The Salvation Army: A Movement, not an Organization

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I was sitting in the cornet section of the band waiting for the seven measure rest to end and a thought hit me.  As the movement continued at a ‘pep band’ pace.  Each measure, counted out and played, sometimes correctly…sometimes not, we were moving to the grand finale of the piece.  The pinnacle of the march where each running melody and harmony made its double forte’d ending proclamation.  Our conductor described it as puzzle pieces being put together to form the melodies and responding harmonies all hurtling toward the last note.

What was the thought that hit me? 

Just as the march we were playing progressed along in its jovial tune, igniting feelings of joy and hope, so too our Army resembled this structure.  Even our mission statement proclaims this truth:  “THE SALVATION ARMY, AN INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT…” We are a movement and some of the attributes of a movement is that we progress to the grand finale.  For us this finale is the ultimate return of Jesus Christ!  But what about now, in the interim?  What are we to do?  Though the repeating melody, so to speak, of our mission is resounding loud and clear are we just playing the same Image(repeat)?

written in our Army’s history?  If we are to play the movement correctly as an Army, then we have to move forward not backward.  Let me preface this by affirming our very rich heritage first.  We have been so blessed by progressive leaders in our Army.  Those who have moved our Holiness theology along, those who have lead not by consensus but by conviction and the moving of the Holy Spirit.  These beginning leaders, and still many today, have or are leading by risking much!

Remember the parable of the talents?  Who were the servants who were rewarded in the end?  Those who risked much.  They were the ones who didn’t bury their talents in the dirt but spread them out and multiplied what was given to them.   There’s a very important spiritual lesson here for us as an Army as well.  Though we ought to relish and appreciate our rich heritage, we ought not seek to preserve some which have run their course while blindly ignoring areas of risk that are untried methodologies and practices.

You see, when we begin to insulate what we have already accomplished in the past and seek to preserve these we lose sight of the movement and replace it with an organization.

Do you know the definition of an Organization?  an administrative and functional structure (as a business or a political party); also : the personnel of such a structure.

Is it important to have some sort of structure?  Of course…but if our mission statement says we are a movement and yet we don’t move or progress we begin to lose our identity.  We ARE NOT first and foremost an ‘administrative structure’…we are a mission and movement for Christ!  When we become bogged down more by missional politics, policies and procedures instead of  progressing then we discover an identity crisis in our Army.

One of the biggest dangers in any Church or Movement is when we plateau and begin to have polarizing ideologies.  Movements are much easier to begin but when some of its mission begins to plateau statistically or fail in its effectiveness the danger is that the risks become less.  By that I mean since there has been much gained already, there will undoubtedly be  something lost within future risk taking in mission and evangelical program.

Wasn’t it General William Booth himself who said if a corps was not meeting minimum requirements they ought to close it immediately and move on?   And yet this isn’t happening today.  We continue to pour resources into failing appointments and preserve its structures instead of removing the dead weight of these failed missions.   In essence we have again reached an identity crisis.

Furthermore for non-profit tax purposes here in the United States we have incorporated all of our territorial headquarters and categorizing them as ‘organizations’…again I recognize the intent, but to what end does this take us?  It may seem like semantics here, but have we not then become an organization instead of a movement?  From our foundation as a movement I recognize that we will change and grow, but so too we ought to recognize the dangers of losing this original identity.

Learning from History:  War tactics –

In the American Revolutionary War, the Red Coats (British) fought within its traditional structure.     When they engaged an enemy they would line up and march forward rank and file.  Onto the battle field they would march with uniform and rifle in perfect symmetry.  Those from the thirteen colonies who were fighting the British began to understand that they couldn’t fight a conventional war against such a formidable army and expect to win.  So they devised a new means of engaging the enemy.  In essence they changed the rules of warfare.  They no longer lined up as the Red Coats did, instead they fought from the tree lines, in ambushes and in clever strategies.   It was most unconventional and yet it was very effective.

We are an organized movement based upon the military yes, but as we look to the future we must recognize that in order to survive and continue to be effective in these new generations that we have to adapt.  The rules of warfare have to change.  We fight among new territories and though the devil is using the same tried and truth methods to deceive humanity we have to engage and risk much in order to be effective on these battle fields.

As a movement we are progressing forward to that grand finale.  We mustn’t lose sight of our purpose and our mission.  We must continue to risk much in order to gain much.  And lastly we must learn to adapt if we are to have victory over the enemy!  If we don’t adapt as a movement and keep heading forward then I fear we face a long agonizing slow death as an Army.  This slow death will be paved with the discarded uniforms of those who have left our cause not because of their spiritual or moral failings but because the Army sought to preserve its structure and neglected to care for those who continue to fight the good fight.

Dare I say if we ever lose of the Holy Spirit’s leading within our holiness movement, we will cease to be and the enemy will have won a horrible victory at our expense.

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