Wednesday, February 29, 2012

“Functioning Beyond Expectations…”

(*This is a summary of an original paper written with Lt-Col Karen Shakespeare)

The loss of identity can be tragic as it can be dramatic; the raw material of rip-roaring novels and films as characters such as Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne rediscover who and what they are. Their lives an edge of the seat odyssey of recovery of self, worthy of a trip to the cinema! The challenge for church, says van Gelder , is to maintain its identity through first understanding its essence, ‘what it is’ (our message), it is then that the church can understand its function, ‘what it does’ (our part in God’s mission), then helping the church fully appreciate its identity or form, ‘how it organises itself’ (as one army).In other words, to avoid an identity crisis, the order is significant, the form of church is directed by what the church does in response to what it is called to be.

The first paper in this series argued that training for a future generation needed to be secure in the essence of The Salvation Army; the function that follows should be that of developing leaders as conversant with contemporary mission and ministry as they are with the prophetic voice of The Salvation Army. The underlying question for this second article is from what direction do we approach this function? Various expectations of function offer insight to whether the development of leaders is shaped by the essence, or form of The Salvation Army?

Historical Expectations

 
In the earliest years of The Salvation Army, leadership roles were defined purely in terms of function and seniority, no formal training was offered at any level, in fact theological training was regarded with fear, ‘the only thing we care to teach as to theological questions is, that they are to be avoided as much as possible’. Training was marked by impatience, with leaders more focused upon doing mission than training for it,

This activist tendency was balanced by the more reflective perspective of Bramwell Booth, who later wrote ‘it is perhaps less in the external activities of the War that the best work of the Training Home is accomplished than in the character-building that is done there’. The essential importance of the spiritual life grew in significance. The training curriculum was set by William and Bramwell Booth who ‘saw that the stability of the movement must largely depend upon the integrity, zeal and capacity of its leaders’. From 1903 until the introduction of the two year course in 1960 the pattern of training in the UK remained constant; spiritual formation and the development of practical skills were supplemented by academic studies which remedied ‘glaring defects in their education’.

Direct Expectations

Orders and Regulations for Officers (1997) state direct priorities for the general requirements for officership. These are based on a divine call, Godly living and devotion without reserve to the purpose for which The Salvation Army exists. Orders and Regulations for Training call for the development of an appropriate education programme and practical experience which includes ‘vision kindled, character strengthened, spiritual growth enlarged and, above all, love for souls deepened’. In these official documents motivation for mission is embedded firmly in the spiritual life; training is designed to be reflective of this priority and focused upon the missional essence of the Army.

While to see the Officer’s Covenant as an expectation would be to reduce what has been of great significance to that of a contractual requirement. There is directness in perhaps what is better seen as its influence. Framed certificates on the walls of offices and quarters around the world do not serve as a tick list reminder, but more of an assurance as to the direction of God’s calling. The Officer’s Covenant remains a covenant, not a contract and in that it represents essence. Therefore within training it is important to make sense of the Officer’s Covenant for ministry sustained through conviction rather than a self will.

Indirect Expectations

Sound bites have often shaped thinking within The Salvation Army. Easily adopted and assimilated, short bursts of rhetoric have an impact on both thinking and practice. These indirect expectations can be mostly helpful. General John Gowans’ ‘save souls, grow saints, and serve suffering humanity’ is a phrase that has helpful influence. While not representing a direct expectation on training, indirect influence can be seen. This ‘Gowansism’ is a good example of how sound bites are easily adopted into current thinking shaping expectations of training in a positive manner.

Interesting snapshots of the expectations of international leadership can be seen in such events such as the International Conference of Leaders. The 2009 Spiritual Statement in particular, that International Leaders signed as an act of personal recommitment and rededication revealed helpful expectations. While remaining indirect these were generally significant in that, they either represent ‘doing’ in terms of mission, ‘being’ in the sense of spiritual and personal development and ‘thinking’ regarding the necessity of understanding. The indirect expectation upon Training College programmes is that officers should be prepared to build for God’s Kingdom here on earth, committed to living out the attributes of God in such a way that all people are brought under the reign of God as a matter of urgency. This will require leaders of maturity and integrity with an ever-deepening commitment to personal transformation in Christ, together with insight and understanding to meet the challenges of the modern world and its societal trends.

Other specific organisational developments reveal the focus and direction of recent international leadership. The establishing of The International Social Justice Commission and the renamed International College for Officers and Centre for Spiritual Life Development are two contemporary examples showing an expectation towards issues of justice, doctrine and ecclesiological distinctiveness, as well as the personal and spiritual development of leaders.

Therefore there is primacy within these indirect expectations for training to ensure that cadets are in tune with what God is doing in the world, and also with what God is doing inwardly within an individual. Colleges are called to function as places that recognize holiness of heart and action as a mandatory pre-requisite for all who would express a calling to spiritual leadership through officership in The Salvation Army.

Practical Expectations

It is of interest to reflect whether some expectations are more indicative of ascetics and structure than they are of the heartbeat of Salvationism. Important as they are, an interesting debate could be had whether the ability and skills to complete every day administrative tasks actually contribute to a framework for ministry. Clearly leaders need to show capacity in all areas, but when louder voices want more 'doing' in training, this often understood more in terms of practical administrative and compliance training than pastoral or missional engagement. It would be a mistake to dismiss these expectations, as clearly they represent an important aspect of officer training, however, equally erroneous would it be to allow such expectations of compliance to dominate how colleges function.

Any exploration of expectations would indicate that there are many voices that could speak into how colleges function. Determining the loudest voice is not, however, always easy. As we approach the function of training, we need to be able to ask “what are we looking for in a Salvation Army Officer?” “What does The Salvation Army need from its leaders?” As long as The Salvation Army needs officers whose formation is shaped by unequivocal vocation; with integrity and maturity for missional leadership there is a need to function beyond what sometimes are the loudest expectations.

Conclusion

A brief overview of the demands and expectations placed upon training reveal more a mandate for creativity than the tight leash or harness that would perhaps be expected. A journey through history reveals how, largely, a response in training was aligned to an acute awareness of opportunity and need. Orders and Regulations as a direct expectation continue to encourage the need for an approach to training that contributes to the commissioning of Officers of integrity and maturity. Indirect expectations seen through sound bites and the emphasis given in significant gatherings and developments equally point to, and give permission for the necessary response in leadership development. It is encouraging to see expectations that come from a celebration of essence. However, whether these expectations have been allowed to be the loudest voice would an interesting point for discussion.

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