Life on the Front Line
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.’ (Luke 10:1-3 ESV)
There is certainly something uniquely special about being sent out by God to work as an Officer in The Salvation Army. Having agreed to write an article on reconciliation, I wondered whether my rambling thoughts could be organised in such a way that they can be useful. I decided not! So my starting point is the comment I left on another post recently, and the end point is further ramblings that I’m sure will resonate with some and perhaps upset others.
Officership, in and of itself, presents a set of unique challenges. There are many factors to be considered when serving as an officer, in part because of the unique calling but also because of the challenging context – both within the Army and outside in the complex world we operate in. The following are the points I raised previously, and I now offer a reflection on the cultural context.
1. Officership is unlike any job, and is a vocational calling. As such, achieving a work-life balance is much more difficult as the line between is mostly blurry.
2. Officership, like many vocational roles, is poorly paid and leaves little scope for well-deserved holidays. We also need to remember that officers kids were not called (in most cases) to a life of austerity, and are often disadvantaged (compared to their peers) by the calling of their parents.
3. DHQs are run by officers who are often burnt out themselves. There's a sense of being in the same boat, but rather than feeling that sense of sameness it is often the case that DHQ staff feel corps officers should suffer because they are suffering. On asking for support because we were struggling, we were told 'you are Salvation Army officers...you should just get on with it!' on another occasion, when our eldest son was being treated for cancer and we asked for practical support, we were told that staff at DHQ were 'running out of sympathy!' the compassion that the Army shows to the homeless, the poor, trafficking victims, the elderly, etc. needs to be shown more visibly and more actively to the officers offering that compassion.
4. In the olden days (when my parents were divisional leaders) their priority was the pastoral care of the corps officers in their care. If a corps officer was in distress, they would get in the car (no matter what time of day of night) and reach out to them. Legislation has, in recent years, changed the priorities of DHQs towards micro-bureaucracies, wrapped up in health & safety, legionella, child protection and finance. Rather than establishing a highly effective systems approach, the Army appears to have pursued a labour (or labor, for my American friends) intensive strategy, making Officership less vocation and more administration. This has to change!
Officers are the Army's greatest asset and, as they are not regular employees as such, they need to be affirmed, protected, nurtured, cared for, and loved beyond imagination.
Unlike the business world, you can't 'sweat the assets' without doing serious damage!
The Culture Within
It is said (by Dave Logan, Co-author of Tribal Leadership) that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast!’ In other words, no matter how good the strategy is, if the culture is wrong then all striving is in vain.
The Salvation Army is a blessing from God. I feel I need to say that because, despite its problems, it has been raised up to do God’s work and fulfills this calling faithfully. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be more effective at times. Indeed no organisation is perfect and none can claim to be without problems. But what are the big cultural challenges for the Army today? I believe there are a few areas that desperately need cultural change.
Considering the reasons that Officers resign their commissions, it is clear that many leave because of irretrievable breakdown in the relationship. This can be for many different reasons, but the result is a broken relationship. For Corps Officers – the front line troops – there appears to be an increasing feeling of isolation and hopelessness. There is a growing feeling that the ivory towers of DHQs and THQ are compromising the front line mission in order to pursue a divisional or territorial strategy. In a military context this situation might be regarded by the higher officer classes as justified use of cannon fodder. Cannon fodder is an informal, derogatory term for military personnel who are regarded or treated as expendable in the face of enemy fire. The term is generally used in situations where soldiers are forced to deliberately fight against hopeless odds (with the foreknowledge that they will suffer extremely high casualties) in an effort to achieve a strategic goal. An example is the trench warfare in World War I. (Source: Wikipedia)
To fulfill the calling God has made on The Salvation Army, there is a need for reconciliation between Corps Officers and those making the demands and decisions that impact them. And reconciliation needs to be embraced by the whole Army – from top to bottom. There needs to be unity of purpose and spirit, which means both sides understanding each other’s difficulties. As a Corps Officer, I just wanted someone to share my joy when things were going well and my pain when I was struggling. Alas, an inability to achieve this proved to be the undoing of my Officership.
Former Officer at Aldershot Corps, UK
Former Officer at Aldershot Corps, UK