Moving the Church

Tomorrow, the annual announcement of officer moves will be made for the Central Territory. This practice seems strange to many Evangelicals outside of The Salvation Army; however, many of us who grew up within The SA simply accepted it as a normal part of life. As a child of officer parents, I too fit that bill. Though as I grew older and began to participate in positions of leadership within The SA, I heard many conversations regarding the efficacy of this practice. An oft expressed question that arose from these conversations (and one which usually pops up when discussing ingrained methodologies) was, “What’s the purpose?” Since it’s that time of the year again, let’s consider this question for a moment.

The best explanation I’ve come across was attributed to Commissioner George Scott Railton, one of the Fathers of the early SA. I found the following quote on the Primitive Salvationsim Facebook page back in 2011, where it appeared without a source: “We refuse to allow our officers to stay very long in any one place, lest they or the people should sink into the relationship of pastor and flock, and look to their mutual enjoyment and advantage rather than to the salvation of others.”

DSRailtoncropI like that! That makes a lot of sense when you think about it. When Jesus instituted the early Church, he didn’t ever instruct his followers to build wonderful sanctuaries, develop terrific children’s programs, or establish the most excellent Songster Brigade in town. He gave the express command to make disciples! If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit how often, and oh so easily, we lose sight of that command in our pursuit of other good-but-not-as-good things. We continually put a lot of time, money, resources, and effort into buildings and programs that don’t bear a lot of Kingdom fruit. But they make us feel good, or at least they keep us busy, even if they don’t generate new and Spirit filled disciples of Jesus…

Of course, this is not a problem that faces The Salvation Army alone. In his book, Shepherding the Church: Effective Spiritual Leadership in a Changing Culture, Joseph M. Stowell contends that the tendency for the Church to become distracted by earthly concerns is rooted in an issue of identity. We begin to root our identities in our lifestyles as “believers” rather than in the person of Jesus Christ to whom we have submitted ourselves as disciples.

“Something must be said about false identity points often established today. We come to view the gathering of God’s people not as a mutual gathering to celebrate our identity with the person, work, and ongoing cause of Christ, but a place that provides an identity with others in friendship, fellowship, and even therapy. It is a place where I can establish my own identity through performance, position, and power. A place where I can bond my identity to a particular shepherd. A place where I can enhance my identity by having my needs met, or establish my identity through service in fulfilling experiences, such a music or other types of satisfying ministry. The point is that as we initially identify with Christ, we must hold to him as our singular and all-compelling point of identity through all the activities, functions, and focus of the ongoing community.

In Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, this ethnicity or that ethnicity (Galatians 3:26-28), and neither are we defined by our soldiership, officership, chair position in the band, spot on the platform, paycheck (or lack thereof), title, degree,  friendships, ministries, or anything else outside of the identity of Jesus Christ. We clothe ourselves with his nature, and we are given the job of being his hands and feet in this world, and of calling men, women, and children to submit to him as their Lord and Savior. And so, early TSA leadership moved officers in order to move the Church to be the Church. They weren’t interested in building a handful of flourishing Corps–they wanted to win the world for Christ!

donutday2Now the second half of this conversation is whether or not our process is accomplishing its intended purpose today, but that is outside of the scope of this particular post. Unfortunately, it is clear that in our day many officers and soldiers have their identities rooted more in TSA culture, or flat out worldly things, rather than in Christ. We are all guilty of this at times! Yet, how can we prayerfully move forward to see a Salvation Army that is rooted solely in Christ, and holds everything else we love or hate about our culture loosely? How can we purposefully develop officers, soldiers, and leaders who are rooted in Christ, rather than culturally-flavored programming or administration?

Today, as disciples of Christ, whether officers, soldiers, or employees, let’s repent of our inaction and misguided action. Let’s open the door of our Corps to the Lord as he knocks, and seek his refinement that can heal of us of our lukewarm spirit (Revelation 3:14-22). Let’s aim for higher, more heavenly goals, and work to see his Kingdom come and his will be done. Let’s spend ourselves for the cause of Christ, and spurn the comforts of apathy, selfishness, or worldliness.

Respond:

  • Do you see an issue of identity in The Salvation Army?
  • What do you think about The Salvation Army’s process of moving officers? Is it still able to accomplish its intended purpose?
  • How do you see the issue of officer moves relating to current youth culture?
  • How do you go about intentionally rooting your identity in Christ? How do you encourage your young people to find their identity in Christ alone?
  • Pray for the Corps and divisions effected by tomorrow’s moves.

6 Responses to “Moving the Church”

  1. Zak Adams says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    I appreciate the thoughts. I’ve been involved with the Army for 4 years, a Salvationist for almost 3. I’ve come from a background where the church took on the personality of the pastor and I somewhat understand some of the rationale for officer moves. My problem with the practice is two-fold. 1) It doesn’t address the issue of either pastor-ego-centric churches (a common reason given) or even Railton’s issue of complacency. It circumvents it. I don’t think that’s ever a good idea. It’s not addressing the root problem, it’s bypassing the issue, and 2) almost every officer I’ve talked to openly acknowledges that it is harmful for the congregation. In fact our Corps Council was praised by our DC in our recent Corps Review because our corps “bounced back” from an officer change more quickly than the trend. If everyone knows that it’s bad for the health of the corps, we need to stop doing it.

    I think you are absolutely right with the identity issue. Unfortunately, like you pointed out, changing officers doesn’t really fix that. If we aren’t teaching the body to find their identity in Jesus, they will find their identity in something else.

    Working under the assumption that officer moving is not going away, a fellow local officer and I have begun to theorize that the ideal vision of officership is that of the missionary/apostle. A called, trained “professional” that serves a local body as a consultant and provides a unique skill set for a time. However that requires that 1) officers see themselves as “just passing through” and 2) local leadership are actually equipped to oversee the Corps in the absence of the officers. I like to think of it as the direction that Paul gave to Titus on Crete. Raise up elders in all the churches. You won’t be staying long.

    • Great thoughts Zak. I’d like to soon flesh out the other half of the
      question (as I see it) that I alluded to near the end of the post. I
      think the historical reasons for instituting the practice make a great
      deal of sense… according to their own internal logic! In reality, in
      application, it seems that what many are saying is very true–the
      practice doesn’t accomplish the original intent, and in fact may be more
      detrimental than otherwise.

      I agree with what you suggest about
      local officers and leaders having more responsibility and influence,
      that’s sorely needed. Some officers would kill for local officers like
      that! Others… perhaps are threatened by it? The bottom line though,
      which I attempted to express, was that the issue at its core is one of
      identity. We need officers and soldiers who are rooted solely in Christ,
      otherwise, most of the stuff we do ends up being fruitless at best, and
      downright harmful at worst.

      Maj. Stephen Court at
      armybarmy.blogspot.ca likes to remind soldiers and officers alike that
      nothing is stopping us from serving Jesus with our whole beings. We
      don’t need to be at the perfect Corps to build the Kingdom, we just need
      to be willing to die to ourselves daily and seek first the Kingdom!

  2. Pappy says:

    As an OK growing up was sometimes difficult by being moved. It did help me when as an Adult parent I had to move my family because of transfering from one city to another 4 times in the vocation I chose. As I look back is was probably no harder for me than it was for my children and wife. I remember loading up the Corp’s pickup truck or van and moving from St. Joesph, Mo. to Lincoln, NB, to Omaha and on to Sioux Falls. I missed the move to St. Louis as I was then in the Navy during the Korean War. People move all the time. I think the national average is that 28% of Americans move each year. At least my dad and mom did not have to look for housing or a place to rent on the moves as I did when i was relocated. As for the association of us and the individuals in each place. We made new friends and some not so friendly, but that is life. We new that we would be moved, and when we did, we left friends behind, and kept in touch. My mother was always showing me pictures and letters from friends in each of the Salvation Army corps where they were stationed. The Churchs’s where my wife and I and our children attended had more individual fellowship headaches than I can care to recount. There are Christians in every Church, and there are all sorts of non believers. (we are all sinners). But people who complain and gripe about the pastor, the worship, youth leaders etc. do not go to church for the primary purpose the Church is based on, that is Worship our God. After we worship God and go out in the community we should be deciples, lead and live a Christian life in our work and at home. The gospel of Christ is a social one, the final test will be did we feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, cloth the naked, and pray for the sick. The idea that we should compare the Salvation Army policies with that of the other denominations is a wasted effort. Do not change things which are effective and work. How can you argue with success shuch as this.

    • Jonathan Taube says:

      Thanks for presenting a different view of moves from the perspective of an officer’s kid. I too know that perspective and could talk about it, but I suppose it’s pretty subjective and depends on the person, family, etc.

      The thing this article seeks to address is, “What’s the historical impetus for the system we have inherited today?” and “Are those reasons still valid? Is our system still achieving the desired purpose?” I don’t have any interest in emulating the rest of the Church, or in changing things just for change’s sake, but I do believe prayerful assessment of ourselves is critical. You’ve stated that you believe our current system is effective and has continued to bring us “success.” I’d be interested to know if you are still a Salvo today?

      • Pappy says:

        I never went back to the Sally after I married and started a family. I was however on the Board of the local Salvation Army. My brother married an Officer, My Sister inlaw was the secretary to Divisional Command in St. Louis. I have tried to keep in contact with many of friends I made in the Sally. We always have to alter the way we do things. But we cannot change the intial philosphy of what made us great, or able to accomplish ‘sr goals. I now go to a pentacostal church. It’s pastor was an assistant pastor for 12 years and now pastor for about 15 years. I have been going there for about 30 years. I was married in the Methodist Church and member there for about 15 years. The Sally is supposed to be an Army. It has officers, soldiers and cadets. An Army always, promotes it cadets to members, soldiers to officers with proper training. So it should be no supprise that officers get transferred to different units, undergo training for different positions. Always improving their ability to carry out God’s orders. I just love the song, Salvation Army, Army of God, marching onward and upward.
        Sincerely, Pappy

  3. […] of The Central Territory’s annual move announcements, we considered part of The SA’s historical reasoning behind our system. Left untouched in that discussion was whether or not our system was helping us actually achieve […]

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