You can do it

Railton ‘invading the USA’ with his Hallelujah Lassies

One of the big revolutions of The Salvation Army that we don’t often think about is the way that Booth’s movement, under God, set about changing the rules about who gets to take part.  Booth was raised up in a movement called Methodism which itself had been the largest single explosion of equipping and releasing the ‘non-clergy’ into various ministries.  You see, John Wesleys people, through the Methodist class system and through the training up and releasing of ‘local preachers’ began in a real way to take Christianity out of the hands of the elite and into the hands of the people.  Yet there were still limits to this – the theology of separation between ordained and lay were still alive and well (and still is within Methodism).

Along comes Booth… a Methodist clergyman but one who revolutionised the whole concept of involvment in ministry and mission and took it a step further.  To Booth, who was leading a soul saving mission rather than a cumbersome ecclesiastical affair, it was entirely plausible that everyone got involved.  So, you could become a Salvation Army officer or missioner without a formal education.  You could be one regardless of your upbringing or social class.  Gone was an elite middle-class clergy caste.  This was a priesthood of all believers because you see, even the soldiers were commissioned to mission both as local officers and as soldiers.  The difference was availability and flexibility.

The soldiers who would risk poverty and hardship became officers and relied on God for their every meal and penny.  The other soldiers, still as active in ministry and mission, worked and contributed financially to the work in a larger way.  You see, the soldiers and local officers were the constant in the early Army.  They were the leaders, the missioners, the continuity.  The officer?  She moved around every couple of months to fill gaps, to plant new corps, to create added interest, to develop aspects of work.  So, you had a strong local base ‘complimented’ and not reliant on an officer.  Everyone got to play.

Have we lost the sense of ‘you can do it!’ in our Army today?  Have we built into the mindset of soldiers that there are things best left to the officer?  You’ll know that my belief is that we have.  But its not only that we’ve created the division, its that we’ve lost a sense of risk taking.  One of the most creative examples of missionary vision of late was during Knaggs time as TC in Australia where they pledged to start a new corps every week….even the cadets got to play!

The early Army soldiers and local officers were free to expand the work in any such place.  They were invited to have spiritual meetings in their workplaces, their homes, on their own streets.  Many of the corps in the UK were started not only by officers, but saved folks from towns where the Army wasn’t present.  They’d simply start the Army where they were.  This, too, was the story for the opening of the Army in many nations and continues to be the story in massively expanding territories today.  Exponential growth that arises from the Army of God being released to be a Jesus movement.

I expect that I’d have a lot of questions coming my way if I opened the Kingston Park Outpost.  As a former officer I’m probably viewed with more suspicion than your regular enterprising soldier. 

I will never forget Gowans giving a congress full of people permission to go and start the Army in their front room.  He told them “if anyone asks them ‘On whos authority?’, tell them the General said.”  As an officer, I’d have been over the moon if a soldier or local officer came and said to me ‘I’ve started an outpost.’  It would be living proof to me that the pioneer spirit was alive and well within the ranks of what must be one of the most spectacular army or ordinary people the world has ever seen.  Our recapturing of this fundamental piece of DNA is crucial to recovering the vitality of Army mission.

If the retired General’s word isn’t good enough for you, listen to Jesus who calls you to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations – immersing them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  His call is loud and clear:  everyone gets to play!  Jesus is the one leading the advance.

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