by Terry Camsey, Major –
I was so thrilled to see the text of General Shaw Clifton’s conversation with Sue Schumann Warner in the special Europe edition of New Frontier because, for the first time in quite a while, I got a whiff of optimism for the future.
Max Dupree suggests that “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Perhaps even beyond that there is a need to face the reality defined…honestly. It has always been my belief that if we cannot face reality, then we cannot move on to better things.
One of the challenges to doing that is a feeling that, perhaps, we try to show our leaders what they want to see and go out of our way to do that…get a band together and a songster brigade…put on an open air…bus in people to make up a crowd…have a good old hallelujah windup, singing the old songs with gusto and glee. It may not be the week-in-week-out reality in a corps, yet can well lull our leaders into thinking that it is reality when, in fact, in many places it is not. Thank God for a General who admits our “formal memberships are in decline—in some places in sharp decline” and perceives that behind the fact there are serious problems to be addressed. He wants to discover why we are not growing in such places. Wonderful! Acceptance of an unacceptable reality, followed by definition of problems causing that unacceptable reality, can lead to a new reality reflected in a response not seen in such magnitude since the earliest days of the Army.
Then, what a great analysis of ourselves as a church is offered, recognizing not only the negative concepts of church, but the dangers of pushing that, rather than explaining ourselves in other ways while still remaining true to what we are. Doesn’t that give scope and encouragement for some really creative thinking without downplaying The Salvation Army name? How many times have you heard people give, as an excuse for non-growth, the fact that people don’t know we are a church? When, in fact, we took ourselves off the street where we were a very visible open air church, and the reality that most of our messages to the public favor our social work…half a loaf rather than the whole, uncut loaf.
There is further hope in General Shaw Clifton’s desire to “see mechanisms that give a wider base of Salvationists more empowerment and a sense of ownership of the Army’s mission.” He is, I am sure, talking of more than merely giving lay Salvationists a forum for voicing concerns…somewhere to “get it off their chest” in the hope that “it” (the concern) will thus go away without any change being necessary. John Maxwell suggests that, “People who lack confidence and worry about their status, position or power tend to reject the ideas of others, protect their turf and keep people at bay.” With the challenges the Army faces (especially in the western world) such a stance is not a helpful one, and I sense that General Shaw Clifton has a more open mind than those John Maxwell describes.
Finally, the General wants to avoid tokenism and seeks “genuine consultation” in receiving advice and consultation. My hope is that such consultation will include input from the many professionals and experts within our ranks who are willing and courageous enough to offer more than platitudes to please decision makers…but, rather, to address honestly the challenges faced by the Army in these critical times ahead.
George S. Patton put it well when saying:
Successful generals make plans to fit
But do not try to create circumstances
to fit plans.”
Hope, they say, springs eternal. My prayer is that the hope radiated by General Shaw Clifton will flow in and around the Army, washing away any muddy thinking that can divert from the possibilities the Lord has in mind for us.
But, people will not embrace change if they feel no pain with things as they are; see no need, no compelling reason to change; don’t know how to change or what to change to. And it is worth considering, as Andy Stanley says, that “Every tradition was once a good idea—and perhaps revolutionary. But every tradition may not be a good idea for the future!”