Avoiding negativity with possibility thinking
by Robert Docter –
With over 450 people expressing an interest in Salvation Army officership, New Frontier spoke to the West’s Territorial Commander, Commissioner Philip Swyers, to try to understand this exciting and fairly recent phenomenon. What we learned gave insight into a number of factors about Swyers himself: his leadership style, his strong commitment to the West and its future, and the manner in which he has elevated morale and stimulated growth.
In his initial comments to the territory on the occasion of his welcome Swyers said very simply: “All I really want to do is make the Army better.” He seems to be showing us all how we might join him in that effort.
He understands fully that this requires a process, that how people feel about the Army and its future is critical and that certain positions of responsibility are crucial. He knows it doesn’t happen overnight, that negativity must be abandoned, that problems only indicate the need for solutions, and that this vast, multicultural salad bowl that is the West requires new thinking on the part of everyone. “We must be focused on becoming culturally insightful,” he said.
“First of all,” Swyers said, “you need to realize that this matter of candidates for officership is only one issue among many that serve as indicators of positive morale. People have been praying for this resurgence for years—not just when I came, but for years before my arrival. I’m not sure they sensed that the West is the bellwether for the nation, but things tend to happen first in this part of the country.
“Since we arrived we have focused on the positive. After all, we are in the business of communicating the excitement of Christ with the joy, enthusiasm, and satisfaction that pours in on people as they find pleasure in his service. This is not a new idea. This is straight from our heritage. We are neither the chapel on the corner nor the mega-church on the hill. We are The Salvation Army, and that demands being inclusive of everyone. Slowly, people got excited by a new discovery of an old idea.
Officers began to rediscover the wealth of that heritage. God has richly blessed these efforts with an officer corps that recognizes the value and importance of ‘possibility thinking’—genuinely believing that ‘with God, all things are possible,’ he said. “Sometimes, all I have to do is maintain a focus on quality, genuine, and caring relationships and demonstrate trust by getting out of the way.”
Starting with leaders
“I try to start with the leaders—both officers and lay-persons. I want them to know where we are going is where they hope to go as well. That their job is to stay focused on what God wants—about working to facilitate growth, about encouraging quality candidates and about providing those who work with them a positive model of both Christian discipline and love.
“Music is a vital part of our ministry. Our Territorial Band and Songsters, Territorial Youth Band and Chorus motivate the youth in smaller corps to work to increase proficiency. Having such groups diminishes no one—certainly no organization. They add to the mix and build future generations of models of excellence.”
Organizing large gatherings
Swyers then turned his thoughts to the value of bringing people together in large gatherings and used the recent Boot Camp event as an example. “What great learning became available—what magnificent fellowship was evident, what excitement seemed to spark the group even in the face of the week-long torrential downpour on our canvas auditorium. Over one thousand people assembled to learn about this 21st century generation—about how to introduce Christ into the incessant spiritual needs felt by the youth of today.
“When people come together they establish new relationships—they see new possibilities for their life—they perceive a new image of this great, old Army and see it has a vital force in the social and spiritual elevation of humanity.
“I want smart officers. If young people commit to becoming a graduate corps cadet our territory is willing to help pay for their college education—four years. If we relate to them in a positive way we will turn them on to learning, to growing, and to being like Christ. From that pool, I predict we will get our share to choose officership.
Swyers concluded with recalling events at the 2007 Commissioning of Cadets. He recalled how he encouraged the cadets to go into the audience and pray with their parents. Then, he asked the young people in the audience, “Who will fill these empty chairs?” Specifically, he remembered that close to one hundred came to the stage, filled the empty chairs and spilled over. “Everyone was in uniform except two people,” he said, his eyes suddenly moist. “They are proud of the Army and what it does for people, what it stands for. They, also, understand the joy and satisfaction it can bring to their own lives.
“I’m hoping to have close to 40 of that group at Crestmont next September.”