I thought that the last question, “Why Young People Leave the Salvation Army”, was an important question, but I want to take the question from a more positive angle: why young people choose to stay, serve, and worship in the Salvation Army. In this case though, I find generalization more difficult, so I’d like to examine a big reason I personally stick with the dear old Army.
As it turns out, this idea is actually based in our Methodist roots, and I first came across it in a book by Brain McLaren called A Generous Orthodoxy. In this book McLaren talks about his experience in a number of different denominations, often pointing out a lot of their positive aspects.
In Methodism, McLaren mentions this important concept by painting a picture for us, of a staircase with people on each step. Each person on each step is holding out a hand and grasping the person above and the person below them. In this way it illustrates the idea that the church contains many people at different levels of spiritual maturity, and we each are lead by someone more mature as we bring up those that are younger in faith than we are.
I loved this concept, and in well functioning corps, you can really see this come to life. This is a huge draw to me because I see this as a reflection of what the church really needs to be in our culture. I think the Salvation Army is very well situated in our culture to continue this concept within our doors.
In McLaren’s book, he observes the later history of Methodism and laments that this “stair” concept eventually broke down in many Methodist churches. In these cases, you had a cliff, with the person on the top unable to relate to draw up those that were behind. Now, I wrote this article to be encouraging to the Salvation Army, but I must say that this is certainly a danger for us as well.
It is a danger to us because people in general have a tendency to homogenize, to make things around them familiar and the same. Put simply, we are comfortable with what is like us. But we need to break out of this! Let there be no such thing as a “respectable corps” that doesn’t make a drunk or a homeless person feel welcome. On the other hand, there must be people on the higher stairs to raise others up. In this way, let’s also do away with anti-intellectualism and any attitudes that spurn discipleship. If all we do is get people saved, it’s like filling the stairs and assuming it’ll work like an escalator.
There is no magical spiritual escalator! Maturity takes discipleship and spiritual formation – it requires taking people by the hand.
I love this concept, and it’s one of the reasons I love being a part of the Salvation Army, because I don’t think we’ve lost this. In most corps that you enter, you will find people of various ages, economic status, spiritual maturity, wisdom, etc. I stay with the Army because it’s a place where I can always find a spot on the staircase.