Do we as an army for God work within the mainframe of grace and reconciliation? How do we bring back into the fold those who have broken rank and have gone AWOL?
There are many reasons that officers and soldiers brake rank and depart. Some leave for other opportunities that, I believe, the Lord makes available for them. Some burn out and because of frustrations they leave our ranks in search of rest that perhaps wasn’t offered where they were stationed. Others leave for moral or ethical reasons. All of these reasons are sad to our army. We need soldiers and officers of this army who will fight despite the circumstances, but we also need leaders in our army who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and will lovingly employ pastoral care upon those who are truly hurting and struggling.
It is not enough to have a small handful of officers at territorial headquarters to minister to the vast ministries of hundreds of officers on the field. Nor is it enough to claim places like officer’s councils (twice a year) and pilgrimage (for soldiery) enough of a healing balm to weary souls. These are wonderful elements of pastoral care, but they are not enough. Sometimes, dare I say, these are merely used as stop-gaps yet underlying hurts and true shepherding is forgotten along the way. This is usually unintentional because many leaders are “too busy” due to over worked schedules. If I can be honest for a moment though, we need something more than what is already available to officers and soldiers in regards to pastoral care. We need to spend more money if needed. We need to employ more officers and staff within the realms of pastoral care. If our army is serious about caring for those within its ranks, please take this seriously. I am not negating the effectiveness of the few who are already within this area of ministry (pastoral care departments – if there is one in your territory), but there are far too few in number.
Secondly, it is not enough to employ/outsourced psychologists to conduct tests on those who are hurting to see if they are “fit for duty”. These services are excellent when one is seeking professional counseling (which is at times necessary) and we are grateful for these helps, but who does the shepherd turn to when they need someone to talk to and perhaps an ear to listen without fear of repercussions or divulging of information shared. It is not that we mistrust leadership but shepherds are there to guide and to lead but if the leader is hurting or burned out perhaps don’t just move them or appoint them to a place with less stress – here is a novel concept – Talk to them and listen to their needs. I don’t mean to be critical here today but pastoral ministry should not be a last resort or a responsive action, it should be a first priority and a proactive ministry to its ranks. I believe far too long we have operated within a reactionary place which is more of a knee-jerk response instead of an intentional, loving concern for those who serve.
Leadership: please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not implying you do not love those you lead, but I am saying there
is room to improve must be room to improve! Lip service can take the form of “I hear what you’re saying” yet no action is ever taken to adjust, modify, restructure the foundation because it can and will upset the status quo right now.
What do I know…I’m only a Captain in this very large ship that is The Salvation Army…but from where I stand, sometimes officers and soldiers are just numbers instead of people. The reaction to a dip in statistics becomes “Officers what’s going on in your corps? Why are the stats down?” or “Women’s ministries secretary, why are there less women in your women’s ministries group? Why are the stats down?” Sometimes we minister through the famine days as well as the seasons of feasts. We must recognize that people are people and we ought to love and serve them with our full efforts and compassion through ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Pastoral Care Recommendation:
(Again, what do I know but here’s a suggestion, which is more than just criticism but I hope and pray a construction suggestion because I want to succeed in ministry and I know we all do too)
Here are Three Recommendations to truly allow pastoral care to become proactive and more effective:
1) Employ Divisional Pastoral Care Teams (not just Territorial ones):
This isn’t about micromanaging officers or corps, but rather caring leaders determined to improve the mission through healthy, shepherding and love. Pastoral teams who will spend time with officers not because it’s in the calender or because its mandated but because they want to fellowship with other officers and show support and concern. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Divisional Officers don’t love those they serve currently, because that is not the case, but if we had a team of pastoral care officers devoted to the concerns and needs of shepherding officers on the field I believe we would see not only a higher morale but more effective ministries going on. Officers and soldiers need to feel needed and loved. They need to know they have support no matter how near or far their appointments are for their headquarters. A Divisional Pastoral Care Team would be immediate, confidential, and provide an additional resource to not only officers and soldiers on the field but to divisional leaders.
2) A Sabbatical Provision For Officers:
Currently if an Officer told their leadership that they would like to take a sabbatical from their appointment they would be met with questions like “Are you resigning? Are you questioning your call as an Officer? Are you dealing with sin?” The thought of providing something other than furlough to Officers who need triage to their spirits seems almost alien to our army world. I don’t wish to peer over the proverbial fence here but there are many churches who employ the use of a sabbatical so that their pastors can recharge, reconnect with their spouses, find rest and rediscover their heart for ministry. What damage would it do to consider such a provision? Could we prevent some of the losses within our ranks if this were in place? Perhaps even a territorial sabbatical place of rest could be assigned…more to ponder…
3) Team Leadership Appointments:
I recognize not all personalities can work together in ministry, but wouldn’t it be more effective to have numerous couples working in the same appointment? I know that immediately some would consider the cost of such a venture, but what would the return on this kind of investment be? Currently already within the USA in the Kroc Centers teams of Officers already work together, but what about within the standard corps setting? Wouldn’t we be more equipped within a carefully structured partnership team? I don’t mean a Corps Officer and an Assistant or an Associate Officer but I mean co-leaders, co-ministers together. Perhaps in this way the burden can be jointly carried and also fellowship and healthy accountability can take place. This type of model would not be easy to maintain and constant retooling would have to happen, but if the goal within mission was kept as the priority and everyone could extinguish egos, perhaps this type of team ministry could work.
Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing:
The mission of our Army should always, ever be at the forefront of what and who we are.
Secondly though, we must be proactive in caring for our ranks of officers and soldiers. We need the able body, the healthy body of Christ in order to meet human needs in His name! We need each other to prevent attrition in our ranks. We need to know leadership truly cares for those they lead. We need more servant leaders to assist in this modification to make our mission more effective. With healthy pastoral care tools in place, more than we have now, we can help some (not all) of the issues we are currently facing when we consider the “breaking of ranks”.
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” 1 John 3:17
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
Just something more for our Army to ponder today!