As The Salvation Army (TSA) marches towards its 150th Anniversary in 2015, under new(ish) International Leadership of General Linda Bond, I find myself perplexed at what I see in the UK & Republic of Ireland Terrritory, and beyond into the whole of the western world.
Despite epidemic growth in Africa, marked by TSA’s unceasing service to humanity (through Schools, Health and other services), TSA across the western world is in decline. Are we an Army that has no mission? We are identified by a simple name – “The Salvation Army”. Are we still a Salvation Army, or are we better called “The Army”. Have we lost our focus, our sole purpose?
I am interested by the life and leadership of the Founder – General William Booth, and believe the Army’s core responsibility and calling remains unchanged from those early days. God raised up TSA to fill the void left by middle class churches which failed to come alongside those in greatest need. That mission, that heavenly calling, I believe, is unchanged. We are called to be a people whose primary aim is to get people saved.
General William Booth said this of TSA –
I do not want another ecclesiastical corps cumbering the earth. When The Salvation Army ceases to be a militant body of red hot men and women whose supreme business is the saving of souls, I hope it will vanish utterly.
Can we relate to this picture of TSA? Is our supreme business the saving of souls, and are we red hot?
There is much to encourage. From my experince in the Southern Division we have a strong children’s and youth leadership team at divisional level, supported in many Corps. The youth of the division are engaged on a divisional level in community. That community has been built up over years of hard work, and will continue to be built upon in the future. But do we then fail these young people on a Corps level? At local church level are we providing what they need?
It is these young people who will decide whether TSA will survive into the future in the UK. Soldiership, uniform, culture, community, charisms and worship are real issues that this generation have awoken to. It would be devastating if TSA failed to harness the passion which this generation has in the attempt to either pacify the current membership or protect the Army’s current identity.
Where once TSA was so effective because it was 100% in touch with the people and their culture, we have in many cases made it our business to maintain those old effective methods and with it become 100% out of touch.
The reason for this can be easily understood. In the early days of the Army new members dictated how we worshipped and how we operated. There were no tradition or rules, and with this flexibility came contemporary means and methods. These spoke clearly to our “target” audience, who were engaged on a level that was effective and comfortable to them.
As the Army has aged, so has its means. Whilst Salvationists today staunchly protect the historically effective means of spreading the gospel message, we have lost sight of the end of those means. Where our methods were proved to be effective 100 years ago we have maintained them, without taking heed of the needs of the world around us.
We as an Army are often marching to the beat of the Army Drum, and no longer to the beat of Our Lord’s Heart.
If things do not change then TSA in the UK will die. My generation will move on, or fall beside the wayside, frustrated at the lack of support to take the Army back to it’s 1865 roots.
So where does this leave TSA today? We are at a cross-roads. We are at a pivotal point in our history. We are at a point of no return.
I believe the Army must change before my generation and the current young adult members are muscled out, or worse, snuffed out. By that I refer to the growing fire for God that is welling up in many young members of our movement being extinguished by well meaning, though naive brothers and sisters in Christ. The worse thing the Army could possibly do now is fail this generation.
This generation has a grasp of the gospel message I believe had been lost for decades. This generation wants more of God. They seek to experience God and the Holy Spirit in fullness. They are passionate about the true purpose that TSA was raised for.
I believe God has empowered leaders in specific pivotal parts of the Army to grow and nurture this generation. From local officers, youth workers, DCOs, DYOs to those setting the agenda for the Army, God is challenging the status-quo.
But the battles will continue throughout TSA to allow it to happen. I implore the leadership of TSA to get this huge beast of institutional “Army-ism” out of the way, and allow a new wave of spirit-led salvationism to take its place.
May we be worthy of our name. May we be a “militant body of red hot men and women whose supreme business is the saving of souls”.