Wednesday, February 17, 2016



Part two of Two

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 could 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 fulfil 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.




For many Officers the appointment to DHQ or THQ is a blessing, but for others it is a curse. This may sound negative, but the fact is that most Officers want to fulfil their calling to save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity. I don’t believe any Officers were called for the purpose of frustrating their colleagues on the front line, nor were they called to upset headquarters staff. Nevertheless, there is a frustration building that I believe often happens because people end up in places they weren’t called to, perhaps without the necessary skills or resources.

In the same way that Corps Officers feel frustrated there will be headquarters staff frustrated by their own lack of support. With the average age of those entering training increasing over the past decades, the Army needs to acknowledge the experience and knowledge of its Officers gained in previous professional positions. Its Officers would become far more valuable assets if this knowledge informed the resourcing of the mission.



Corps Officership is hard work! Anecdotally, it appears that the attitude of Corps members is increasingly shifting towards ‘it’s the Officer’s job.’ With a substantial increase in administration over the past decade the role of the Corps Officer has developed into that of a spiritual civil servant. Smaller and older congregations perpetuate this problem, with many being unable or unwilling to take on committed roles in the Corps. This is manifest through increased pressure on Corps Officers that is not necessarily understood by headquarters staff.

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 intensive strategy, making Officership less vocation and more administration – or less like ministry and more like a normal low paid job. This has to change! And change can only happen if the relationships are strong.

It may be Biblical to suggest that suffering is an integral part of human existence, but this needs to be balanced. 1 Peter 5 says, ‘and after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.’ Officers of all ranks and appointments need to be restored and strengthened. The need for refreshment sometimes goes beyond divisional retreats, territorial councils and Brengle Institues, and the Army would benefit significantly from occasionally releasing the pressure on its Officers. I believe that sabbaticals, for example, are only open to Officers who have served over ten (or more) years. The work-life balance is becoming more important for people in full-time ministry, and this is evidenced by the number of Officers resigning or suffering work-related illness during the first few years of ministry.

I was shocked to discover, after resigning, that the Corps I had been appointed to had lost over 40 Officers to resignation, long term illness or requests for an early move, in just 120 years of its existence. This is an example of long term relationship breakdown that can only be resolved in a culture of love, grace and reconciliation.

Finally, whilst people do not enter Officership for financial gain, there is a need for valuing Officers in the context of their ministry. I have heard many apologists for the Army say that the overall package is considerable, but typically (still) Officers are paid significantly less that their contemporaries in other denominations. I believe that this, along with feeling unsupported and unvalued, causes the Army to be built on weak foundations, and is evidenced by the number of Officers resigning and the lack of Cadets in training worldwide.

The Culture Outside

‘Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.’

There is no doubt that the context in which the Army works is constantly changing towards a secular society. In Britain, for example, ‘the number of residents who stated that their religion was Christian in 2011 was fewer than in 2001. The size of this group decreased 13 percentage points to 59% (33.2 million) in 2011 from 72% (37.3 million) in 2001. It is the only group to have experienced a decrease in numbers between 2001 and 2011 despite population growth. The second largest response category in 2011 was no religion. This increased 10 percentage points.’ (2011 Census)

The Salvation Army has always been, in my opinion, an adaptable innovator and now is the real test of whether it can be as relevant to the culture today as it was when it began in the 19th century. This will require some tough decision making to allow appropriately gifted Officers the opportunity to innovate the mission of the Army in such a way that it is faithful to its calling and relevant to 21st century society. The basic message of salvation has not changed, but the way in which it is communicated must change constantly in step with the culture.

Conclusion

The opening point about culture and strategy is of key importance. It seems that Corps and Headquarters are pursuing different strategies within vastly different Army sub-cultures. Whilst there is a refreshingly clear vision from the General – One Army, One Mission, One Message – the whole Army, from the tiniest outpost to the largest headquarters, needs to embrace this vision with a spirit of unity. This means reconciling differences and rebuilding relationships to allow a powerful culture of single-minded, soul-saving, saint-growing, humanity-serving to emerge.

We all know that the harvest is plentiful and that the labourers are few, which is why reconciliation is critical to the Army’s future mission. An Army that is expending energy and resources on friendly fire is not an Army that will win the war.

So my message to the Army is ‘reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation’ as the only way to secure a growing mission for the future.


Stuart Rivers
Former Officer at Aldershot Corps, UK

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

How much of the pie does the id, personality, position and rank take up in factoring why officers leave the rank?

Anonymous said...

I remember when your Mum and Dad came and baby sat for you so you could go to a Rotary evening event at Horsham when I was CO there with my with my wife Glenna.
Very true in in all your comments about pastoral. I spent a few years in Aldershot when I was in the RCT Staff Band as Eb Bass player
G.B Ron H Ex Officer

Anonymous said...

Hi You take me back a long time when your Dad and Mum baby sat for you to go to a Rotary event at Horsham when I and my wife where CO,s
Fully support in all you say, in pastoral care, GB Ron S now H Ex Officer