It’s about structure

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by Raymond L. Peacock, Lt. Colonel – 

Part Four
“Structure influences behavior,” says Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. In our series about the doctrine of the church—ecclesiology—the burning question would be: is the Army’s quasi-military structure positively influencing behaviors in a way that moves the mission forward into the 21st century?

The answer is that our structure has its strengths and weaknesses. We need to be aware of both—as well as the larger conceptual “free church” ecclesiology that differs from our own “episcopal” governance where the authority resides in a “bishop” rather than a congregation or other judiciary.

Some preliminary considerations

Roger Olson, whose writings appear in the book, Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion, suggests “A case could be made that free church ecclesiology has become the sociological norm for most of the evangelical subculture in North America…most free churches view the church as the local congregation—a voluntary gathering of regenerated believers in Jesus Christ who are equally priests and prophets and who covenant together for worship and mission. They reject the identification of the church with any historic, visible episcopate or with any state of its governments…(they) tend toward congregationalism, and (believe) that hierarchies …quench the spirit of renewal.” Olson is quick to point out, as others have, that the New Testament does not bless any particular structural ecclesiology, nor does it include clear guidance for decisions about authority and power following the apostolic age. Said another way, free church ecclesiology is only one of many acceptable patterns of church polity (governance).

The Army has elements of free church concepts with its emphasis on the local corps and the priesthood of all believers, but unmistakably, we are a hybrid. We do have governance that includes a hierarchy. We are not the only church to use blended models. As there are strengths and weaknesses in every model, what are ours?

The Army’s structural strengths

There is so little written on the subject of Salvation Army ecclesiology that we return again to the wealth of information in Commissioner Phil Needham’s Community in Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology. Needham spends several pages showing that the Army’s military form of government fosters missionary effectiveness. He makes five points: (You will need to read the book for his further explanation.) He says, “First, a military approach to its mission and its methods enabled the movement continually to be reminded that because the Kingdom had not yet come in its fullness, there were still many battles to be fought. Second, the military form of government encouraged the simple and disciplined lifestyle necessary for mission. Third, the military organization created an environment and a system that encourage lay participation. Fourth, the movement’s military organization provided a capacity for mobility, which its missionary purpose and the internal scope of that purpose required. (The correlation of autocracy and mobility may at first seem strange, but not when the subject is an army at war.) Fifth, the movement’s military organization fostered adaptability to the missionary terrain.”

The Army’s structural weaknesses

To economize on words, we stick with Needham’s five limitations and dangers of our military form of governance to synthesize our weaknesses. First, the use of a military pattern and form of organization, and the symbolic use of military language, do not necessarily mean that worthwhile missionary battles are being joined. Second, the autocratic form of government needs to be evaluated in relation to the contemporary mission field. Third, uniformity of procedure and method need to be evaluated in the light of an increasingly pluralistic milieu. (Even the Army itself has become much less monolithic and more diversified in character.) Fourth, the Army’s predilection for action as opposed to reflection needs reassessment. Fifth, care needs to be taken to avoid an idolatrous pitfall: the spiritualization of the Army’s regimented structure. Such spiritualization would obscure the sociological realities which underlie its life and structure and consequently cause organization blindness” We could honestly use more dialogue on these weaknesses.

A structure for the 21st century

Some would toss out our military structure as obsolete for this century. That would be a mistake. I’m currently reading two books: Be, Know, Do: Leadership the Army Way and Hope is Not a Method. Both are reviews of how our nation’s military structure has changed. Interestingly, the introduction in the first book states, “May I say that this manual could be as helpful to The Salvation Army as to the U.S. Army.” The whole idea of these two books is to fill the ranks with well-trained, highly motivated and performance-oriented soldiers and leaders at every level.

It is my sense that our own territory understands that most organizations are moving away from hierarchies to networks. A prior territorial administration announced, “Top Down is Out.” A recent territorial administration has “made the field a priority” and asked the frontlines what evidence is needed to prove they mean business. There is a sense in which the governing authority is being flattened to free corps to have more say in their own local mission ethos.

Can we restructure to serve the present age?

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