Article of the week: Different Army? Same mission
14 May 2022
Brian Colley (Clowne) considers how The Salvation Army has changed and suggests ways forward
FOR some time now Salvationists have talked about needing change. However, The Salvation Army has already seen a lot of changes over the years, many of them brought about by circumstances and a changing world in general.
Sunday is no longer regarded as sacred. The Lord’s Day is treated no differently from any other day of the week. Sunday trading, sport and other secular activities mean that many people take themselves away from a place of worship to other venues.
Due to declining numbers and ageing members, corps outreach can be restricted. Open-air ministry for some is non-existent and for others made more difficult, whether by local authorities, different road layouts or traffic congestion.
Probably the biggest change is the timing and number of Sunday meetings. One meeting at a set time each week seems to have become the norm in many places. This provides only one opportunity for anyone to attend, perhaps with little or nothing else available during the week. Of course, there are exceptions to this and some corps remain active with a busy weekly programme, but they appear to be fewer in number than ever.
God has not changed and neither has the power of the Holy Spirit, so why are valedictory services being announced for once-thriving corps? There are some obvious reasons why change has taken place, but are there other causes that could have been avoided?
Did soldiers transfer to a neighbouring corps because it seemed bigger and better? Did some leave because of a falling out with comrades? Did some find the high standards expected too hard to maintain or resent some necessary disciplinary action taken?
On the other side of the coin, did over-busy Sundays put some soldiers off and cause others to seek an easier way of life? Two or three open-air meetings, three senior meetings plus two junior meetings and maybe also a wind-up to end the day might have been exhausting for those involved in all of them.
Was all the outreach activity done as well as it could have been? Why weren’t more people attracted to worship by it? Did the income from selling the papers in some areas outweigh the purpose for making them available to read in the first place? Did going into the same streets year after year, standing by the same lamppost, sometimes outside an empty house, result in people not being won for the Lord? Have the activities never changed, thus becoming outdated and unproductive for the Kingdom?
Some people today might prefer to put the clock back, but that would not be possible or sensible. Several meetings, for example, are not necessary for true worshippers – God surely prefers quality to quantity. However, there should still be as many opportunities as possible for people to worship, enabling everyone who so desires to join with others on the Lord’s Day. Age or timed medication at certain parts of the day can make it difficult for some to attend.
We may no longer have the set format of holiness, praise and salvation meetings, but surely every meeting can contain an element of these. There will always be praise in meetings, and salvation and holiness messages are combined – one cannot be mentioned without the other because they are the basics of the gospel.
A better, more efficient, more productive Salvation Army is possible without drastic changes to everything. A lot is good to retain as it is. But let any change that needs to be made be organised at territorial level, not by local individuals who think they know better.
Let it be a God-inspired and Spirit-led change – not just change to suit a few but to suit everybody who wants to be successful for the Lord. Let everyone be of one mind, as those first disciples were at Pentecost.
Strong leadership and direction is needed. Satan will enjoy any other change leading to ineffectiveness, decline and a lowering of standards, meaning that the Lord’s work suffers or a corps closes. He is usually the instigator of that.
If there has to be change, let it be a forward one so that we seek to be observed mainly as evangelists and not just the kindly do-gooders most of the public now see. Open-air ministry and paper selling can still be good ways to make person-to-person contact. Let us go where the people are to be found – in the right place at the right time with good amplification – so the gospel message is heard.
Relating our own salvation experience can also be effective. We need to tell everyone about Jesus and his great love for them – how he died but lives today to save them. Making faith personal and testifying to others at every opportunity are the way forward.
In one of his letters to soldiers William Booth wrote: ‘Testimony is a wonderful thing and, when given modestly, with faith in God, generally moves the hearts of those who hear it.’ He recognised that it is not about telling each other what we have done for God but telling others what God has done for us and can do for them.
Does the Army need to change or do those who say it should need to change themselves? Our Founder, as always, had the answer and it is worth quoting his words: ‘I say sometimes that, had every officer and soldier who has at one time or another vowed to live and fight and die under our flag remained faithful to their pledges, The Salvation Army would indeed have been a mighty force today. It would have been sufficiently powerful to shake the world.’
Number 470 in the Army’s 1945 chorus book put it like this: ‘There never was a better Army!/ There never was a flag so dear,/ There never was a band like the Army band to comfort and cheer./ Service in it is delightful! Happy we are!/ So, we’ll keep on fighting in “The best old Army,”/ ’Neath the flag with the fiery star.’
Above all else let us retain the enthusiasm and desire to win souls for the Kingdom.