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.”
I 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!
Now 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.
- 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.