Bond's time as General came to a close, and there seemed to be zero transparency about "why?". (I genuinely don't know)

      It could be argued that it was a private and personal issue, but for a Movement such as ours to be so evasive has left me perturbed.

  7. Great article, thank you. The one thing we were in the past that we no longer are, is bold. We hire unsaved people to do our social service ministry for us (how can that lead to salvtion?) An earlier comment complained the two year training college was to long. I submit it is to short and to focused on business. Many of the Officers leaving training colleges (at least in the west) in my opinion are doctrinally deficient. Just look at the conversations in Facebook Groups such as "Salvos for a more inclusive church" or "Progressive Salvationists" or even the "Salvos Global Chat". Some are closed, some are public, others are secret. Leadership is aware of the false doctrines and leaders who espouse them. For some reason (fear) leadership fails to confront them or even deal with it. I could go on and on and on but I believe you get the idea. Our faith should be in Jesus Blood and Righteousness an nothing else. Our leadership and our soldiership must be grounded in God's Word, not the world.

    1. "Many of the Officers leaving training colleges (at least in the west) in my opinion are doctrinally deficient." is quite a big claim, Jesse.

      It would really have to be qualified with some research, most likely above and beyond Facebook chatter.

    2. Deficient may be a strong word but maybe Exjetter means that the 'inclusive' or 'progressive' are advocating views that are not in line with Salvation Army doctrines. If this applies to officers who are publicly advocating positions contrary to the doctrines they say they believe in, then either they don't understand what the doctrines say, or they're being hypocritical. How we can we believe anything they say if they pick and choose what doctrines they wish to believe?

    3. I'm not sure that's correct.

      The members of the Facebook groups Exjetter mentions come from a variety of backgrounds with all kinds of experiences and perspectives. Some are Officers, but many are not, and some indeed are not currently Salvationists at all - and the subjects discussed are broad in scope.

      Anyhow, we risk deflecting from the main thrust of Pete's interesting and valuable original post... :-)

    4. Not really deflecting as perhaps an additional brutal truth is you would expect officers to uphold the doctrines that they pledge publicly to believe. If they're not, perhaps that's part of what the problem is.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. What might be addressed is that TSA is afflicted with the same epidemic illness as has countless ministries who have evolved to become businesses first (the 'God' vs 'Mammon') problem of which Christ warned.
    In fact, Christ has become lost in the process. Doing 'for' Him is prioritized but not 'with' Him.
    Years ago, the secular danger potentially damaging to The Church was humanism but what was damaging was a misunderstanding of what that is: doing things man's way. And that is what has happened to The Church - man's ideas, man's systems, man's teachings, all of which have come before Christ.

  9. Hi Peter - I like the idea of stepping back to get a better view but I don't think you are stepping back far enough. In my opinion, the issue facing the Army is a microcosm of the issues of the Church...that despite however many centuries of trying the followers that the church produces do not appear to be much like Jesus. Progressives in the SA begin by putting a new gloss on Booth's vision. But the times require a bigger picture than that. It is a fresh view of The Kingdom of God, what it is and what we are required to do. I think this is the thing we need to change into - not how to do SA better but become seekers of a new vision of the KoG.


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