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What would our founder say about change? 

What would our founder say about change? 

What would our founder say about change? 

27 February 2019

For Booth, saving a soul was the peak Christian experience.

By Paul Farthing

Change has come and there is more coming in The Salvation Army. It’s unavoidable. 

Between 2011 and 2016 The Salvation Army in Australia declined by 20 per cent and two-thirds of those who are left are over the age of 60. It does not take a statistician to figure out that with an aged membership, the decline will accelerate.

Something has to happen, and something is. One territory. Fewer divisions. Fewer corps. New plants. New ways of doing (and being) church. New funding models. Gen Z corps. 

In all this, there is the hope, the desperate hope, that Jesus moves in these changes and souls are saved. We are The Salvation Army and we want salvations. 

But with every change we count the cost. What about those who liked the old way? The ones who have been loyal and stayed? Surely they should be prioritised? Why do they have to pay?  

In The Salvation Army we are fond of asking, “What would William Booth say?” So, what would he say?

Our founder was very happy to see people enjoying a Salvation Army meeting. He often made remarks like, “I am glad to see you are enjoying yourself”, or, “There has been much of human happiness, much clapping of hands and shouting of praises –very much of heaven on earth”. But after saying these things, he would tell his people: “That’s enough.”  

Right after saying, “There has been much of human happiness” etc., Booth would state: “Now then, go to God and tell him you are prepared, as much as necessary, to turn your back upon it all, and that you are willing to spend the rest of your days struggling in the midst of these perishing multitudes, whatever it may cost you.” 

Sure, he had some sympathy to the cost of such a sacrifice. He said: “Is leaving behind all you know to save some souls terrifying? Yes, it is, but God calls you to do it anyway.” 

But here is the twist. Booth did not preach this change, these sacrifices, as a loss for the members. For him, it wasn’t a situation where there had to be a loser. Because for Booth, saving a soul was the peak Christian experience. He knew that being part of God’s work in saving a soul did our souls no end of good! It brings joy. It is hard work and it costs you, but to be used by God to save a soul –that is glorious! Transcendent! For Booth this was a win-win. A soul gets saved and we get to partner with God and be part of that mysterious and miraculous process. 

He finishes this sermon with the statement: “Your happiness from now on will consist in sharing their (the unsaved person’s) misery, your ease in sharing their pain, your crown in helping them to bear their cross, and your heaven in going into the very jaws of hell to rescue them.” 

Nobody has ever made a decision to give up their favourite things so they can help to save a soul and said in the end: “Well, that was a miserable experience, I was much happier before I helped Terry find redemption in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”No way.

Being God’s hands and feet on this earth, actually being the church is the peak, a peak so high that all the things we leave behind become fuzzy dots at the bottom of the valley. There is a cost – Booth said it might mean your life – but compared the prize the cost is cheap. 

Change is hard. But if changing The Salvation Army can save a soul, William Booth would say: “You must do it! You cannot hold back.”

Lieutenant Paul Farthing is the Corps Officer at Shellharbour, NSW






  1. I have always the Army making radical changes because they sincerely believe it will be positive, or have we lost ground because we have abandoned some of the early practices by which the Army grew and prospered? Like open air evangelism - like door-to-door
    evangelism - like bringing people from the pubs into a confrontation with Jesus Christ! Have we abandoned all these things because we have found a better way to win souls, or is it because the thought of doing some of these bold things makes us afraid and queasy? I fear the latter may often be the case.

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