JAC Online

Engaging Needham: The view from USA
by Major Stephen Court


We celebrate Commissioner Needham’s analysis of the current situation and his vision of missional salvationism.  It is refreshing to hear such an honest, compelling invitation from a senior leader in our movement. 


Several contributors offer varied perspectives on this whole thing.  We’re going to tackle a number of outstanding statements he makes.  Here goes…




“The word threat to the future of a missionally transformative Salvation Army may well be an increasingly isolationist, self-protected Salvationism.  Let’s call it ‘cultural Salvationism.”


Our Biggest Enemy

So, we are our own biggest enemy.  This goes even wider than Needham suggests.  Agreed, ‘tradition’ and the comfort of the familiar and our (mis)understanding of life and God’s purposes for us within it can stunt our growth, can decelerate (and reverse?) our advance in the salvation war. 


We’re not the first to fall into the temptation.  But we should be the last.  We can be the exception that proves the possibility of redemption.  We can be the example of God doing the unprecedented.  How?


We have to recognize the state of affairs. 

I recently heard Ravi Zacharias on a podcast quote sociologist Daniel Bell define culture this way: “Culture is the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront all human beings in the passage of their lives.”


Cultural Salvationism provides a coherent set of answers.  I embrace the cultural foundations: the articles of war, the orders and regulations, the handbook of doctrine.  These should be common to every strain of salvationism.  But on top of these there have grown cultural accretions that interpret the foundational truths and convictions in specific ways and set standards of behavior and expectation for lifestyle and jobs and leisure and vacation and recreation – at least in the West (we suspect that there are similarly standards elsewhere, though likely quite different). 


And it is these cultural accretions with their burden of expectations time and money and imagination and creativity and passion that suck away such precious resources from the mission.  And after a couple of generations, they replace the exigencies of mission. 


So, our grandkids – some of them, anyway – still develop through our stages, from cradle roll to junior soldiership and then corps cadets to senior soldiership.  But too often these become hollow rites of passage lacking the spirit of battle.  And instead of being in the world but not of it, on our worst days we are of it but not in it, complete with a weird parallel structure that might in some places look like this:


...their kids take music lessons but ours are in singing company and junior band;

...their kids play various sports but ours are in The SA hockey league and slow-pitch tournament;

...their kids are in ‘Reach for the Top’ or ‘Academic Decathlon’ but ours are in ‘Bible Bowl;

...their kids go to parties or clubs but ours go to youth group;

...their kids play video games but ours play video games (ah well, it couldn’t last forever).


(don’t get me wrong – I’m for the ‘our’ side; but, lacking missional impulse, it merely a ‘healthy’ sub-subculture)


So, Needham is definitely right on it.  We are our biggest enemy.  And it isn’t just cultural.  It is also structural. 


The institution threatens the movement. 

This is the formalized version of Needham’s cultural assertion.  Culture is to institution, here, as mission is to movement.  And that is the subject of some consideration in other contexts.  And this leads to our next outtake…




“Mission cannot be ritualized and survive.”

I’ll save you looking it up: ritualize: “make (something) into a ritual by following a pattern of actions or behavior.”


Now, we have to be careful on this one.  There are certain patterns of action and behavior that are demonstrably effective for their purpose.  Many athletes, in preparation for their sport, engage in specific patterns of action and behavior, beyond mere superstition, that includes sleep schedule, meal timing and menu, stretching, and warm-ups, and all kinds of other details to ensure that they can optimize the opportunities that will be theirs at tip-off or kick-off or the drop of the puck. 


And there certainly are patterns and behaviours that can be significantly helpful for us in a similar way: reading the Bible, studying the Bible, memorizing the Bible, praying, evangelizing, discipling, worshiping, and other disciplines can be positive types of rituals that can help us optimize the opportunities that will be ours at the drop of the puck.


Needham is alluding the potential negatives of ritualization. 

He describes a world in which programmes no longer serve mission and procedures no longer facilitate missional effectiveness.  “And to the extent this happens, The Salvation Army becomes a culture to preserve rather than a mission to perpetuate.  We may be doing many good deeds, serving some people in helpful ways.  We may have happy, spirited gatherings of Salvationists and blessed worship.  But we are not The Salvation Army fulfilling its mission.”


It implies a DIFFERENT mission than the Booths threw away their lives trying to accomplish – winning the world for Jesus.  An optimistic take?  It implies blessing our people, showing generosity, serving the poor, wanting and working for ‘the best’ for our children, honoring our elders (in tangible ways, as possible), taking care of ‘our own’.  And, look, these are not necessarily wrong or bad.  They are, on a neutral field, very good.  It is if and when they supplant our mission to win the world for Jesus that they become idolatrous. 


And what goes for social / cultural approach, also goes for institutional.  That is, when the institution primarily acts to protect and preserve rather than accelerate the advance, Needham signs the death warrant for the mission.   


And what goes for social / cultural / institutional approaches, also goes for our personal approach.  I remember, regrettably, peeling myself off the couch in front of the football game on Sunday afternoon during my college years to sally up for the second time that day and show up for the ‘Salvation’ (Sunday night) meeting at the corps.  I wasn’t the only one in the family not thrilled with leaving the game’s second half unattended.  But asked by my mother why I did it, I replied, “It is my duty.”  The personal ritualization of mission suggests its imminent downfall.




“We Salvationists are called to make radical followers of Jesus Christ who love inclusively, serve helpfully, and disciple effectively in all the communities where we live.”


This is Needham’s stab at a soldiers’ mission statement.  The idea itself is genius.  He noted the gap and has filled it.  And he didn’t just make it up.  This has been battle tested through the mighty USA Southern Territory.  Now, some might wonder if we need it.  After all, we have the Articles of War.  And we have The Army salute, which has a longer version than the ubiquitous ‘Hallelujah’ that goes like this: “I’m on my way to heaven and I’m doing everything I can to get everyone I can to join me.”  And we have a slew of songs that we could quote affirming our dedication to ‘tear hell’s throne to pieces and win the world for Jesus’ and similar heroics. 


The other nagging question about adding a personal mission statement is what it ends up saying.  We’re guessing Needham would be happy for this to represent the final version.  Others will want to make changes.  Who decides? 


Ours might omit some of the extraneous stuff – ‘in all the communities where we live’? and maybe some of the politically correct and grammatically elegant stuff (love… serve…)? while clenching hold of the underlying truth.  What is that?  Needham is having us say that we are meant to make disciples who make disciples.  Did you get that?  And we could take that farther to say we’re meant to multiply multiplying disciples.  That’s great as far as it goes.  And on a personal level, is probably enough.  But we can, with the addition of a simple clause, expand the mission from merely personal to broadly corporate.  How about this? 


As Salvationists, we’re meant to multiply multiplying disciples who multiply multiplying bases.*


Of course, in a war, a mission is given and then accomplished.  For example, take that hill.  When you’ve taken the hill, you’ve accomplished the mission.  In a similar way, we’d want to be able to accomplish a mission in a mission statement.  So, maybe we’d include a measurable in our proposal, something like, ‘in every country’ or ‘every city’ or ‘until we have a million bases in our Base Network’ or… THEN it would be a mission statement!




Needham asks questions based on his proposed mission statement:


...“How am I growing as a radical follower, disciple, imitator of Jesus Christ?

...“How am I currently fulfilling the mission of a Salvationist?

...“What steps will I take better to fulfill this mission?”


Whether or not you’ve found this article helpful, you can redeem the experience and the time by asking yourself Needham’s questions, here. 




“Where do you or I go from here?”

(where do WE go from here?)


Finally, where do we go from here?  Is it just a nice article from Needham?  Do have a few warm reflections and then get back to the swing of routine?  Or does the conversation continue (this issue of JAC is the start of the continuation of the conversation!)?  Or do we make it or some later version of it our soldiers’ mission statement?  And, more importantly, do we live and fight by the convictions expressed in it? 


We lack the sway to implement a soldiers’ mission statement that Salvationists multiply multiplying disciples who multiply multiplying bases.  But this would be a win if a thousand (even a hundred – because 100 would pretty quickly get to 1000 and then explode from there!) readers or so decided to multiply multiplying disciples who multiply multiplying bases. 


In a similar way, though to a lesser extent, even Needham lacks the sway himself to pull off a soldiers’ mission statement.  But how big a win it would be if 1.526530 million senior and junior soldiers ‘signed up’ to this declaration: “We Salvationists are called to make radical followers of Jesus Christ who love inclusively, serve helpfully, and disciple effectively in all the communities where we live.”


God help us and guide us!




* For those late to the party, The Salvation Army has three official missional units: corps, outpost, and society.  Societies seem limited these days to India and Pakistan.  We’ve rebranded societies as Army bases.  Here’s the simple formula: base = cells + hubs. 


Cells are open groups in which people encounter the Kingdom of God, the Gospel, Christianity community, and heaps more.


Hubs are closed groups for accountability and discipleship, and are the component groups of the Infinitum way of life (Infinitumlife.com) committed to the following lifestyle:

One Vision: follow Jesus.

Two Virtues: Loving God, Loving Others.

Three Vows: Surrender; Generosity; Mission

(Infinitum’s been crafted by a handful of Salvationists and its handy resources are free at Infinitumlife.com)









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