Still Relevant, Still Advancing
Commissioner David Jeffrey, National Commander for The Salvation Army in the USA, discusses why the Army matters today and its priorities for the future
War Cry: What would William Booth say about the present-day Salvation Army?
DJ: I think he would be pleased. When the Founder was promoted to Glory over 100 years ago, the Army was in nearly 50 countries. Now we’re in 126 around the world. We were just a fledgling movement in the United States in 1912. We have remained true to our mission of preaching the Gospel. The mission statement didn’t exist back then, but I think he would be pleased with its call to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” He would be right on top of that.
WC: Is The Salvation Army still relevant Today?
DJ: There is still a lot of human need out there. We’re still a Christian movement, motivated by faith. Jesus said that we’re to love God with our total being and to love others as ourselves. In this day and age, that’s still relevant. Matthew 25 always comes to mind when I think about the mission of The Salvation Army. Jesus, with some of His last words to His disciples before His passion, said, “‘I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home. I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see You hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? Or a stranger and show You hospitality? Or naked and give You clothing? When did we ever see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!’” (vs. 35-40).
That is still relevant today.
WC: What are The Salvation Army’s greatest challenges?
DJ: I want to make sure that we advance the cause of Christ and that we’re known for that. I dream of a larger, stronger and more diverse Army. To keep the Army growing and to keep it fresh is important. The good news is that we have 100 more corps than we had 40 years ago when I started as an officer. We’ve got more cadets in training today than we had 40 years ago. For a while we had more and more second career people becoming officers, which is fine. But now that the four USA training colleges give officers a way to earn a bachelors or advanced degree, it is resulting in more people coming to train younger. Why go to college first if I can go to training and get the same thing done?
There’s greater participation in worship services than there was 40 years ago. But what concerns me are youth programs of The Salvation Army. We have 44% less junior soldiers today than we had 40 years ago. We have 39% less corps cadets. The attendance in Sunday school is down about 35%. On average that’s a loss of 1% per year. Hopefully we can start seeing some growth of about 1% or 2% per year in those areas.
WC: What shows the most promise?
DJ: The Pathway of Hope initiative is cutting edge. Each year through social services we serve 18 million people. The Pathway of Hope initiative seeks to move families with children to stability by breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
Christmas 2014, we celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Angel Tree program that began in Lynchburg, Virginia, by then-Captains (now Lt. Colonels) Charles and Shirley White. From one corps and 470 angels that first year it’s grown to reach across America. Last year, a million children were served through Angel Tree.
While it’s a great program that puts a smile on children’s faces at Christmas, it’s much more than that when considering all the outcomes. It helps families remain stable in their homes and helps prevent hunger and homelessness because families aren’t deciding whether or not to buy a child a gift for Christmas or to buy food, pay rent or pay the light bill. There are many units that have launched services to these Angel Tree families that extend throughout the year by helping people earn their GED, enter job training skills programs, begin financial management programs, take part in savings programs—to name a few—as a result of that simple program.
WC: What will The Salvation Army look like in 25 years?
DJ: In 25 years, we will be an even more mature Army. It looks different today than it did 40 years ago when I started out as an officer, but in a lot of ways it remains the same. The mission is still the same. The Lord knows what it is going to look like, but as long as we remain true to Christ, remain true to our mission, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, emphasize holiness and serve the poor, the Army will continue to be strong and vital.
It has been a joy serving in The Army and seeing The Salvation Army at the national level. We’ve visited two local communities recently, smaller communities where the Army is really doing good work. For example, in Schenectady, New York, a place where a lot of organizations have folded their tents, the Army remains, continuing to provide vital services. That’s always exciting to see.