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An Innovative Salvation Army
by Lieutenant Peter Brookshaw


An interesting story is told of a business called Western Union who were a very, very profitable business in the mid-to-late 1800s, within the telecommunications industry. They were the leading business offering telegraphy to the world. Everything seemed sweet. Everything seemed stable. Until they were confronted with what is today labelled as a 'new-market disruptive innovation'.


Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.


Talk about a disruption to a stable, profitable business! Bell had just created a revolutionary product that would transform the telecommunications industry. The question left begging was would Western Union profit from this amazing innovation?


Alexander Graham Bell offered the patents of his technology to Western Union for just $100,000 (equivalent to $1.8 million today). You would think such amazing technology would be snapped up by Western Union.




They knocked Bell back on purchasing his patents. Why would they invest in this idea? I mean they already had a very lucrative business; coordinating the use of the telegraph! Western Union president, William Orton said regarding the telephone, 'What use could this company make of an electric toy?'


Alexander Graham Bell, the famous inventor of the telephone pursued his new technology, and in 1878 the first telephone company popped up in New Haven, Connecticut. By 1900, the number of people who had purchased telephones from Bell's original invention reached 1 million. All of sudden, you could sense the reactions of the business people of Western Union. Only one word comes to mind...




It was an innovation that shook the world, and they were not a part of it.


This story got my heart beating, and my palms sweaty. You can see the correlation between The Salvation Army and Bell with his telephone and subsequent new business AT&T. Both organisations have 1878 as a significant year where innovation was booming, and rapid growth was the order of the day. While Bell was changing telecommunication habits, the Booth family and their counterparts were spreading the gospel throughout England and into many parts of the world, all the while recruiting soldiers and planting hundreds of corps and outposts.


Then my mind flipped over to today. I wondered when God would bring a holy revolution once again, and whether we would find ourselves acting like Alexander Graham Bell and the early Salvationists; embracing change, encouraging adaptation and reaching for new heights. Or would we look back in 20 years, and realize we acted like Western Union; unwilling to support new ideas and new methods?


Chapter three of Catherine Booth’s Aggressive Christianity is all about this idea of adaptation. She says:

I have read this afternoon that the law of adaptation is the only law laid down in the New Testament with respect to modes and measures. I challenge anybody to find me any other. While the Gospel message is laid down with unerring exactness, we are left at perfect freedom to adapt our measures and modes of bringing it to bear upon men to the circumstances, times, and conditions in which we live—free as air. 'I became all things to all men.’


You have to say with all confidence that Catherine Booth and the newly formed Salvation Army lived and breathed adaptation. Remember the Match Stick factory, the Doughnut Girls in the World War I, or the using of dance halls for the preaching of the gospel. They were willing to embrace innovative methods for the advancement of the gospel message, and in a sense The Salvation Army was a ‘market disruption’ to the established church of the day.


Are we willing to have that sense of disruption, as God does something new and vibrant amongst us?


I am currently serving in a small corps in the northern parts of Australia, and over the last few months our corps worship attendance has doubled. New families are searching out the relevancy of Jesus, and there is disruption! Long serving soldiers are confronted with new families, new spiritual experiences, new demands on leadership, and new discipleship challenges. The question I ask them goes something like this, 'Is your passion for the lost greater than the discomfort you feel with all this change?'


I believe God is promising to bless the future of The Salvation Army. I have great dreams of 2 million soldiers and 100,000 officers, of cutting edge social justice impact and a spreading of Holy Spirit fire to over 200 countries and provinces (Acts 2:17). The question is not whether Jesus wants to do a new thing in our Army (Is 43:19), the question is rather, are we ready to ask for it, pray for it, believe for it, work hard for it and then embrace it?



Lt. Peter Brookshaw regularly blogs at http://www.petebrookshaw.com/










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