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.
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.
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.
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.