Why did the officer, the pioneer leader and envoy write a blog? Because…

30 Sep

Ben and Ryan

By Ben Cotterill and Ryan Wileman featuring Roger Coates (Edited by Stephen Poxon)

Today (30th September 2017) we celebrate the 16 Salvationists who have begun their training to be Salvation Army officers in the UKI Territory. Within our celebrations, though, is the sober recognition of the fact that this low number represents the continuance of a trend decline in the quantity of candidates and cadets. We thank God for those stepping forward, but we also look to God with this concern! As in most strands of Christian life, we hold positives and negatives in live tension.

The question of numerical decline will have implications for The Salvation Army’s missional movement in the future. As the number of officer-retirees from the generation known as baby boomers continues to outweigh the number entering training, it would be easy to see this as a doom and gloom scenario for The Salvation Army. However, as the adage goes, ‘what you look for determines what you see’.

The Salvation Army needs effective spiritual leadership. What is worth bearing in mind, though – and this should encourage us – is that the 16 new cadets are not the only new spiritual leaders emerging this year. In the last 12 months, seven new territorial envoys have been appointed to corps leadership on a three-year renewable basis. These leaders are available to be appointed anywhere in their home territory but in most cases, are appointed to a corps in their home division.

Additionally (also within the last 12 months), 16 colleagues have been appointed as employed pioneer leaders, with 40 more people (officers and lay personnel) passing through the pioneer assessment process in the last 18 months.

Pioneer leaders, by way of explanation, are appointed as spiritual leaders charged with exploring new missional opportunities in areas where The Salvation Army has never worked previously, or to re-birth existing corps in a re-fashioned style. Many of these are employed on salaried, fixed-term contracts with responsibility to explore what it means to live out the Kingdom of God in community. However, some of these projects (or similar) have also been undertaken by officers, so this sphere of leadership is by no means solely the remit of lay leaders.

Correspondingly – and also encouragingly – we may add into that mix, the large number of people employed in local settings as youth workers, children’s workers, family workers, community development workers and an impressive range of people employed in supporting and resourcing mission in their specialist areas at DHQs, Regional Service Centres and THQ. In this light, the landscape of Salvation Army leadership looks somewhat healthier than if we look solely at the number of cadets entering the college.

The fact that there are now numerous paths to leadership within The Salvation Army is to be applauded. The fact each of us who have collaborated on this blog has taken different routes of service speaks for itself.

So, how might three different journeys to leadership within the same Army be so similar, yet different?

Ryan Wileman – Community Mission Co-ordinator, Westfield Pioneer Ministry, Sheffield:

For my wife Kathryn and I, our journey into pioneering has been an unexpected one! It started while I was DYO in Yorkshire and evolved via many conversations over several years, leading us to the conclusion that God was calling us to live and work in the community of Westfield, Sheffield.

However, making this happen was not without its challenges, as at that time, only officers or envoys could lead front line Salvation Army missions. Unfortunately, we couldn’t articulate a calling to either of those roles, leaving us with something of a crisis of legitimacy regarding what we felt was our vocation. We believed God was calling us to a specific community and we were unable, therefore, with any integrity, to sit before an Assessment Conference and say we felt called to be officers or envoys. We have, though, received sufficient understanding from leadership at divisional and territorial level, and this has enabled us to discover a creative and logical solution to the dilemma. We remain grateful to those who offered a sympathetic listening ear and ultimately enabled – and empowered – us to fulfil our calling as pioneer leaders. It is important to note that our calling has been rigorously tested through formal pioneer assessment, training and mentoring.

Lieutenant Ben Cotterill – Keighley Corps:

My journey to officership started as a boy. I pretended to the world I had illusions of being a football player or a doctor, but if I’m honest I always knew where I was going. By nature a reluctant leader, I felt God coaxing me to give all that I was to serve and to lead a corps actionable community life. Officership was my way of doing that, especially as I never felt my calling to be localised. Some say this willingness to go anywhere as part of one’s discipleship is what, in part, defines officership. However, the variety of options within officership and the modern emphasis upon consultation makes this distinction less clear today.

Divisional Envoy Roger Coates – Yorkshire South and Humber Division:

I firmly believe we are all called, whether to full-time ministry or other avenues of service. For me, 30 years of leadership within music ministry was my calling and I found fulfilment through it. When I was invited to become corps sergeant-major, though, the invitation came as a bolt out of the blue as this was not a role I had ever considered, let alone felt capable of doing. Within weeks I was “leading” a large corps with the officers out of action, a situation which lasted for 15 months. I found complete fulfilment in this ministry and God used my experience as a local officer to affirm that full-time ministry was my calling. Personal circumstances, though, make this impossible for the time being.  However, for the immediate future I have the privilege of having a ministry that bridges the gap, as a DE, working around the division supporting corps with meeting leadership where there are short-term gaps, whilst still being in full-time employment. My prayer is that in time I may able to enter into the application and assessment process and into full time ministry as an envoy or officer. For now, though, I believe God is using me where I am, as a DE and local officer and am grateful that present Salvation Army structures enable me to do that.

To apply poetic licence to the words of the late Retired General Gowans who wisely said:

“A corps is a mission team, and the officer/envoy/pioneer leader is a mission team leader.” (Italics ours.)

The emerging possibility of additional routes to leadership is exciting, especially as they create extra opportunities for the fulfilment of General Gowans’ statement.

There is, though, also the reality that, at present, officership remains the dominant mode of leadership within our Movement. We might therefore need to consider the question: How did this happen? If we trace Army history back to its earliest days, we find little distinction between officers and local officers, with the only prominent distinction being that officers were removed from the need for mainstream employment;

“By local Officers are meant those Officers below the rank of Lieutenant who work in connection with a Corps without being separated from regular employment” (O&R for Field Officers 1886:170). 

Indeed, it is true that the Salvation Army has at its very foundations, the theology of the priesthood of all believers; the belief that every disciple of Jesus has a gifting and a role to play in the furthering of the Kingdom of God in the world. However, over a period of time, the development of a Salvationist ecclesiastical elite (officers) began to slowly emerge, largely for practical reasons. Possibly, this structural development has fed into increasing perceptions of The Salvation Army as a church, defined as being a spiritual home for a membership, and therefore in need of recognised clergy. Growing institutionalisation may also have contributed to changes in the organisational status of officership, so that a settled pattern of ministry can be seen partially as a response to increasing bureaucracy. Interestingly much of this bureaucracy is now taken on by lay people.

What we seem to be witnessing is a move back to our historically pragmatic roots of finding the best possible routes to leadership for those who make themselves available.

Bearing this in mind, we must be wise and alert to the consideration of future questions and challenges that will impact our Movement. Questions, such as:

  1. How do we ensure the provision of linked-up theological and missional training for all pathways of leaders (and others with influence) within the Movement?
  2. In light of our history and theology background, do the differences in varying leadership tracks make sense? How are we impacted if only officers can become senior leaders?
  3. With the exception of certain ceremonial functions, which only officers may perform, corps leadership looks almost identical when performed by officers, envoys or pioneers. What, then, is an officer?
  4. What is the difference between the covenantal relationship entered into by officers and the contractual relationship entered into by envoys and employed leaders? If it comes down to a certain way of life, how different are the lives of envoys and pioneers to officers? How significant are the differences?
  5. Does the Army still need an ecclesial elite (officers)?
  6. Should we resolve to celebrate different leadership pathways or do we need to radically re-imagine the entire issue?

This list of questions is far from exhaustive and to consider the answers to even one of them would require a dissertation rather than a blog! Surely, though, these challenges are worth grappling with, if such grappling allows us to empower and release more leaders to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven in as many new and existing places across the territory as is practically possible. We certainly think they are anyway! What do you think?

We also hope that through reading this, others may be empowered to think there’s a route available where they may explore their own calling to leadership through the many and varied routes that are available.

Thanks for reading!

For more details about Salvation Army leadership in the UK and the Republic of Ireland check out:





4 Responses to “Why did the officer, the pioneer leader and envoy write a blog? Because…”

  1. Iain Hudson September 30, 2017 at 11:01 pm #

    Some good reflective and challenging words borne out of practical lived out spiritual leadership. I’m left with the conviction that God has this issue in hand. We only need to be responsive to his leading as part of His kingdom here on earth and be looking for His opportunities to bring challenge as we journey with His people. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Alice Swain October 2, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Absolutely love this. I strongly believe that the way mission is led in the Salvation Army is on the move and this should be encouraged. I felt called to ministry in the Salvation Army but practical issues meant my husband and I couldn’t go through the traditional route. God called us to be envoys and it has been fantastic! We have been so well supported and love every day. God had blessed us as we have nurtured our church and watched it grow. We have seen lives transformed, our community shift and God claim victories when the enemy fights back! There are so many people within our churches who God is calling to leadership in the Salvation Army and it is great to see this shift towards how the Army can facilitate that rather than how can you change to fit in the mould! The army is on the move and rising up. Hallelujah!!

  3. andrew vertigan October 3, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

    Thank you guys. Well written and a very helpful ‘prod’, to look at what ministry and leadership looks like and needs to be. Many many questions arise out of this which not only need to be prayerfully thought through, but responded to! My prayer is that this will nudge people to realise their own God given potential, and for us together as a movement to harness them.


  4. Marta Governo October 23, 2018 at 1:36 pm #

    Guys, I really think that this is a much needed and deep conversation… Thank you for starting it! There are a lot of related issues, but I must admit that one of the things that have been “bugging me” lately is the fact that The Salvation Army used to be ahead of its time in pretty much everything: the way we did “church”, the way we did social work, etc… Now, most of the times, I feel we are doing the same all over again: there is little innovation. So, my question to add to your list would be: how can we become an innovative Army again? Blessings!

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