Wednesday, June 06, 2007

follow the leader

“You’re the leader”, she said, “you should be the one inviting folks to come”, and thus summed up one of the points on my top five list of the fatal flaws facing our church at this time.

I’ve heard those words before, this time from an older woman, but I’ve also heard them from people in their 20’s, waiting around for their pastor (Officer) to start something new, and pinning the blame on him as their church (Corps) continues to lay stagnant. It is partly our fault. It is we who have managed to rear several generations of Christians (Salvationists) who take and take, but give nothing back. It was mainly our ego that did it, in more ways than one, insisting that our Pastors (Officers) hold the majority of power in our churches (mistake), and also refusing to change (in so many ways) when it became so clear that we needed to. This last thing contributed to our dying attendance which made our pool to draw leaders from, that much smaller. So small, in fact, that we began to send people, without the gifts of pastoring or leadership, to our seminaries (training colleges) and then out into cruel congregations where their souls were left to die and whither away, and left to believe that they had failed in their calling when, in all actuality, the calling had never been theirs in the first place.

What makes your church, The Salvation Army? I visited a Corps (Salvation Army Church) a few Sundays ago, looked around, and realized that while this “Corps” had Sunday programming, a band, plenty of people in uniform, and several traditional SA programmes (like Home League), they had no programmes that reached out and helped their local community and I found myself wondering how they were The Salvation Army? What set them apart from any other church besides their strange and eccentric traditions? Surely, if asked, they would have had the sense not to list their band and uniforms as the things that made them “Army”, yet there didn’t seem to be anything else to distinguish them by, and thus summed up another point on my top five list of the fatal flaws facing our church at this time. If it is simply our strange and eccentric traditions that distinguish us from any other church, or any other Christian, then we are a waste of God’s resources.

In the Army, on average, we move our Officers (ordained ministers) about every five years. For some reason we believe that upheaval and instability is a good church growth plan. This absolutely baffles me and, in today’s day and age, with the fragility of our local churches, this one definitely makes my top five. I’ve never heard a sensible argument for this strategy, nor for the process that makes up this strategy. I’ve seen families of four (including one teenage boy, and one teenage girl) moved to a Corps (church) who’s quarters (parsonage) only had two bedrooms. The teenage boy was forced to sleep in the living room. Yeah, good call. And you prayed about that one? Were you listening? And yes, I know that that one will be extremely controversial, but it also leads me to my next point.

In the Army, we have a top down approach to the church. As already referenced above, we’re currently dealing with a situation in which very few of our Corps (relatively speaking) have local leaders, prepared to take on significant leadership. In fact, in many divisions, if local CO’s (pastors) go on holiday, or are out of commission for a while, Divisional Headquarter staff are signed up to lead the Sunday morning services. Now, before I’m misunderstood on this one, let me be clear that I’m happy and willing to teach or even lead worship on a Sunday morning, but I find it alarming that so few of our local Corps have local leaders who can even cover a simple Sunday morning worship service, especially when, so often, we’re dealing with congregations of fifty or less. I know teenagers who lead youth groups of fifty or more. There’s just something not right.

We’re dealing with a vicious cycle here. On one hand, we have few local leaders who are willing and able to take on any significant leadership at their Corps. On the other, we have no strategy for enabling local leadership and, in my opinion, a reluctance to do so even if we could. There’s no doubt that strong local leaders can sometimes be hard to work with. God knows I’ve had my share of struggles in that department. But the alternative is a retarded church.

Re-tard – adjective
1. A slowing down or hindering of progress; a delay
Synonyms – backward, disabled, handicapped

A few years ago we were asked by the UK territory to develop a strategy for each of our divisions. Our own division worked on ours for months. We would meet in board rooms, desperate to hash out a strategy that would make sense for our division. But, during the process, I always kept coming back to the same thing; if we are unable to raise up and equip local leaders, no amount of “strategery” is going to make any difference. In my mind, our strategy needed to simply consist of finding a way to teach our local officers (pastors) how to identify and then equip local leaders. Upon presenting this to the group, it was embraced and adopted as our divisional strategy. Less than six months later we had a new Territorial Commander with a completely different opinion on strategy and the document was scrapped all together. Have I mentioned how little sense it makes to me to move officers around so much? Upheaval and instability. Not a good church growth plan. On a personal note, in eight and a half years, I’ve had eleven different supervisors in The Salvation Army, and each one of them had their own completely different strategy on how things (including my job) should be done. We are a gypsy church and, let me tell you, the gypsies aren’t living too well nor are many people rushing to become one of them.

The above points of view are listed in no particular order and, as I’ve already been spoken to about my fifth and final concern, I’ll leave it off this public forum. But let me just say that our church is only in a hopeless situation as long as we continue down the path that we’re currently trudging. And, have no doubt, many people are happy to do just that. I mentioned on a friend’s blog recently that I often feel like a man with his arm overboard, paddling with all his might, as the ship goes down and the captain stands behind the wheel swearing that there is no problem. We must address these problems. We must quit discussing them and address them. Wishing your Corps had a cell group? Then start one. Wishing you were more involved in social action, then get involved. Gather some friends, make some sandwiches, and go and feed and pray for the homeless (incidentally, socks and underwear will be greatly appreciated as well). Or find a family and buy them some groceries anonymously. Or purchase some school supplies for some kids. Those are really easy things to do and, I promise, very addictive.

It may take us stepping outside the four walls of our church, and starting something fresh, to get the rest of our church on board. There is no excuse for our unwillingness to contribute a verse. It is our choice to do so or not to do so. Shake the dust off if you must and step out in faith.

Comments on "follow the leader"


Blogger Larry said ... (11:45 PM) : 

Young Timothy<

Local speak music to my ears. It does mean, however, a surrendering of power and prestige. It also means having leaders who will not teach people what to think, but how to think. I think the unfortunate problem is that we all want to be commanders. We all have our own agenda, and not necessarily vision. One thing for which I will applaud our current leadership is that there is a strategy and curriculum in our territory to train leaders. I see the problem now as having critical mass. I wonder if we are attracting the leaders in our corps that we need to attract. It is a vicious cycle. When we do attract leaders, we often send them to Training College or they are scared off by a change so dramatic in officer that their leadership is short-lived. We have made it our priority in our division this year to quit working so hard in trying to train older leaders but to train emerging generations. So far the results are encouraging. We will see if this makes an impact a generation down the line. We hope it would not take that long, but it probably will.


Blogger by the bay said ... (6:51 AM) : 

Well you are stating what I've heard countless times before. And it's not just congregations that are cruel (and don't start me off on the health of congregations), I think the single most destructive impact on my faith since I came back to the Church has come from CO's, most of whom I would never allow to be my minister if I was not committed to TSA and had no choice, and that has been my situation for most of my time in the army. It has got to the point where I'm looking for another church for my children because I want them to have role models to look up to and I've given up hope of them finding them in a corps.

But there is no point in blaming the leaders who select and train, they have no other people to select from, and the whole bottom line for me comes down not to training leaders but to training soldiers.We don't get the foundations right from the point of enrolment, and it is no good giving ill-prepared Christians leadership training - that leaves us in the situation we are in.

I look around me and see no end of newly enrolled soldiers who are frustrated at how little teaching and mentoring they have had, who have no place of active service, who have therefore nothing to be mentored in, and there's nobody to do it anyway, who have not been pointed to places they can get their own trainings in the most basic things like mission/evangelism, communication skills etc so they don't have to wait a lifetime for the army to provide it, etc etc. Many wander in, find out what it's really like, and wander out again disappointed and frustrated.

I appreciate going to college is most probably a growth experience for those who go on to be trained to be officers, but they are not beginning in a place that makes any sense to me.

The impression I'm getting from people I've known at the training college is the spiritual formation they are trying to do with cadets is what should have happened for them in the first two years after enrolment. When you compare what soldiers get (a short series of recruits classes) with what converts to orthodox Judaism get - two years intensive practical and book learning combined with having t live with a known and respected family to prove to the community they really have adjusted their lifestyle and taken on appropriate self-disciplines - you see what can be accomplished in a community that takes itself seriously compared to what is actually happening with us.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and I don't believe any strategy is going to have much impact. Cultural change happens at grassroots level in the main, and that is where, so far as I can see, the work has to be done.


Blogger Tim said ... (11:53 AM) : 

Thanks for that but, for the record, when I speak of identifying and raising up local leaders, I am speaking of soldiers not officers.


Blogger the gardener said ... (5:02 PM) : 

an intresting post and you have obviouse experiance of situations. As a new soldier of the TSA i believe that we can change from the bottem up as new soldiers bring fresh momementum to thier corp. which unfortunatly means that you are correct, we grow or wither in our cididal. doomed to become become irrevelant and forgotten by society.


Blogger Sean said ... (4:51 PM) : 

Man, does the leadership know what is going on? You are talking about about people stepping out and doing things of their own accord instead of acting like their leaders have to initiate everything. Yes, but this would mean that they not be micromanaged, but everything is micromanaged in the Army. Top down.

Can change happen from the bottom up? yes, but anyone I know who has tried has gotten too tired, drained, burned-out, whatever, trying. At some point a visionary will have to step in and shake the whole thing up in a major way.

By the way I agree with your 5, even though your fifth isn't there. The best thing about the whole thing is that the army has a very exclusive nature and stand-offish approach to anything that might be controversial. I am now (5 years) far enough removed that my opinion doesn't matter. Sweet.


Blogger anniebuck2 said ... (1:37 AM) : 

Thought provoking post. What can be done to "fix" the problems of Army? I find myself wondering that more and more...the more time I spend with at my job (I'm working at my local corps this summer). What do you do to raise up local leaders when the majority of the corps are elders? How do you motivate people that have the "been there, done that" attitude? I'm getting off of your topic...
I may not know much but I do know this, revolution (change) begins with prayer. I do believe that the Lord wants to do many things through TSA. As I've been praying about my role in this army...revolution has been on my mind for quite a while. Needless to say I agree with several of the comments that mentioned needing a visionary to come along.


post a comment