William Booth – Great Visionary, but Good Father?

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There’s no question that General and Founder of The Salvation Army William Booth was a man on a mission.  He and His wife Catherine Booth were pivotal in starting something powerful within the World, yet I have to wonder if there was ever a trade-off with his passion.  We know some of the famous speeches like the “I’ll fight to the very end” speech and the phrase “do something” in speaking to Bramwell about a homeless situation.  There is no doubt both William and Catherine Booth were visionaries and innovators within a mission that ignited the foundation of this Army.  They are both revered and loved…

But…

There is a danger of being a visionary.
There can be a trade-off and sacrifices can be made along the way of blazing a trail. 
Without a doubt we know Booth to be a great General, albeit our first general, but was he a good father as well?   From most historical accounts one might draw a startling contrast from founder to father.   

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Truth: 
If Ballington Booth had not resigned within the Army the Volunteers of America would not have been founded, but why did Ballington leave the army?  He and his father did not see eye to eye.  Sure disagreements happen in families, but basically William Booth labeled his own family member a deserter to the cause.  In essence Booth excommunicated his own kin.  I certainly don’t think this is “father of the year” material.  However, in the heat of the moment, I can see regrettable comments being said and the damage being done.  

Still…
Family is our first ministry, our first priority.  I am not blaming our founder, but I do see warning signs of overworking oneself and sacrificing family for the sake of a cause.  Two things can take place when we overwork ourselves – 

1) Loss of perspective.

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Have you ever worked on a project so hard that you just had to step back from it to gain better perspective?  It seems to me that everyone of us can be guilty of tunnel vision from time to time because we are so success/vision focused.  If Jesus had to get away and be alone with the Father, so too must we.  We need to have a clear perspective, but if we overwork ourselves we will sacrifice something in the process.  It is like staring at the bark of a massive tree, but we wouldn’t know how great a tree it is until we took a few steps back so that our vision could refocus and we gain a broader outlook.  

2) Misalignment of Priorities

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Secondly, we can lose the true order of priorities when we overwork ourselves.  Suddenly the mission becomes the only thing that is important, and we begin to lose the support cast (and family) around us.  God first, family and then our mission…if we discombobulate these we run the risk of losing everything.  

These are just two lessons that I see when I consider The Salvation Army’s founder William Booth.  Yes he was a great man.  Yes his wife Catherine was the true driving force.  Yes an Army grew and lives were changed…but could family matters have been handled better in the process?   Is there something for us to learn from this as well?  Perhaps for starters stop placing Booth on some sort of deified platform.  He was, after all, still a man with imperfections like the rest of us.  I’m not saying don’t admire what he and Catherine accomplished, but be careful how much you revere the man.  Secondly, yes hard work does pay off, but be careful not to sacrifice your children and families in the process.  

Live a disciplined life but find rest and grace in the process.  

-Just some random ponderings of The Salvation Army today.  

 

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6 Comments

  1. It was not only Ballington Booth that William had a falling out with, but also Herbert and Kate Booth, too. Herbert and Ballington were not allowed to be at their mother’s deathbed, even though they traveled to Great Britain to be with her.

    There are so many dangers when we idolize the Founders of our Movement.

  2. I have often pondered about the Booth “family unit”. It is fascinating to recognize a very “normal” side to superheroes. Batman has to take off the cape, so to speak. (I’m not even sure that Batman has a cape…sorry, I digress) It is often the case, even today, when officers are wholly (and relatively ‘successful’ in career terms) dedicated to advancing the mission often the family unit suffers, for various reasons. It is my fear driven goal to seek out ‘good examples’ of extremely effective officership and strong family units. Find out what they’re doing, how they’re handling the pressure from all sides to be a “perfect officer, a perfect parent, a perfect spouse” I also long to acknowledge that this kind of officership is difficult, often criticized, and rarely supported. It is the never ending struggle to be all things to all men. In the same breath, my personal call to officership came before my call to marriage, or children. Therefore I dare to say that these things (my marriage and my children) are a part of God’s plan for my life as an officer. He has planned my days. He knew I would not be a single officer, even if I didn’t know it at the time. My ministry must be reflected in my marriage and my parenting. I must use every opportunity to live as a salvation soldier in my home and out of it. He has called me to use every life situation as a ministry. But Lord help me, when I fail to measure up to someone’s arbitrary standard of either…

  3. Scott is right. The Founder was not perfect. And perhaps as was and remains common among strong willed pioneer types, he was often uncompromising.

    However, the subject of fathering is an interesting subject. Is a father to be judged by the the choices of his children? The relationship between Booth and his children I suspect is more complex than the reflections above and much is left unknown to us. Certainly we should note that other of the Booth children did not leave the Army’s ministry and even Ballington did not leave for evil purposes. While the relationship between William and Ballington was strained or even broken, Ballington really turned out to be a pretty good Christian man.

    I question the need to use a linear or hierachical system when prioritizing the purposes and responsibilities of life. Beyond loving The Lord with all my being, why does something have to be the most important? Are there not moments when one responsibility takes the lead but all responsibilities remain important? Is it true that all values always take second place to parenting children? Why then would a soldier lay down his life for his country? Why would a policeman or firefighter lay down his life and forego caring for his children? Are SA officers supposed to always put their children before work responsibilities? When an officer does put vocational or ministry duties before the needs of children does that really mean that children are less or not important? I suspect that beyond biology this need to address other values and needs beside caring for children is one reason God created the need for two parents and grand parents.

    Last, if the spiritual or even earthly behavior of children is the measure of a father’s influence what does that say about God the Father? Many of our Heavenly Father’s children have behaved badly and gone astray. In fact I think the Biblical view is that all His children have gone astray. Does that make God a poor Father who was likely too busy to give sufficient attention and guidance to insure that children turned out to be righteous? If God had been a better Father would we have not sinned?

    It seems to me that the sign of a Godly Father is the faithful love and relationship whatever behavior or life choices a child eventually makes. A Godly Father becomes incarnate, comes along side, watches eagerly out on the road (Luke 15.20) for wayward children to turn and return. Not reconciling with Ballington perhaps was an error but the subject of being Godly fathers is bigger than the Founder. William may be a model of 19th century confrontational evangelism but likely not the model of a relational, Fatherlike pastoral ministry.

  4. Booth sounds a lot like David, who was a great man of God, a wonderful king for Israel, but a failure at his most important ministry – fatherhood. This is a good reminder for all who are called by God.

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