Unleashing the Apostolic Genius in The Salvation Army – Part 5

5. Organic Systems

This is about appropriate structures for metabolic growth. Phenomenal Jesus movements grow precisely because they do not have centralized institutions to block growth through control. Here we will find that remarkable Jesus movements have (1) the feel of a movement, (2) structure as a network, and (3) spread like viruses.

Now, this is an issue for us in The Army. At its best, our military approach was to harness efficiency. By this, we cut out layers of beurocracy such as committees and boards. It was swift and efficient. However, like any man-made system, or even any interpretation of any sort of church leadership structure, it can become an end in itself, instead of a means to an end.

Today, however, is a different picture. Our structures don’t allow for flexibility, spontenaity and all the other ‘ity’s’ you care to mention. We sometimes structure ourselves out of any felxible mobility.

Hirsch notes, not without significance, that Jesus movements are viral networks rather than command structures. This doesn’t mean to say that there is no structure of leadership, rather it is flexible. We need a structure that can support potential growth, not stifle it.

You see, when I reflect on the leadership of the early Salvation Army, aside from the sometimes control-freakery of the likes of Wm Booth, we see something interesting. The ‘Army’ thing gave direction and purpose, but when we consider some of Booth’s strategies, we see they are something akin to organic structures.

Listen to what he said:

Beginning as I did with a clean sheet of paper, wedded to no plan. willing to take a leaf out of anybody’s book. above all, to obey the direction of the Holy Spirit. We tried various methods and those that did not answer we unhesitatingly threw overboard and adopted something else.

And while the conclusion was the military model, Primitive Salvationists were quick to borrow from other systems:

We believe that all rational measures, all the measures which men use with respect to the world, if they are lawful and good, may be transferred by the sanctification of the motive, by the transposition of aim, to the Kingdom of God. Yea, we are bound to it. (Catherine Booth. THE SALVATION ARMY IN RELATION TO THE CHURCHES)

Change, adaptation, fluidity…they were there. It also strikes me when seeing this in reality. Take the stories where Booth would get stories from some distant lands saying that people had started the Salvation Army, could he send and officer. Now thats exponential and virus like growth.

I’ve heard more modern and recent comments similar. I think it was General John Gowans who noted that he still often had people write to tell him that they had started the Army somewhere and that some of his Salvation Army Commissioners in some African territories could never quite pinpoint how many corps they had at any given point because soldiers would simply go off and start something where they were.

Now, thats apostolic genius at work, all enabled by an organic organising principal.

We all need to work at thinking about how we help, or hinder, the growth of our movement by what we think is our right to sanction or not sanction. Can we get to the place again where we structure for growth and spontenaity?

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