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on the Corner “Advice for young officers”

By Bob Docter

“Greetings”—that’s the way my friend and former corps officer, Herb Wiseman, used to start every letter. It’s nice to think of former corps officers as “friends.” I’ve had many. Not all of them were warm or always had a smile. Not all of them were great leaders or dynamic preachers or wonderful musicians. They were all different, but I called each of them by his or her first name, and I was friends with every one of them.

I think it’s because they were (are) friendly. Are you?  It’s contagious, you know. People who aren’t friendly tend to be self-centered. Sometimes, they allow the negative feelings they have about their self to dominate their decision making.

To be friendly is like wearing a sign on your chest that says: “I want to connect with you.”

Types of connections differ. They’re not all the same. Some are deeper than others. All, however, contain an attitude of genuineness. They’re real. You can’t fake connectedness.

Fear inhibits connectedness—the fear of looking foolish, being embarrassed—the fear of being rejected—the fear of not knowing what to say—the fear of revealing aspects of self you believe are unworthy—the fear of commitment—the fear of loss (etc., etc., etc.) We have more fears than we have avenues to happiness.

Fears are part of the “flight or fight” response and begin in the old brain. A natural reaction begins either with an immediate defensive response or with conversations you have with yourself. These usually begin with words like can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t. They end with a scenario entitled “The Process of Awfulizing.” Feelings of inadequacy stimulate negative self–talk.

If you have engaged in negative self-talk stimulated by any of these fears, learn how to build self-confidence.

For instance, do you ever engage in positive self-talk? Why not? Perhaps, you have been told (harassed) by parents, teachers, jealous siblings or anybody else that you are inhabited by all shades of nothingness—that you are a collection of not-good-at-anything, incompetent in many things, and a genuine failure in everything.  (Ugh!)

It’s not true unless you believe it to be true. If you believe the negative expectations of others are true, you begin to act the way you are expected to act. Those actions become solidified in the manner you work to fulfill those expectation of others. Then, of course, these very helpful “others” reinforce the “accuracy” of their predictions.

Do you think God would call an inadequate person to ministry? First of all, there are no inadequate people. No! You want to know how I know that?

Cuz God don’t make junk.

He called you, didn’t he? He recognized something in you that he could use. Forget the negative expectations. Erase the negative labels in your mind. Never use the word “can‘t.” If you have to use a word of non-compliance, use the word “won’t.” Besides being a very dangerous word as a soldier in an army, it also means that you have the power to change.

You are entering a profession built on connectedness and otherness. Being connected to God, and through him, to others around you defines the Army. In your corps you will find people trapped in many ways—a negative self-image, anger, disappointment, all sorts of loss, physical illness, emotional pain, feeling of failure, grief and many more. While you are not a psychotherapist, you do have a responsibility in the growth process of a supplicant. God will do his part and be helpful with yours. Your role relates to facilitating cognitive, affective and behavioral growth.

Remember, The Salvation Army is involved with the whole person. Our war is on two fronts—spiritual and social. If you are able to model connectedness and otherness, those around you will perceive the pleasure you experience and want the same for themselves.  Remember, you will be unable to model these two essential spiritual behaviors if you allow yourself to be dominated by feelings of inadequacy.

Do you want to build a corps? Do you hope to see growth in your corps—not just in attendance, but also spiritual growth? Act as if you were charismatic. It’s a special quality rooted in a kind of spirituality that emanates from some that seems to attract people. It’s a magnet. It can be learned.

When I think of charisma, I’m reminded of John Gowans, the 16th General of The Salvation Army, now retired. In his most enjoyable autobiography There’s a Boy Here … he tells a story of his arrival at his very first corps appointment. He and his assistant met the corps sergeant-major at divisional headquarters in Liverpool. Following the introductions, the sergeant-major said: ”Well, I hope you two like work.” He then drove them to their quarters where some soldiers had prepared a heavily laden table of food. The sergeant-major then said: “Now, tuck in Leff, there’s not much time. A lady with five children will be arriving in just a few minutes. She’s not a Salvationist and met the Army in the pubs and her husband was run over by a car two days ago. She wants to talk to you about the funeral.”

It was a shock, but he didn’t panic. He solved the problem by drafting neighboring lieutenants from other corps.

So, I also recommend that you have crisis intervention strategies clearly in mind.

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