Rag, tag and bobtail
People ask, “What is a Church Growth principle?” McGavran and Arn have suggested it is:
“A truth which, when properly applied, along with other
principles, contributes significantly to the growth of the church.”
I’d like in this column to address a second Church Growth principle that has to do with leadership.
At times, I feel as though I have missed out on the most exciting days of the Army by being born too late. Those history books fascinate me and I am particularly captivated by the kind of leadership Booth’s early Army attracted… “rag, tag and bobtail” though they may have been. The very names conjure up a picture of the kinds of personalities they must have had: “Happy Eliza,” “Ash Barrel Jimmy,” “Joe The Turk,” “The King’s Musician”…and so on. I think it is true to say that these early leaders were (whether they knew the term or not) entrepreneurs…visionary, faith exercising, pace setting, risk-taking leaders. And encouraged to be such.
This is not any different from the type of leadership needed at the start of any organization, where a creative visionary sells his ideas, generates excitement and commitment, recruits and releases others to make the vision a reality. Those entrepreneurs are action driven and lack, initially, rules, systems and policies. What works is kept. What does not is rejected. It is only later in the life cycle of an organization that those strategies proven to be effective are standardized, regularized and turned into “company” policy.
It must have seemed chaotic at times, as new and unorthodox methods were used in attempts to reach the primary target population…the poor of London and, later, other cities. Fear of failure was not a threat since it was understood that “not to try” was “not to gain.” Risk takers were welcome!
Many of the early leaders, and indeed workers generally, were indigenous to those they strove to reach. One commentator of the day noted this when he stated:
“The great bulk of its people (The Christian Mission) are working people, its leaders
never forget that they have to deal principally with the working people.”
For years I believed that when Booth said, “Go for souls and go for the worst,” he was referring to the poorest and worst-off among that class of people. I’m not so sure now. I have a strong feeling that he meant, “Go for souls and go for the baddest” (did I coin a word there?). He knew, in converting such a person, the influence it would have on those who followed him/her. We have only, for example, to read of a converted pugilist striding around an open-air circle, daring anyone to disturb it, to sense the value of such a convert! It was from such ranks that his early leaders came.
So (again possibly unplanned, yet surely divinely guided) Booth’s early movement was identified with a second Church Growth principle: “Effective Leadership.”
There is a leadership challenge with which we (of today’s Army) have to contend.
It is well recognized, in churches of any denomination, that a plateau to growth occurs at the 200-member mark. This is considered the maximum numbers of people the church leader can himself adequately pastor. Pastors of most other denominations do not, however, carry the same responsibilities as many corps officers who are not only pastors, but administrators and community relations people as well. A few years ago I used to regularly ask corps officers how much time they could spend on congregation building versus all the other things they were responsible for. The answer was consistently around 20 percent. So the “200-barrier” of other denominations becomes a “40-barrier” for many corps. To go beyond these plateaus, more leaders are required.
Commissioner Bond has called for more officers but, realistically, maintenance of present levels holds only the potential of preserving the status quo. To thrive, we need a veritable plethora of new officers.
Even as we pray for revival, we need also to pray for those who will become full-time workers for revival. Can you hear me now?