God’s Cadets – Leadership, Calling and Stepping Out!

11 Jan

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Many of you will now have seen the documentary God’s Cadets on BBC4 which follows the honest stories of cadets at The Salvation Army’s UK Training College. There are refreshing moments where people speak about faith and doubt in the same breath –  perhaps a bit of a no go area to the baby boom generation. There were some uncomfortable moments when comments could be construed as being held by all but then I remind myself that they are edited comments after all. This discomfort was compounded as the camera panned to images that humorously yet awkwardly paralleled the Army with Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and medieval fighting! However, there were also profound moments when the essence of The Salvation Army was portrayed in the passionate concern for society’s forgotten people: the homeless, prostitutes and the victims of trafficking amongst others.

People are talking about the programme. A close friend of mine who is an atheist was in awe of what he saw the Army doing. He was deeply impacted by the poignancy of talking about doubt and said he’d become an officer if he didn’t have to do the ‘religion bit’.

For me the documentary’s focus highlights the challenges of stepping up to leadership today. After almost 150 years of history of The Salvation Army in the UK we stand on the brink of spiralling into an increasing irrelevance or rising again to be a prophetic voice in communities across the land and in the arenas of public life that affect the marginalised. (When I write ‘prophetic’ I mean the ‘calling out truth’ kind rather than the ‘predicating the future’ kind). To do this:

We need leaders now and to come who will lead the Army to understand its own social evolution. What has become a largely middle class Army (membership) has never been so economically far away from the people who we promise to have a bias in serving.

We need leaders now and to come who interpret the biblical narrative with discernment and understand culture with equally huge portions of wisdom and insight.

We need leaders now and to come who are able to recognize the strong entailment of Army history on the language of our mission and practices without making that history a definitive model.

We need leaders now and to come who are capable of breaking open stale ideas, bring their ingenuity and obedience to God to the table.

We need leaders now and to come who understand mission in the 21st Century, have their heads screwed on and their hearts full of wanting the best for others.

We have many of these leaders  around (you met some in the programme) but we need many, many more.

My dream is that every Salvationist (and others?) would ask themselves whether God is calling them to be an officer. It is not for everyone and is not a higher calling than another kind. But I’m convinced if people opened their heart to engage with the question of calling then more people might make the seemingly outrageous decision to offer themselves.

Our training college should include some our the most gifted intellectuals, passionate teachers, reformed drunkards, young and middle-aged, mature and maturing Christians, men and women, successful individuals from the private sector, black and white….maybe even you! Why not? Yeah, why not you!? I mean most leaders in bible had something wrong with them to start with – murderers, liars, cheats, the mute, the comfortable, the not so special – you name it they’re all in there.

Stepping out to be a leader and then leading will be not easy (you’re not off the hook though, it’s just something you need to know!). Maybe you think the opposition and challenges are inevitable, but rarely are they unbeatable. There may be many silent supporters as well as the many vocal detractors.

Tony Blair once wrote that the Labour party created a situation for itself where ‘normal’ people felt inclined to walk away, leaving the manically ambitious and the weird in their stead (now it’s also been said that no-one sane every changed the world!). But it is just so important that this generation brings through obedient, capable and teachable leaders (amongst other things) who continue their adventure in the Army for God’s kingdom.

We can change our systems and structures but if we lack the people, we really should be fearful. I think God’s Cadets showed us some of the courage, humanness and reality of people engaging in the privilege of servant leadership.  Whether you liked it or not, just ask yourself ‘could I be called?’. Yeah you!

Ben

P.S If you haven’t yet seen the programme it will be on BBC iplayer until the 21st January 2014 (Click here to watch UK only)

P.P.S Picture is Nick Poyntz

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