Resourcing the field

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ON November 29, 2004, Shelley and I led a session of territorial headquarters (THQ) Officers Councils to share our perspective, as representative corps officers, on how THQ and other administrative units could best serve the field.
In preparation for that presentation, we considered a number of sources from which to draw inspiration, but settled on a model for administrative leadership from the best source of all—the Bible!

Early church

In Acts 15, we see the early church at its best, particularly as we consider the interaction between administration (the Church in Jerusalem) and the field (represented by Paul and Barnabas and the churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia).

The issue in Acts 15 revolved around an attempt by the so-called Judaizers to enforce Jewish practices on new Gentile converts, particularly the rite of circumcision. Of course, circumcision is the last thing on the minds of the 21st century Army. What is important, however, is not the subject addressed in Acts 15, but the examples set by leadership to problem solve, to relate to those under their supervision, and the use of power. Every officer could stand to learn a few things from the example of our 1st century forefathers. Read Acts 15 and consider the positive interaction between administration and the field:

The administration acknowledged there was a problem and sought to deal with it

Verse 4 says, “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.”
Administration did not discount, deny, or doubt the reality of the problem as presented by Paul and Barnabas. Leadership chose to meet it head on. Sometimes, I think we catch a bad case of denial when confronted with the problems and challenges facing the Army and its personnel. Let’s face real problems with real solutions.

There was groupthink

Verse 6 says, ”The apostles and the elders met to consider this question.”
In Acts 15, multiple people were involved in deliberating the question, not just a chosen few. We should never kid ourselves into thinking The Salvation Army is a democracy, but the autocracy practiced by many leaders in the Army is counterproductive. We need to rely on one another to share information and make informed decisions. There needs to be groupthink.

There was allowance for different points of view

Verse 7 says, “After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.”

It seems clear that every point of view was heard. Too often, leadership tends to shut down the views of those who may be out of step with the party line. I’ve done that to voices in my own corps, and almost always regret it. The chosen few at the top of the pyramid of leadership need to hear a variety of views before making decisions that impact everyone else in the pyramid.

There was an assumption of spiritual maturity among all parties

Peter said in verses 8-10, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”
Do we assume spiritual maturity in the Army? I would suggest that more than a few field officers feel undervalued or treated as second-class citizens by their leaders. Often, these feelings emerge from the experience of the officer sharing a problem or an issue of concern, and finding that leadership assumes that there is a spiritual problem at the center. That may or may not be the case. It seems best to me that leadership ought to assume spiritual maturity, unless proven otherwise, in the lives of those to whom they give guidance.

There was recognition of inequality in expectations

Peter continued in verse 10, “Now, then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

The greatest danger for a leader is to forget what it is like to be on the frontlines of service. Those leaders that are most effective seem to be able to relate to the joys, heartbreaks, and challenges of day-to-day ministry on the field. Leadership should not expect more from its field officers in terms of sacrifice, time, commitment, and energy than they are prepared to give.

Leadership showed a willingness to listen to input directly from the field

Verse 12 reports that, “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.”

I can’t say this with much tact—a lot of what comes from the field is nothing more than “whining.” We too often expect administration to solve our problems and coddle our frayed nerves. Many of us on the field need to rediscover our “manhood” (or “womanhood”) and sort out our own problems on the field and in our personal lives. Having said that, the voice of the worker bees needs to be heard. There have to be plenty of entry points for the field to access leaders, share their experiences, and see at least a measure of sensitive response.

Leadership spoke with a clear voice and with a Biblical argument

The first bit of 15:13-21 will suffice here, “When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written…”

At this point in the account, the issue at hand had been brought forward to administration, there was deliberation, consultation, and a decision was made with a clear Biblical foundation (taken from Amos 9). We now come to a pivotal point in the account as we read how James and administration applied the decision to the field.

There was shared ownership

Verse 22 reads, “Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.”

Those impacted most by the decision were joined by administration to help explain and implement the decision. What an encouragement it must have been to Paul and Barnabas to return to the churches with representatives of administration who, by their very presence, validated the decision of leadership and were willing to share the joy of good news and share in the heat from those who might have disagreed!

There was communication

Verse 23 indicates that, “With them they sent the following letter:”
There are a number of very positive elements to this communication-

It had a clear source: The letter was from “The apostles and elders.” There was nothing mysterious or anonymous about the source of the communication.

It was cordial: The leaders referred to themselves as “your brothers.”

It had a specific audience: The letter was addressed “To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia…” Too much of our communication takes a “shotgun approach,” especially in areas of discipline.

It was concise: The whole letter was less than 150 words.

The communication is instructive in a number of other ways:

Administration was “responsive”—
Verse 24 says, “We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization…”
Leadership wanted to clear the air with the field and made it a priority.

There was a unified message—
Verse 25 includes this statement, “So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul…”

This showed validation for local leadership but also a desire to connect with the field. It seemed important for leadership to be in sync with the realities taking place beyond Jerusalem. We’ve suffered too long in the Army from unfocused and shifting priorities inflicted on us by disconnected leaders. Let’s just be the Army…

The expectations set by administration were reasonable—
Verse 28 says, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…”

There was a desire to only communicate and demand the essentials from the 1st century church, presumably so they could focus on the priority of their mission. We are making progress on this issue in the Army, but we have a ways to go yet.

The congregations found encouragement

Verses 30-31 say, “The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message…”

In this case, interaction with administration was a positive and uplifting experience for the local church. Can we learn something from this approach that can help us to encourage one another through our decision-making processes and communication? We have a problem of low morale in our territory and positive communication from our leaders can be a big boost.

There was the give and take of personnel from the field

Verse 33 says, “After spending some time there, they (Judas and Silas) were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.”

Some versions of the Bible include a verse 34 that reads, “but Silas decided to remain there.” In this case from the 1st century, administration permitted its best to remain on the field. Silas represented the “cream of the crop” and yet he was allowed to serve in the trenches with a local congregation.

The Army in the West needs its best, most capable, creative, energetic, and passionate officers on the field, preferably in corps ministries. Too many of its best officers are keeping incredibly busy behind desks at administrative centers throughout the Western Territory but accomplishing virtually nothing that advances the mission of The Salvation Army.

What was the result of this issue and process related in Acts 15?

A thriving ministry!

Verse 35 says, “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.”

The Army is blessed with good leaders and an effective system of administration, but we have a lot to learn from any number of leadership models, particularly from the few examples found in the New Testament. There is not an officer in the Western Territory who couldn’t apply the lessons of Acts 15 today to their ministry. If we did, administration, the field, and those we seek to reach with our dynamic ministries would be better served. Let’s move forward by taking a look back at Acts 15.

Captains Edward and
Shelley Hill serve as
corps officers of the
Pasadena Tabernacle
Corps, Calif.


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