Team Leader Phil Wall Is on a Crusade
By Annika Bittinger –
and Josh Cowing
Phil Wall is the founder and current leader of the UK Mission Team, and was one of the lead speakers at the Extreme: Beyond the Call youth conference. Prior to the conference, he discussed with us his thoughts on the current status of Salvation Army Youth, as well as his vision for their future.
To begin, could you tell us a little about your background?
I’m 34 years of age. Married. Two children, ages 5 and 2. I’ve been a Christian since I was nearly 20 years of age. I’m a son of Salvation Army officer parents, so I was a “fetal Salvationist.” But I really came to know Christ in a personal way when I was 20 years of age when someone asked me a very simple question: “Is the message of Jesus true?” And I’d never really thought about that before. It occurred to me that if there was a God in heaven who loved that much then I couldn’t do better than to give everything I’ve got to him. So I did that when I was nearly 20 years of age. I work for The Salvation Army. I’ve been doing that for seven years.
In what capacity?
The Mission Team is who I work for. It’s part of the territorial field program department from the UK Territory. There are 18 people that are a part of the core Mission Team. We seek to spend our time reaching the unreached (those who don’t know Jesus and the Gospel), and presenting the Gospel in corps, universities, clubs, pubs, wherever, in a way that’s understandable to those that are unreached. Then we train those who are untrained to be more effective at sharing Christ wherever they are.
So you obviously work a lot with The Salvation Army youth. What are your thoughts about this group, particularly where they are presently, and what they could be called to in the future?
Well, I think moving forward always begins with recognizing reality. So at the point of recognizing that, you say, “Okay, what’s the way forward?” And I think, very much, that the only way we’re going to engender commitment of our own young people and drawing others is to return to our the roots of our militant form of Salvationism. The Salvation Army is a military metaphor; it’s a fighting metaphor. It doesn’t make sense in a conservative religious format. I think the future of youth ministry in The Salvation Army will be a very exciting one, if you find ways and means of returning to the radical, sacrificial, militant roots of Salvationism, which will go to the edge of stepping out for God, and take some real risks with our faith.
How does your team plan to accomplish this?
Number one, it means ensuring that young people do have a valid and vibrant living faith. It’s not an inherited faith from their parents, but it’s a personal, dynamic faith with Jesus, which develops in different ways. Number two, it’s equipping them and resourcing them to make Christ relevant in their context…having a corps which connects with their local communities, which is relevant both culturally and missionarily in every way. But thirdly, giving them a vision of a world won for God, a world transformed by the power of Jesus. A hurting world healed, a broken world fixed up, and lost people found. And I think The Salvation Army is potentially one of the most significant vehicles of hope and benevolence in the next millennium. I believe that. I believe the best days of The Salvation Army could well be ahead of us. That’s why I’m still a part of it. I’m convinced of that. That’s what I believe. Nothing’s guaranteed, but I believe that’s a possibility, if we provide a means whereby young people can give absolutely everything of themselves, to living out that vision of a “World for God.” There’s a deep, deep hunger in young people who have deep spirituality, a deep commitment to The Salvation Army, but at times struggle to connect that culturally with where they’re at. And if we can get that third piece in place, which is the cultural engagement and cultural connection, then I think the future is very, very exciting.
And you see “Extreme: Beyond the Call” as preparing the youth for that kind of synthesis of church and culture and general worldly culture?
The world has changed dramatically, and very, very fast. So there is that sense of disquiet and shifting and changing within people. But at the same time, there is a very deep commitment to The Salvation Army amongst [young Salvationists]. You know, the easy thing in one sense would be “Well, we’ll nip off and go be Christians elsewhere.” But I don’t sense that happening. What I sense is a very deep commitment; people saying this is our church, this is our Army, and we want to make it work. So Extreme: Beyond the Call weekend is one attempt to try and bring those three things together, and to say many of us have responded to the call to commitment, and to living for Jesus in the context of The Salvation Army. But actually when we look at the state of the world in which we live, and when we look at the challenge of the call to unreserved commitment that the Gospel calls, it’s only an extreme call to commitment that is actually going to get the job done. Conservatism and the status quo will do absolutely nothing to see this world change. Conservatism should be a dirty word in The Salvation Army. And the roots of The Salvation Army are extremism. So this weekend is designed to lift up that ideal, to lift up a lofty vision of a “World for God.” The Spirit of God is very gracious and he comes and brings wisdom, vision and dynamism. It’s when those people come together, around those agendas, that exciting things can happen. So we want to try and light some fires in people’s hearts, fires of hope, and fires of vision, as well as fires of renewed spirituality in their own individual lives, as well as in the corps.