Have you heard about this church that’s building itself on a military metaphor? It’s led by a general, not a bishop. Their clergy are not referred to as pastors, priests or vicars – instead it’s captain, major, colonel and commander. Officers go through seven years of training and are barred from earning outside income. This church even tells officers whom they can and cannot marry.
Membership requirements are rigorous. When you join this church, you are referred to as a soldier. You must sign a declaration of faith and practice known as Articles of War, and you are required to give volunteer service to the church. You’re required to abstain from all tobacco, illegal drugs and alcohol. The organization’s magazine is called War Cry!
Sounds like some weird cult, doesn’t it? So what’s the name of this unusual church?
The Salvation Army.
You may not realize it, but the Salvation Army is a church. Unlike most churches, it’s not known for its worship services. Instead, it’s known for helping people. And no church feeds more, clothes more or comforts more. The church has only about 600,000 members, but this year alone it will help more than 30 million people. The Salvation Army is at work in more than 100 countries around the globe.
How is it possible to accomplish so much with so few members? While most churches are built around an academic model, the Salvationists are building on a military model. The entire church is structured for outreach. As a result of this structure, this relatively small denomination is able to accomplish more social service than all other denominations combined.
What lessons can the local church learn from the Salvation Army?
- A masculine organizational model is desirable. By using a military metaphor, the Army has resisted the trend toward feminization and liberalization that has plagued other established denominations.
- High standards are good. Call many, choose few. Effectiveness is more important than size.
- Most churches try to be everything to everyone. But a church that focuses like a laser on a particular aspect of the gospel will outperform the multi-focused church every time.
- It’s time to lift the de facto ban on military imagery and songs in the church. How long has it been since we’ve been allowed to sing Onward Christian Soldiers? Military imagery does not create violent men; it helps them focus their passions on the good fight.
- Instead of gender neutralizing our churches, we should celebrate both masculine and feminine expression. Androgyny has no place in God’s creation.