Transforming Soldiership

This is an idea that I’ve heard passed around in many different forms during my time in the Salvation Army, so the ideas presented below are in no way new. But a friend and I were chatting one night, and we ended up combining a couple of ideas and having a thought that this might actually work, and work well. So I’m putting it out there, for others to comment, pick flaws, tell me why it would or would not work, so that we can start working towards the final goal.

Abstract

There is a general idea that the Salvation Army should be placing more emphasis on adherence as opposed to Soldiership. Soldiership should be left to those who are willing to pick up the fight. Understanding that not everyone has the time availability, or necessarily the calling, to be a soldier, a push for adherence as membership would work well. This is not a new idea.

Another idea that I have heard is that you have a Corps of adherents who financially support a small number of soldiers, who commit to working for the Corps. These soldiers are then able to support the officers, get work done in the community, and be available when needed. Again, this is not a new idea, and relies on the first.

While a Corps of adherents supporting a small number of soldiers may work in large corps, if we are to truly redefine the meaning of soldier, this has to be able to be used both in large, small and every sized corps in between. That requires some slightly creative thinking.

The numbers

My friend, Paul, and I were putting up the ideal ratio of Soldiers to adherents as 10-90 or 20-80. Based on an average wage (in Australia, around $60,000/year), if adherent committed to tithing 10%, a corps of 100 would generate $540,000/year based on a 90% adherence rate. In a smaller Corps, say of 50, a 90% adherency rate would generate $270,000/year, and a corps of 20 would generate $108,000/year.

It would be unrealistic to expect a soldier to commit to a Corps full-time. However, if a Corps could financially support Soldiers to take one day a week off of work, we can then start working. On large corps (say of 100), that’s then two soldiers available every day of the week. A corps of 20 would have two days of having a soldier.

The Soldiership commitment

If a Corps were to commit to this, what would the soldiers do? It very much depends on the Corps. But they could effectively be used anywhere the Corps officer felt that they needed support. If the corps wants to start up an outreach to youth after school, your soldiers are there to help. Need a hand getting case work done? Ask the soldiers. Attached to a social service that needs a hand? Send the soldiers.

One of the most enticing aspects of this is the idea of being able to mobilise the Army in times of hardship. For example, lets say the four big corps in Perth (Perth Fortress, Morley, Floreat and Balga) all went with this model, and all had around 10 soldiers each. When the big fires came, there’s 40 soldiers able and willing to pitch in and do whatever is needed, with a definite 8 soldiers available each day. Whether that’s working the Emergency Services van, providing food to the emergency services workers, or providing spiritual aid to those who have lost everything, that’s a great start in getting things done. And that’s not even including soldiers from the smaller corps as well. Speaking of which…

What about smaller corps?

It’s all well and good to talk about how it can work in large corps where they’ve got the money, but what about small corps that might not be able to support a soldier? One of the big problems I see with many programs (particularly with Youth Programs) published in books is that they say that they’re scalable to work with any size, but in practice, they’re written from a big church perspective, and while they may have started off from a small base, they’ve since forgotten what it’s actually like. But, for a concept like this to truly take off, it’s not possible for it to be run from a single Corps. Due to the nature of the Salvation Army, with officers moving (on average) every three to five years, this change could not be implemented by a single officer, as once they leave, it could all fall in a heap. Instead, this change needs to come from a higher level, at the very least a divisional level, but most likely a territorial level. To get all officers, envoys and corps on the same page with this new definition of what being a Soldier requires.

But, having it on a divisional or territorial level doesn’t change the fact that there are still corps that won’t be able support even a single soldier. Or there may be corps that don’t have anyone who has a calling to be a soldier. In both cases, the solution is for smaller corps to combine with larger corps.

Let’s take, for example, my home corps of Floreat. Floreat has traditionally had a very strong link with the Northam Corps, which is a smaller corps. Northam may not be able to support a soldier, but Floreat might be able to help out and supplement the funds from Northam to support a soldier in Northam. Or Northam might not have anyone who has the calling to be a soldier, but could still effectively use one. Floreat could send up one of their soldiers to Northam for a day to help out in whatever way is needed.

Creating these links isn’t necessarily a tough thing, as there are already many formal and informal links between Corps.

How long is the commitment?

If we were to make this a life-long commitment, it would scare off many people. However, the 614 Corps in Melbourne has an effective program where Salvationists spend a year working for the Corps, being supported by them and the division. This is effectively just an expansion of that program. A soldiers commitment doesn’t necessarily need to be life long, or does it need to be limited to a year. In most situations, you will get a mix of Soldiers. You might get youth who are studying at Uni and have a day of which they can commit to the corps for a year. You might get Adults who are working part-time who can commit for a couple of years. You might get those nearing retirement who will commit for more years. It doesn’t matter. Your committment doesn’t even need to have an end date.You might commit to becoming a Soldier, but when life circumstances change (you get married, have children, have to get a full-time job, whatever), in consultation with the officer, you can then step down from Soldiership to become an adherent again. There will be no shame in this, it shall be like retiring from the Armed forces. It doesn’t mean that you’re no longer committed to the cause, and it doesn’t mean that your service was in vain. No, instead retiring soldiers are to be congratulated for their service.

There could be strong argument made to have at least one soldier per corps who is prepared to make a long-term commitment, who can be there to train up new soldiers, can help new officers through the transition, and help oversee the development of this program long-term. However, this may only really be a possibility in larger corps, and perhaps someone in a divisional position would be better suited.

A Corps Chaplain?

One thing that is very important for the Soldiers is to have someone who is responsible for their spiritual welfare. The commitment of being a soldier can bring with it some very difficult situations. They might be asked to go and help out at a Drug rehabilitation clinic, or write up case notes for someone who has lost their home. They need someone with whom they can talk about and deal with these situations. An Officer would be an ideal person here, but there may be a Soldier who can help take up this role. Either way, having someone who the soldiers know that they can confide in is very important.

It’s also important that Soldiers are prepared for any situation. Bible Study should be a vital part of this program. Soldiers should be equipped, if necessary, to act as chaplains when the situation requires it. Maybe they’re asked to step in after a student dies at the local school, or to help out in the aftermath of a disaster. Regular bible study, along with extra training, is the best way that this will occur.

Comments

As I said above, this post is based on ideas that are not new. Neither are they my own. Paul and I simply got talking, and kind of thrashed it out. It is by no means complete, and we have surely missed things that could be added to make it better, and things that mean it may not work. For example, I’m certain there are many corps out there who don’t receive a 10% tithe from all of its Soldiers and adherents. I’m sure there are many corps where the average income is nowhere near $60,000/year, so that will create more problems.
So, taking into account that there are some problems that still need to be solved, what are your thoughts on this application? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, whether you’re a soldier, adherent, officer, TC, DC, friend, non-salvo or non-christian. Just like Paul and I sat through and talked this through to this version, now I hand it to you to help us form it into a reality.

Advertisements

Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

8 thoughts on “Transforming Soldiership”

  1. Hey mate,

    Nice to see you thinking about and discussing soldiership – I think it needs to be on our agenda (especially as it relates to youth). However, I think that maybe we differ on one of the fundamental ideas in this article.

    I guess that underpinning this post is the idea that we have moved towards lately in The Salvation Army, that being the professionalisation of ministry. It is the idea that ministry can only be done by people who are trained a certain way or who are paid to do it. I think this is a shame, because the heritage, the DNA of the Salvos is around a real commitment to the belief and practice of the priesthood of all believers. Corps were built to function around the individual and collective works of the Soldiers, with Officers as merely administrators, preachers and overseers (or even in the Chaplain role you described above). I believe that our focus on discipleship needs to reflect this universal calling, that ministry can occur in all our situations through the way we live our lives, not just by our ability to be involved in programs run at our congregations. As we move away from the assumed responsibility of ministry from Corps Officers, local leaders and programs towards individuals living radical, Christ-centred lives of disciples in communities of love, I believe we can truly tap into our capacity and destiny for the mission of The Salvation Army.

    Another point I’d make is that the truth of the matter is that we already see dedicated Soldiers, Adherents and volunteers carrying out the mission of The Salvation Army. Take your point about our ability to respond to natural disasters. With the most recent fires, Salvationists responded, whether they were soldiers, adherents, staff or volunteers. And this is repeated in a number of different ways, every day across the Army. I see holy people making a difference in the lives of the people they interact with.

    My perception is that Soldiers don’t need to be paid, they need to be radicalised and empowered to live holy lives of love – not just be involved with specific ministry programs. And the reality is that for many of those on the books, this is not the case, nor is it a priority.

    Anyway, it’s not meant to be a knock, just where I sit in the whole spectrum of things. Keen to hear back from you.

    1. Cheers for the comment John. Definately some more stuff we need to think about.
      I definately don’t want to take away from the work that soldiers, adherents and friends already do, because that is vital and important. But if we can find a way to, as you say, radicalise and empower soldiers (and adherents and friends) to live holy lives of love, then I think we need to at the very least explore every possible program to enable that.

      Ben

  2. ” the 614 Corps in Melbourne has an effective program where Salvationists spend a year working for the Corps, being supported by them and the division.” Are you aware Ben that these people actually pay their own way. A lot of them are actually on Austudy exactly like the Cadets. Their life is not an easy one but very rewarding. I met the last year graduates and they were an awesome group of kids. They work hard, very hard, out of the building at 7am and often longer than 12 hour days. They don’t do it for any money as they dont get any. They do it for the love of the Lord they serve. Yes they are supported by the Corps and Division in prayer and encouragement just the same as any other Soldiers are.

    1. Hi Bron,
      I wasn’t aware of the full situation. However, I believe (and I may be wrong here) that they do get accomodation at the training college which I’m guessing is at a much reduced rate than they would find anywhere else. That is still a form of support. It would not be practical for a corps to offer this level of support if people are only working one day a week for them. I’m not suggesting that we provide a level of support equal to the amount that they would earn from working their own job either. Being a soldier is a commitment, and it does mean going without on many things. My suggestion on providing a financial contribution was meant so that soldiers can be free to give up that one day a week to work for the Army when they might not otherwise be able to give up that time normally spent working.
      I believe in WA at least, Volunteers are able to be compensated up to $50 for travel expenses. That would not be a full day’s wages, however it may mean that people can give up one day a week to dedicate to the Army without them struggling to make ends meet.

      1. Yes the accomodation is at the training college because they are actually classified as live in residents on a paid course. They do this in order to attain the Certificate IV in Christian Ministry (Urban Mission). 614 I believe is the only place that has this degree on offer. Between the group they have rostered made up for cooking meals, cleaning etc and they all put in money for groceries etc. They also have to do assignments etc just as you would for any kind of tertiary tuition. “Order614 is an Urban Mission Training program for those who wish to live out God’s work while being equipped as a disciple of Jesus.”
        If you are interested have a look here http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/contactus/victoria-divisions/order614/the-concept.html

  3. Nice. Keep thinking and keep finding ways to win the world for Jesus. I believe adherents and soldiers are the key to our future. They need to know that. Hallelujah!

  4. Ben to have an elite of soldiers doing all the work is going away from the traditions of both the army and the church in my opinion. The great commission does not say some of you go and make disciples. It is all encpmpassing it is a command to all followers of the risen Lord to do everything to fulfill GOD’S MISSION in the world. To leave it to a few does away with the notion of “a priesthood of all believers”.

    It is the responsibility of all those who have signed the soldiers covenant to do everything in their power to lead others to Christ.

    Jesus command was take up your cross and follow me.
    Being a follower means going the hard yards.
    Soldiers need to embrace the uniform and be proud of it.
    We need a movement of people Spiritually in tune with God who are not afraid to wear the uniform and tell people why?

    I suppose the challenge to all soldiers is to wear their uniform out instead of to church on Sunday.

    Keep on thinking, good reasoned debate is needed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s