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
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.
“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.
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
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’
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
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
He describes a world in which programmes no
longer serve mission and procedures no longer facilitate
“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
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
“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’
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
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.
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
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
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
Needham asks questions based on his proposed
...“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
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’
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
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
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