24 May, 2008

A little bit more on structure vs mission

Ok, here’s the next section to structure vs mission…

We need to redeem our structure. What does that mean? Well the way I see it, there are two strategies in achieving a mission. One strategy is logistics and the other is action. Logistics includes planning, preparation, PR, networking, budgeting etc. Action is when the rubber hits the road and we attempt to deliver on our goals. The problem is of course is that these two streams are not mutually exclusive. They are both interdependent and beneficial for each other. In other words, they not only rely on each other for success, they also benefit from positive collaboration. However the two tend to work in both isolation and at times opposition from one another. So we have people planning wonderful programs getting frustrated that they are not delivered effectively by practitioners. And we have people in the field crying out for funding and programs that actually meet the need on the ground, getting frustrated that bureaucrats are just ‘out of touch’. So we call for reformation because we see the structure failing. But is it failing? Or are we failing to use it properly?

Let’s look at some aspects of The Salvation Army. We have a mission to win the world for God and to reach the last, least and lost. To make that a reality, we need all parts of the body of Christ working together. We need people who are strategizing listening to the people on the ground. And those that are on the ground need to make time to share our experience with those that can influence structure. Neither group is superior and neither holds more power. In this Army, climbing the ranks should be an exercise of humility that runs according to calling and gifting, and should therefore not hinder or strain relations with those above or below on the ‘ladder’ of our organization. The only ‘promotion’ in The Salvation Army is the promotion to glory and there aren’t too many fighting for that.

I heard an analogy yesterday that fits quite nicely with this topic. It gives the picture of an elephant surrounded by eight blind men. Each feels a different part of the animal and in turn describes the animal in contrary ways. The one that feels the tail describes the elephant as thin and hairy, the one touching the belly declares the elephant large and round and so on. The point is they are all right and all wrong. People can’t see how all the parts fit together and in turn are limited in their understanding. Until we share our perspectives we will continue to limit our effectiveness. We can’t say, ‘the Army should be this or that’. Rather we need to accept that it is many things (welfare provider, corps, outreach, advocate, international movement) and in every area seek to produce the results of the mission.

Wow, this has turned into quite a confusing blog! But essentially it boils down to this. We are in a movement which in my opinion calls us to love the downtrodden, to renew their hope in life, to transform the structures that keep injustice active, to bring the Gospel to all the world and to set people on a path toward God for eternity. I have great pride and passion in my service to this denomination and that will not change because organizationally it has a few flaws. We are not an institution waiting to declare bankruptcy. You cannot pull your shares out. You have a part to play, and we must work together to ensure your part fits within the larger body. But unless you are prepared to submit to the will of God and buy in completely to our mission, your part of the body may be flushed away as an unnecessary by-product! Our organisation is great. It is global, well branded, relevant and still very much in need. But the thing is, we are not an organization. We are a holiness movement and we will only be truly effective when we give God the reins. So, original question…how do we use The Salvation Army as a tool? We submit to God, buy in to the mission, serve humbly, communicate well, challenge your leaders, challenge yourself, keep informed, pray hard, support new initiatives…basically, be a good disciple and a loyal soldier for God. If we could all do this, perhaps we would start to see the results we are looking for instead of trying to manufacture spiritual growth through nifty structures.

Well, there’s a lot of mish mash there but hopefully something worthwhile to ponder and apply.

Good times,


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