The Officer’s Covenant begins with one statement that carries through the rest of the Covenant: “Called by God…”. This is the foundation from which the rest of the Covenant is built upon. It is a statement of affirmation that the officer has listened to and discerned that the Lord’s will for his or her life is for full-time service as a minister of the gospel within The Salvation Army.
The way in which God calls people to service can vary from person to person. I will tell you of my experience, but I do not claim this to be the only way that God may call someone.
I knew from the time of my salvation that God had a purpose for my life – there was a reason why he saved me from certain death at my birth. When I was somewhere around the age of 12, I began thinking that maybe God wanted me to be a Salvation Army officer. I am sure I had thought about it prior to that age, but I cannot nail down a specific date in which I was “called”. I also never had an “aha” experience – I never heard God’s voice audibly speaking or had some magical vision or anything like that. I had grown up in The Salvation Army and was always open to the idea of officership. So around the age of 12, I set my sights on becoming a Salvation Army officer. Again, there was no specific time when this happened, it just happened.
One thing that played a huge role in discerning my calling was watching the examples of various officers, active and retired, within my corps. I loved listening to their stories about the joys and challenges of officer ministry. Through those examples, I was encouraged in my pursuit of officership.
Since I never had any sort of divine revelation regarding my calling, I ultimately stepped out in trust. I knew that if it was truly God’s will that I would be a Salvation Army officer, then he would provide whatever was necessary for that to happen. I knew he would open doors where I needed them in order to guide the way. He certainly did! He provided countless opportunities and opened numerous doors that solidified his calling on my life. Looking back on those times, I can see God’s work through my life in making my calling sure.
Did I ever doubt my calling? Of course! I would even dare say that it can be healthy to have times of doubt because when God provides the answer to that doubt, it strengthens our sense of calling. In the times that I doubted my calling, God provided people and environments in which I was encouraged. Again, when I think back to those times of doubt, I see God orchestrating ways in which my calling would be strengthened.
I would like to share a few insights about calling in general and specifically for officership. Some may agree and some may disagree with these statements, but I hope these can stimulate our thinking and understanding of calling.
Calling is both individual and corporate
When we talk about calling, we seem to always discuss the individual side of calling. “Tell me about your calling.” “When God called me…” I think we, for the most part, understand that God calls people individually for certain things. He may call one person to do one thing and another person to do another thing. Our responsibility is to be responsive and obedient to our individual calling.
There is also a corporate aspect to calling, specifically for calling to ministry. In the first three verses of Acts 13, we see this corporate element at work. God had called Barnabas and Saul to go and proclaim the gospel. The church at Antioch responded by praying for them, fasting, and sending them off. This is the corporate response to calling to ministry. The church body is responsible for recognizing God’s call on a person’s life, affirming that call as evidenced by the person’s fruit, and sending that person off with their prayers.
It is important that we do not neglect the corporate aspect of calling. I know that God has called me to officership, but I need to know that others see evidence of that calling in my life. This keeps our individual callings in check and accountable to the Church.
Calling does not require direct revelation
I think I have indicated this already through my calling experience. Calling does not mean that a person has to audibly hear God speak to them or have some other sort of divine revelation from God. This is why the term “calling” can be confusing to some. We need to make sure that when we describe calling, we do not restrict it to a specific time or a specific experience.
As I said with my calling, I never had that one moment where I said, “Yes, I’ll be an officer.” I also never had a defining point in which God spoke to me or revealed it to me. It was a process of observation, reflection, and acceptance in my life which was not grounded in one moment. I think it is dangerous for us to insist that God’s calling must take place in a “crisis” manner.
I don’t mean to say that God does not call people at a specific time such as at Youth Councils or during a Candidates’ Sunday. I don’t mean to say that God does not work in a “crisis” manner to call people, but it is not something that happens to all. We do not want to exclude or alienate those who have had aspirations toward officership but may not have had such a “crisis” moment.
Calling may or may not be specific
God’s calling comes in a variety of forms. Calling is not restricted to officership – people are called by God to all sorts of professions, careers, and ministries. With that said, God’s calling may not always be specific.
I was speaking with a young lady in one of my classes at Olivet this spring. She was studying children’s ministry and knew she wanted to be actively working in ministry with young people, but she did not know where. She was aware of God’s calling on her to minister to children – that was specific – but she did not know in what manner, degree, or location God wanted her to serve. I also know a number of people from my time at Moody who may have been studying pastoral ministry or theology or biblical studies and have been specifically called to full-time ministry, but the details of how that would happen had not been made clear to them.
I know that God has called me to specifically be an officer within The Salvation Army, but that much detail is not always the case for all. God calls people, but the specifics of that calling may not always be evident.
I want to write for a moment about our recruitment of Salvation Army officers as it relates to this. I appreciate what our divisional and territorial leaders do for recruiting and equipping candidates for Salvation Army ministry. The process, though challenging, is much needed so that we invest in the right candidates and cadets for officership. I do believe, however, that we have an untapped resource for officers. As I said, there are a number of young people who know that they are called to full-time ministry but do not know where to turn. The unfortunate result is that many do not end up in full-time ministry positions. Could these be our future Salvation Army officers?
I think we can focus a lot of our attention on internal recruitment, and that is not wrong in any way, but there may be future officers out there who simply need to be introduced to The Salvation Army and to officership. From my experience at Bible college, there are thousands of students in this nation who are zealous for ministry and the gospel who are searching for their ministry outlet. These could be our next officers.
There is so much more that could be said about the topic of calling and I hope to write more on this subject. Turning back to the Officer’s Covenant, it is important for every officer to understand that officership is not of our own self-will or desire, but because of a God-instilled, Holy Spirit-directed calling on our life. The manner in which we are called may vary, but the God who calls remains the same. He is still calling men and women to officership – we must continue to be responsive. With the prophet Isaiah, we resound, “Here I am! Send me.”