Monday, February 27, 2012

Retaining the Essence: Training for a Future Generation

I have a few articles featured in The Officer Magazine on the Eseence Function and Form of Training and thought I'd stick them up here for those that can be bothered with rather a long winded series for a blog!


Anyone who has lived in London during the last six to eight years will have experienced transition. This transition is from an older way that had lost its efficiency, to a new way that is recapturing the efficiency of old. This transition has been messy and inconvenient. It has had to be well planned and articulated. It started when the problems were realistically acknowledged but seen as not being insurmountable. While the old corroded and decaying Victorian water pipe works still achieve its aim, its brokenness could not be ignored. It leaked; haemorrhaging gallons of water a minute, it didn't achieve what it was created to do.

A huge engineering task has stopped and slowed traffic all over London as areas particularly affected are addressed. Huge holes have appeared in most parts of London as engineers work to bring back ‘watertight’ efficiency to the distribution of water throughout the city. In excess of 1,000 miles of pipeline by 2012!

Of particular interest is that the old pipe work is not obsolete, it may not function in the same way but its role is essential within the transition. Huge reels of plastic piping announce that the end of inconvenience is near as they are fed - I am told – largely through the older pipes. The older pipes guide and act as a conduit to the new. The pipes look different but the water tastes the same.

It is clear that 130 years after the first attempt at systematic training was made by Captain Ballington Booth, the world is different. How training colleges and programmes engage with an emerging culture and its associated opportunity of burgeoning diversity has been the focus of discussion for three years as the European Training Leaders Network examined training from the perspective of Essence, Function and Form. In looking at what it is to develop curriculum, not only for such a time as this but also for tomorrow several tensions were identified. This the first in a series of three articles reflects discussion and thought that centred upon what a creative response might look like while upholding that for which The Salvation Army was called into being.

The Tension of Context

The world that we live in is changing rapidly. From the way information is absorbed, to the way authority is responded to, the world is different. Bible colleges are not exempt from the impact of such changes as they face their own ‘issues of inertia’ in order to survive this different world, as Webber identifies, “if you graduated from seminary before 1985, you were trained to lead a church that no longer exists. Gibbs making the same point, acknowledges that the training he received over forty years ago, was ‘for a world that now no longer exists…’.

Into this kaleidoscopic culture and thought, training colleges are facing the missional challenge of preparing leaders to embrace the tension of what could be called contextual engagement. For some, these times of transition are to be anticipated and embraced; for others these are times of confusion, incredulity and resistance. How training colleges respond to such challenges and opportunities, will lay down a marker that could remain indelible for years to come.

The Tension of Communitas

Perhaps a question exists ‘how can training programmes encourage engagement with this tension of context and worldview in a creative and sustainable manner?’ The concept of Communitas borrowed from anthropology is an environment of potential and discovery, where people collide and discover one another on different levels of identity and role. It is here that diversity of opinion remains conversant in a culture of healthy overlap and shared mutuality. Undoubtedly the collision of individuality and institution will be an increasing issue for training colleges as they prepare people for ministry .

Allowing ‘individualism’ to dominate could lead to a loss of a common ground in the priorities of theology and practice. The deconstruction that individualism brings could result in unwarranted experimentation leaving the real issues of training within an era of transition unaddressed. Equally for Training Colleges to remain strongholds of 'institution' could dilute the required creativity needed to act decisively and effectively in the development of spiritual leadership. Mutual respect brings creativity where orthodoxy and deconstruction are held together in tension. Embracing the mutuality of both institution and individuality, rather than a grey and safe opt out, offers a source of creativity to train Salvation Army Officers for ministry.

The Tension of Innovation

While innovation brings excitement to the emerging pioneering leader, it can strike trepidation to the heart of others. It is recognised that in some parts of The Salvation Army world the need to pioneer new expressions of Salvation Army ministry is progressively more important. Here the need to embrace the tension of innovation is as appropriate today as it was yesterday, a loss of creativity could have a detrimental effect on the progress of missional innovation. General Erik Wickberg catches something of this pointing beyond the ‘certain things which The Salvation Army can spare’, to that which ‘The Salvation Army cannot spare’ .

Perhaps in the spirit of ‘communitas’ it is expedient to explore and to prepare leadership for that place where both the 'traditional' and 'emerging' share the same calling and essence of Salvation Army. From this place, those who see themselves as emerging could be encouraged not to lose that which they call institutional and, those who see who like to see themselves as institutional could be encouraged not to lose that which they call emerging!

The Tension of Distinctives

“The lasting marks of Salvationism will not be synonymous with methods, programmes or outward trappings. Usually these are merely a means to an end, though some have, rightly, become dear to us.” In stating this General Shaw Clifton infers that the ‘essence’ of Salvationism runs deeper, and in using the language of distinctives, he does not seem to be thinking in terms of what might be seen as the trappings of The Salvation Army. In other words understanding our identity is not a question of ‘function’ in terms of what we do, nor is it a question of ‘form’ in terms of how we organise ourselves, rather it is a question of ‘essence’. If it is not, the ‘lasting marks of Salvationism’ will be ‘synonymous with methods, programmes and outward trappings’. The implications for training colleges and training while obvious on one hand remain subtle on the other.
The essence of The Salvation Army has to be defined by its calling and place in the mission of God in the world through the redemptive work of Christ. As a model of new and full humanity, The Salvation Army holistically makes sense of this plan to ‘the whosoever’. Brengle articulates this prophetically when looking at the unmistakable essence of The Salvation Army, or what he calls ‘the badge of our discipleship’. He clearly warns of the implication of the loss of identity when 'love leaks out'

Once we are certain of our essence, then the function and form of Officer training and curriculum development follows on. Understanding The Salvation Army’s prophetic voice brings focus to the nature of Salvationism as it emanates from a grounded appreciation of God’s direction for The Salvation Army. The consequent implication for Training Colleges is how they develop curriculum that engages with this tension in such a way that encourages future leaders to be cultivators rather than merely curators of Salvationism, leaders who are as conversant with contemporary mission and ministry as they are with the prophetic voice of The Salvation Army.


The well worn mantra ‘The best days of The Salvation Army are ahead of us’ is as comforting as it is challenging. How officer training continues to contribute to such a belief needs to remain a key area of evaluation of any Training College programme ethos. How colleges embrace and facilitate creative tension through curriculum and attitude will remain a challenge if The Salvation Army is to continue to do what it does best, be The Salvation Army!

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