Response: Why Young People Leave the Salvation Army

I thought I might also take a stab at the question the Central Territory Youth Department put out a few weeks ago. You can find the original articles in part one and part two. The question that is raised is: “Why are young people leaving the Salvation Army?”

I’d like to tackle this without too many generalities, so I’ll try to take this from a personal perspective: “Why would I, David Witthoff, ever leave the Salvation Army?” Sounds weird to even say it. But of course, the thought has crossed my mind on occasion. I don’t anticipate the following list will have much order anyways, so here we go:

1. I certainly agree with Matt Aho’s observation of the power distribution in the Salvation Army. I’ve felt on many occasions the total lack of authority or ability to change or improve various facets of our programs, corps, events, culture, etc. I’ve said this before, but we say we believe in a priesthood of all believers, but it sure seems in practice that “some are more priestly than others.”

If I might apply some concepts from my previous post, “The Idiot-Preacher,” this deficit of power from the soldiers and members of the church is an aspect of “stupidifying,” as the author Crawford writes. By giving most of the decision making power to a certain “class,” the cognitive effort required to maintain a church community, even the creative opportunity to build a community center and church  in it’s own way, is vacated from the minds of the laypeople. If that’s not the scandal of the Salvationist mind, I’m not sure what is.

All that to say, it’s terribly disheartening to perform many roles and fulfill functions, and only rarely be able to innovate.

2. I think young people leave when there aren’t a lot of young people left. I like the Army, and I plan to stick with it, but having been at two corps now where I was the only, or one of a few between 20-50 years old, it can be incredibly disheartening. I find also that when the officers in these corps are unwise, they often overburden and burnout the few 20-30 somethings they have left (not my experience, thankfully).

3. Unfulfilled expectations will be my last point. Growing up my group heard time and again how we were going to be the “next generation” of Salvation Army leaders. Opportunity and open doors seemed promised, but, similarly to point #1, we didn’t go to Training en masse, and so many of us can’t be part of the next generation of leaders.  So please, just disciple kids, don’t try and make them all leaders.

In summary, I end with a warning-quote from author Clay Shirky: “…if you pretend to offer an outlet for [intrinsic] motivations, while slotting people into a scripted experience, they may well revolt.”

Just remember that young adults are pretty flakey, so “revolt” in their case is probably just saying “meh” and walking out the door.

The Idiot-Preacher

I’ve just finished reading a book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford. In this book, he expounds on the meaning and value of physical and manual work. He holds a PhD in the arts, and writes about working in white collar jobs, but he eventually returns to what often sounds like a first love: motorcycle repair. While there are a lot of aspects to this book, I’d like to focus on one part, and see how it might apply to work in the church. Realize going into this that Crawford’s goal is not the best kind of work in monetary terms, but what is most fulfilling.

On getting his first job writing abstracts for scholarly articles and journals, he writes:

“As I was shown to my cubicle by these same people, I felt a real sense of being honored. They had made a place for me. It seemed more than spacious enough. It was my desk, where I would think my thoughts, and no longer as a private amusement tending toward alienation. Rather, these thoughts would be my unique contribution to a common enterprise, in a real company with hundreds of employees. The regularity of the cubicles made me feel I had found a place in the order of things; I felt enlarged by the largeness of it. I would wear a tie.”

I can totally relate to loving ties. They are wonderful.


“but the feel of the job changed as I settled into it…”

“…By my eleventh month at the company, my quota was up to twenty eight articles [to write an abstract for] per day (this was the normal, scheduled acceleration). Whereas Charlie Chaplin’s efforts to conform himself to the accelerating pace of the machine in Modern Times took the form of a brilliantly comic ballet, mine were rather mopey and anxious. More than anything, I felt sleepy. This exhaustion was surely tied to the fact I felt trapped in a contradiction.”

Basically, he can’t put intelligent, creative work into reading and writing, while also delivering on his quota. This continues a concept he developed earlier, the upward suck of cognitive effort from jobs into the business hierarchy (or its elimination all together). With the cognitive effort removed, he becomes a kind of functionary in his position, only fulfilling a prescribed ritual to achieve an end.

Furthermore he connects this functionary work to the concept of the classical idiot. The classical idiot is one void of concern for external realities. He is the self-absorbed man. When we remove human intelligence and creativity from our work for the sake of production or efficiency, we lose much more than creativity or innovation. We lose ownership and pride in the work, because it’s more a function of the role than of the worker’s (cognitive) ability.  It also leads to false assumptions about one’s ability. I imagine it’s somewhat like a man who buys and sets up a dresser from IKEA and claims he “built” it himself, rather than he simply assembled it from pre-cut materials and picture-comic instructions. It’s idiotic in the sense that there’s nothing of himself in the work.

So what does this all mean for ministry? Church work isn’t craftsmanship after all.

Perhaps not, but the concept of “Soulcraft” that the author titles his work is surprisingly useful for describing church work. The work of a pastor in many ways could be described as soulcraft: working to see people shaped into more mature, stable Christians that honor God by their lives. It’s especially poignant for Salvationist because so much of our work is the rehabilitation of particularly broken people. But when we remove human aspects of our work – any cognitive, intellectual, creative, social aspects – we lose touch with the humanity of our work.  We become idiot-pastors, trapped with fulfilling the role and checking the right boxes. That is not the work. The work is people, is soulcraft.

Let’s take the pre-packaged sermon as an example. The pre-packaged sermon is 1) efficient 2) easier 3) “approved” 4) safe 5) done 6) effective (supposedly). But this is in essence what Crawford is lamenting. There’s no ownership, no investment, no sacrifice, no social-contractual relationship between the writer, the preacher, and the hearer. I’d guess that pastors do not want to use pre-written materials, but because of time constraints they often do. This is the worst kind of time-saving device. The very last place automation should overtake is the creative, soul-crafting tools (preaching/teaching) that we use to form and develop others in the faith. Automate and idiocratize every other part of the job if you have to, but when you teach, actualize yourself in your work and in your words. Let it be sermoncraft for soulcraft.

The Mistranslation of 1 Thess. 5:23 and its Incorporation into Salvation Army Doctrine: A Call for Restatement

             And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.



Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.



The scripture above shows the contrast from the KJV and the updated NKJV. The obvious difference is the preposition “unto” in the KJV, and “at” in the NKJV.  In this work I want to examine the grammar of the passage and show why the translation of “unto” or “until” is incorrect, and why “at” is the proper understanding of the Greek text. First, a review of a few of the translations is appropriate. The KJV contains “unto;” the NLT, “until.” The NASB, ESV, NRSV, NKVJ, NIV (and TNIV), and NCV all show “at” or “when.”[1] This evidence is indicative to some extant since the KJV is an older translation. While the NLT is a modern translation, it is certainly in the minority among its contemporaries. While a good translation, the NLT is periphrastic as well, which may account for the difference in translation.

The preposition in questions in this verse is ἐν, and there are a number of translation options that the standard Greek lexicon, BDAG, gives. On this preposition it also remarks:


“The uses of this prep. are so many and various, and oft. so easily confused, that a strictly systematic treatment is impossible. It must suffice to list the main categories, which will help establish the usage in individual cases.”[2]


Of the numerous categories listed, none contain “until.” BDAG does give “when” as a possible translation.  A simple analogy in English can explain how this preposition works. In the sentence “John caught the ball before the runner made it to home base,” the main verb is “caught.” The preposition “before” gives more description, specifically about time. It tells us that the ball was caught before something else happened. This other thing is the runner making it to home base. We could also say “John caught the ball at the moment the runner made it to home base.” This is almost the same, but the preposition “at” in this case brings the temporal sense forward, to the moment described in the phrase that follows. In our passage, ἐν is a similar preposition, and it appears that there is no support for translating this preposition in a way that makes the verbs of the verse (sanctifying wholly, preserving) occur before the dative noun that follows the preposition. This dative noun translates as “the coming of Jesus.”

Now turning to Salvation Army doctrine, I find it curious that in the citing of 1 Thess 5:23 the HOD uses the KJV. It seems obvious that using another English translation was not chosen since it would make this reference of sanctification future, and not present. And this brings me to the point of this work. The Salvation Army has historically been a Holiness church, emphasizing the holy life and entire sanctification in this present life. When the Army was founded and the doctrines formed, it seems likely that the wording of the KJV became the wording of our doctrine number 10. But as I have shown here, 1 Thess 5:23 should not be used in reference to sanctification in this present life. The use in 1 Thess 5:23 refers to the final result of the process of sanctification which we will experience in the presence of Jesus Christ. Based on the grammatical and syntactical evidence, it cannot refer to the present life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Doctrine 10 is wrong, but it does mean that this verse is does not support what Doctrine 10 claims.  In light of this, I’d be all for a restatement of our doctrine of holiness.



[1] The NCV has “when the Lord Jesus Christ returns,” which supports the future, though without the preposition “at.”

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2000) (326)..