Phil Wall on Officership (1998)

This is snippets of an appendix to Phil Wall’s book “‘I’ll Fight…’ Holiness at War” from way back in 1998. Having talked in the book about the call to mission and pragmatic holiness, Phil addresses officership in the context. The whole book is worth reading, but these thoughts are particularly helpful in the context of what I’ve been blogging about recently. The whole thing is Appendix II in the book, not sure if its still available. This is a shortened version here. My comments are in red.



It would be inapproproite not to mention this specific area of vocation in a book so focussed on the mission and ministry of The Salvation Army. Full-time officership was Booth’s pragmatic response to his need for missioners who could travel around the country opening up new centres of outreach and resourcing existing ones. I am sure the current-day scenario of long-term pastors, specialist social care ministry and numerous administrative roles was far from his mind.

ac – again, picking up the apostolic function, not just in terms of divisonal leadership overseeing, but in officers being the apostles/apostolic workers themselves.

For many of my officer friends and family, much more thinking is need in terms of a theology of officership and philosophy of ministry for them to come to terms with the new context… The world has changed dramatically since the phenomena of officership began. For many underclass people it provided the only career they would have had. For most, if not all, women this was certainly so; very few wives would have had any expectation of a career. It emerged in a world that expected people to give their lives to one profession for their whole of their working life. Thus it made sense to ask for a lifetime commitment to the specific role of officership. Officers became the ubiquitous generalists who fulfilled every role which went well beyond the original missioner plan.

ac – just look at the variety of roles officers fulfill and you’ll see that far from even being leaders and equippers or apostolic workers, you have a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ approach.

Things have changed dramatically since then. Many of those coming in are highly skilled, qualified people who have already fulfilled a significant role in a particular field. This includes many women who have led their own career distinct from their husband’s role… Increased number of young people who are deeply committed to The Salvation Army, are seeking out opportunities as full-time employees within specialist niche roles, as opposed to generalist ministry.

ac – youth work, planting, inner city work, ‘fresh/new expressions’, incarnational ministry

My own view is the recognition of officership once again as a specialist role. Firstly, in the arena of leadership… Ephesians chapter four lays out very clearly the role of people gifted in a particular way; some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:11-12). The meaning seems very clear that those with the gifts mentioned are primarily responsible not for ‘doing the work’ but equipping the saints for doing just that…Scripture seems quite clear that leaders gifted in the ways described have a primary function to equip others to do the work. The calling of officership, if seen as aligned to this leadership role, must be this essential equipping of the saints…Many of my officer friends see this as their primary role to lead, envision and equip people for the work of ministry.

ac – I’m not entirely sure that officership should be all this…there is little scriptural ground for paying people in all of these roles, but like the early officer and the apostle, where itinerancy or at least flexible movement was key, it will be necessary. Equally, you wouldn’t need one at each corps.

The financial implications of full-time local corps leadership is significant with 70% of corps in the UK and 90% of corps in the USA in receipt of centralised grant funding. Morally, this position is not tenable. The public give us money to care for the needy, not to keep our heating and lighting on during winter. Living in a world where the needs are increasing rapidly, and a Church where the giving is static or shrinking, full-time leadership may become a thing of the past for most of our small to medium corps. A form of part-time/ job share officership may be the shape of things to come.

ac – bi-vocational ministry is the way forward. Especially so in urban settings where corps will never cover the costs of two full-time officers and where the officers are under pressure to fund themselves from the general public through things like War Cry sales and coffee mornings. Let’s stop begging and get a job!

I’d argue too that there is little scriptural grounds for the giving of the church even to be spent in heating buildings etc, especially not at the cost of ensuring that those amongst us aren’t poor. I’ve been to too many corps where there have been poor soldiers that have received little by way of help.

Whatever the future of officership in a changing world there are some realities that need to be faced. Firstly, officership needs to be brought into the market place of vocational choices rather than being perceived as some special elitist calling. From my experience of working with young people, an oft-times one-track vocational theology that is neither biblical or true Salvation Army has closed their minds to the possibility of a fulfilling ministry as a Salvation Army officer. It needs to be affirmed as the role it is, for those gifted in the appropriate ways. Whilst it remains on the fringes, accessible to those only with a powerful ‘call’, it will remain inaccessible for the consideration of most. By giving officership a kudos above and beyond other calls we inhibit rather than enhance its development and growth.

ac – to be honest, I have met many fine young people who would become officers only if they felt they could really make a difference.

Secondly, the nature of leadership is changing dramatically in the Western world. To say that top-down hierarchical leadership is dead is an understatement. Current specialists in leadership such as Charles Handy and Professor John Hunt of London Business School, suggest that linear and relational leadership will shape future organisations, and emerging generations will have little attraction to heavy authoritarian institutions.

ac – if this was true in 1998 when Phil was writing, its certainly true now in the UK context.

Thirdly, we obviously need more candidates entering the training college that are at present doing so….The demographics of officership in many nations means that significant levels of responsibility will be help by those of younger generations. The opportunity to shape the future of this movement in terms of its leadership has possibly never been greater.

ac – I’d argue, rather, that the need is for ever soldier to look at where God has placed them, engage with people and begin drawing people together to discuss the things of God in that context. But yes, we do need people to equip and facilitate this mindset.

Fourthly, all of us within full-time leadership must make sure we keep mission at the forefront of our thinking and lives. the challenge for people like myslef and many of my officer-friends is toensure that we are doing our all to inspire and equip people to wake this war and also to ensure that we ourselves are engaging with people who do not have living faith…The snare of being consumed within the affairs of a Christian subculture must be avoided at all costs.

ac – God help us to move beyond shuffling chairs on the titanic, and start manning the lifeboats.

People employed by the Church are constantly in danger of settling into the comfort of the fold. I am constantly challenged by how little risk is involved in my current role. The extent to which I need to step out and trust God for provision seems to decrease annually…

ac – I am sick and tired of the comfort and ‘everything-on-a-plate’ nature of officership. Even in an innercity context I want for nothing and that makes it incredibly difficult for me to even understand my neighbours living on £120 a fortnight. We need to begin to take incarnational ministry very seriously.

What is apparent, is that for someone to become and officer when God’s best for them is to stay in their working role, or vice versa, would be sin. Yet for me the issue is not so much the theology of officership but rather our theology of mission and where we perceive its focus to be. We must avoid at all costs the internal workings of our religious system to consume all of our best time, energy and resources. Our vocational appeals at youth councils must truly reflect our theology of the priesthood and maximise the opportunity to encourage, equip and inspire people to be their best for God wherever he has placed them. I believe the Great Commission forces us to consider afresh how me might better be reaching people in all spheres of society. Decisions of the will must be determined by individuals within commuities deciding how best they can impact this world for God. Lift up the vision and vocation and the Spirit will guide you to the specific sphere.

ac – there are people who are officers who probably shouldn’t be, and people who aren’t that should. Equally, there are people who are officers who don’t know how to live out their true calling in the context of what officership has become. I am one of them. I know many others. The tide is turning, but goodness knows if the wave will just break on the sands of the institution of if we will truly become, again, a tidal force for God for the effective spreading of the Kingdom throughout the world. Challenging times.

One thought on “Phil Wall on Officership (1998)

  1. I think you're onto a winner here Andrew! I agree. Apostles are needed to lead the church… not simply pastors and "generalist" officers. Let's pray the reformation of The church and the Army will begin in us! More power to you!

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