Tuesday, June 13, 2006

short term vision

I could have entitled this post, Another Corps Bites the Dust, and for my non-Salvationists friends, I apologize in advance for a post that will probably leave you scratching your head (then again, maybe most of my posts leave people scratching their heads).

We do a lot of weird things in the Army, many of which I find very destructive to our mission. But, after seven years of working and worshipping with the Army, I’ve come to believe that the most destructive thing we do is the practice of moving our officers (ministers) from one Corps to another, on an average of about four or five years. We could name a lot of destructive things here, but I believe that this practice directly relates to all of those other things.

Many reports have been done over the years concerning growth and the lack thereof within the Salvation Army. And in every one I’ve ever seen, one conclusion is always drawn: The Corps that have experienced the largest amount of growth (in numbers) and the most sustainable amount of growth, are those Corps in which the officers have been in place the longest. In my own Corps, we have gone from ultra traditional to contemporary, drawing in even those who are the most frustrated with church hierarchy. We’ve seen the Corps go from a place only Salvationists would attend, to one attended by over 30 different nationalities, very few of whom are Salvationists. And we’ve seen the power and work force shifted from officer to lay people. And do you know how long our officers have been in place? Fourteen years. And we’re still growing and trying to figure things out. And here’s the thing that puzzles me the most. In the seven years I’ve been with the Salvation Army, nobody has ever been able to answer the question of why in the world we move our officers so much. I mean, part of it is obvious. Some get moved to headquarters where they’ll have more influence and (so the thought goes) where they’ll be able to rub off on local officers. But many just get moved from Corps to Corps. And here’s how I see that going.

First of all, discipleship takes a long time, no matter how you do it. As a youth worker, my first instinct is to build a congregation from the youth up. But even in my own local ministry here in London, we didn’t start with older teenagers, we started with the youngest, understanding the idea that in a few years, they’ll be our leaders. And the same holds true with any congregation, with a few exceptions. But no matter how you do it, whether starting with young people, or starting with adults, it takes time to disciple somebody. Time that, in too many cases, Officers never get.

Second, unless you’re Rob Bell or any of the other handful of gifted preachers/teachers who can draw people in with their sheer presence, even the best of church growth plans take a while. Between accumulating a pool of people from whom you can raise up and disciple leaders from, to actually raising up and discipling those leaders to head up your various areas of church programming, it takes five years before your congregation is even in a place to start effectively welcoming in and discipling new members. And that’s if you know what you’re doing and actually have a gift for it. And, sadly, most people don’t.

Thirdly is the fact that, like it or not, people follow leaders. I know it’s bad and we’d all like to judge each other for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. Look at the Jews who’s ultimate leader was God speaking through various prophets. It just wasn’t enough. They wanted a king to rally around. And so God gave them one. And that hasn’t changed. People find leaders they can believe in, and then they rally around them. And when those leaders leave, if the people have not been effectively discipled yet, the people leave too. Almost every time. And so these people, whom the church has invested in, and were depending on in the long term, are now gone, leaving only the most loyal Salvationists, many of which are often too tired to lead/work anymore. And so another Corps dies.

And fourthly, (and this may be the toughest part of all), when a Corps remains small and ineffective (again, as a direct result of no sustainable leadership or discipleship), you obviously have a smaller pool to draw new ministers from. Which leads to our current problem; small seminary classes and even fewer capable leaders graduating from those seminary classes.

I could pause here to comment on the percentage of good leaders we’re actually cranking out of these ministry classes, but I’ll leave that discussion for somebody else.

And so we’re a witness to this ever growing decline we like to call an Army.

Is there anybody, outside of certain offices spread throughout the world, who doesn’t see this?

Comments on "short term vision"


Blogger Ben said ... (12:54 AM) : 

So what you're saying is that the decline of the army is directly related to the lack of longevity within the leadership structure?

I think you're right, as it goes. However, I'd go further and say that a fair proportion of those leaders are placed without a sense of fit to their community, and even worse are told to do a job they aren't qualified to do and aren't passionate about!

It's small wonder they up sticks after 5 years of torment and ordeal that they should never have gone through in the first place.


Blogger Dave C said ... (4:34 AM) : 

Amen! I wholeheartedly agree! My wife and I were only in our first appointment for 2.5 years. In that time the Corps grew from 6 regular attenders to almost 50. And that was with the place of worship changing 3 times in the 2.5 years. People were deing discipled...lives were being changed...God was there and working...oh yeah, did I mention we were meeting the needs of the comunity too?


Blogger The King said ... (10:10 AM) : 

Dude, i know you haven't posted in a while but to simply post the same one twice to boost your blog and think we wouldn't notice...

I hope that Mr Clifton doesn't read your blog, although i'm sure you hope he does


Blogger Mel Reynolds said ... (2:47 PM) : 

I dunno, it's a tough one, but having several friends that have come through training and are in training right now, I know that times at the College- they are a'changing. We may chose to say, too little too late for these kinds of change because of the state we see ourselves in, or we may chose to keep positive about the fact that plenty of officers are now getting commitments from higher authorities to say that they will be in the same community/corps for at least 5-7 (just say 6) years at a time.

On top of that, cadets are having more and more say about where they are placed and what kind of ministry focuses they are gifted at. ten years ago Officers didn't have that say, and didn't find out where they were going until they heard it called out in front of the entire army world on the stage of the Albert Hall on their commissioning day.

It seems we're in a time of re-building as an army, so we can re-build with choices. We can re-build with one eye always looking over our shoulder to see the destruction and deterioration we've left in our past, or we can re-build with our eyes ahead, glimpsing into places where God is already at work and celebrating His goodness, and looking forward to the task we have been asked to be faithful in.

I naturally go for the 1st option but it doesn't seem to be working for me, so maybe God is trying to tell us that the race will be run with more endurance and stability if we press on, knowing what we know, but not dwelling on it.


Blogger Shaw Clifton said ... (4:24 PM) : 

Some interesting points made here and i will certainly be adding these and some of my own to your personnel file.

I wonder if we should review our rotation selections for divisional placements in the near future...


Blogger Tim said ... (6:34 PM) : 

: )

Who actually goes through the trouble of setting up another account just so they can sign in as Shaw Clifton?

Crap. Wish I had thought of that.

Dibs on William Booth! : )


Blogger Larry said ... (8:59 PM) : 


I wonder if it is factual that we are in such a leadership vacuum that we think we need to move people every 4-5 years. Maybe the fact is that we are such a results now oriented people that we can't stick it through. I am not sure. I do know that most people do not want to move, but moves are often the result of a domino effect. This does not make it right. It is just the way it happens.

We are doing better. My parents were moved 4 times during my high school years. My sister and her husband are just finishing up 13 years in the corps they are currently in. So there are signs of progress


Blogger peter said ... (3:37 AM) : 

Someone once told me the constant moving was to 'keep the devil confused'. So aside from that I have never heard a convincing reason for all the moves.

I think the sad reality is thought that we have some officers who just can't handle a corps for very long, so instead of letting them kill one or two corps we shuffle them all over. Thus instead of sudden death for a number of corps around the world, we keep all of our corps in mediocrity, barely surviving, never thriving.

If things begin to thrive with an officer, we move them out asap hoping that they will do the same elsewhere in a struggling corps. All the while forgetting that change doesn't happen overnight and that it takes time for a corps to get used to an officer.

If the army is to see serious change and growth it needs to start leaving people where they are.

Definitly top three in things we need to change.


Blogger Bill said ... (1:44 AM) : 

Is it just moves that are the issue or the whole structure? I mean out here officers are not employees. We sign up and God calls the the Army.

My question: If God can call to the "Army" why can't God call to a specific ministry, skid row, college, suburban corps, ect?


Blogger Tim said ... (11:09 AM) : 

Good question Dave and, as somebody who came to the Army from another denomination, it’s a question that I have as well.

I’d just like to reiterate that I don’t think “moves” are our only problem. What I do think is that “moves” contribute to almost every other problem that we have. Basically, moves keep us unstable, and instability keeps a lot of people (both in and outside of the Army) away. It weakens the authority/respect that we have in local communities and it makes consistency very hard to come by, in any area. I mean, how many officers have ever moved into a house/Corps, only to get that “you’ll be gone soon so why bother to get to know you” from the neighbours. My wife and I, who aren’t officers but have officers’ jobs, very much dealt with that when we moved into our current home and took over the local Corps.

We aren’t raising up leaders, snd one of the biggest reasons we’re not doing that is because we’re not around long enough. Some will argue (and rightfully so) that we don’t have enough good leaders to raise up more good leaders. But I would argue that our inconsistency is the original reason for this.


Blogger captdoc said ... (2:44 PM) : 

I am sorry to dissent from the consensus, but the army's greatest growth came at a time when there were very rapid moves, it is only since stays have become longer that we have stagnated. Long stays have the great danger of making the officer become used to the local situation and therefore blinded to what needs to be done. It is also likely to increase the reliance of the soldiery on the officer, when it is the soldiers who should be taking responsibility.

I would tend to argue for shorter stays than we have currently.


Blogger Tim said ... (4:10 PM) : 

Interesting take.

I'll say again that every study I've seen in the past few years has very much suggested otherwise. I'll further mention that, if this phenomenon you speak of were true, ours would be the only denomination in the world where it was. Doubtful.

I find it hard to understand how staying for less time would help us to better disciple people. And to suggest that long stays is what has caused the Corps to depend more on officers is to completely discount the fact that the Army has created a system in which the Officers are up “here”, and the soldiers are down “there”. The Army itself has taken the power out of soldier’s hands and, through this decision and others, has created a culture in which the Corps no longer knows how to do anything. That has nothing to do with longer stays. It has to do with humility.


Blogger becks said ... (3:41 PM) : 

i'm going to add to the debate but, selfishly, not lookin at church growth; looking at people like me. i am an officers kid. i have been moved once every 5 years all my life- i'm 19 now so i have been 3 times, to 3 different countries. i have had 7 houses and 5 schools. i do understand that maybe the long term is better for the corps- but ask yourself this- if you were 14 yrs old and had lived in your house all your life, had the same group of friends you had had since you were small, been there and nothin had changed and the army suddenly turned round and asked you to move- what would you say? you would fall apart. change at that point would be just too hard. families would literally argue till they fell apart. kids would move out of move at 16 yrs old just so they didnt have to leave. you say corps would be worse affected if officers stay- what if those officers are your friends, they've been with you through thick and thin and then they go, and someone else has to fill those shoes? what do you do? yes, church is about growth and disciplship and all that jazz, but its also about love and friendship and caring about people- and sometimes to care- you got to let them leave.


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