What makes The Salvation Army tick?
London’s City Matters newspaper website recently interviewed The Salvation Army’s world leader, General Lyndon Buckingham. The article is reprinted here for Salvos Online
The red shield of The Salvation Army is instantly recognisable to millions of people around the world, but have you ever wondered who is responsible for this organisation and what it actually does?
The international leader responsible for The Salvation Army is currently General Lyndon Buckingham. This interview with the General took place while he was visiting Uganda, one of the 134 countries in which The Salvation Army serves. The General is the only elected position in The Salvation Army.
General Buckingham explains, “First and foremost, we run churches! Wherever the Salvation Army flag is flying, you will find a congregation of people worshipping. One of our driving ambitions is to meet human need without discrimination, and that ‘human need’ varies depending on where we are in the world. We provide shelter for the homeless, feeding programs, schools, hospitals, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, counselling services and prison ministry, and services for children and families who are in need. Our International Social Justice Commission, based in New York, speaks to the United Nations on global social justice issues. The Salvation Army is currently making a compassionate contribution to the care of people affected by the war between Russia and Ukraine. We do what we can, where we can, to support those in need based on our ability to respond. I am grateful to everyone who helps us make a difference.”
Since August 2023, the General has been responsible for overseeing The Salvation Army globally (including its 1.5 million members worldwide). Although based at the International Headquarters in London, the General travels extensively in support of overseas territories. He said, “The office of the General is responsible for the spiritual life and wellbeing of the movement, but also has policy and direction responsibilities which are delegated and shared between the General’s Council and the Salvation Army’s International Trustee Company. This is the office that acts as the glue that holds together the international Salvation Army and its mission around the world.”
He continued, “The senior leaders within The Salvation Army are ordained ministers who, through a series of appointments, have been entrusted with greater responsibility based on their character, skill set and performance. This is a combination of time, experience, skill, and affirmation from peers. International appointments are then made by the International Appointments Board as a result of recommendations from peers.”
“We are incredibly grateful for the level of support that people around the world are able to give to The Salvation Army, and we continue to endeavour to be good stewards of whatever resources are entrusted into our care.”
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 with a quasi-military structure, but the question sometimes arises concerning how appropriate this uniform approach is today. General Buckingham said, “As we mature and develop, we are recognising both the strengths and perhaps some of the weaknesses of our military motif and metaphor. We are managing the tension between our desire to be collaborative in leadership style while using the motif to its best advantage. We are probably less militaristic today, and we’re trying to find a ‘win-win’ way of using the motifs in a modern context.”
With the impact of COVID-19 still very real across the globe and a cost-of-living crisis biting in many countries, can charities still rely on the general public for support? General Buckingham said, “We recognise the challenge for any one organisation, whether it’s a government or an NGO, to ‘do it all’. Collaboration and cooperation between government agencies and NGOs is a healthy response to the needs of the world.”
He continued, “I think that people are right to be discerning about how they support various global NGOs. We are incredibly grateful for the level of support that people around the world are able to give to The Salvation Army, and we continue to endeavour to be good stewards of whatever resources are entrusted into our care. This enables us to do very good work for those less fortunate. Wherever The Salvation Army makes a positive contribution to wellbeing or to enabling others to make a positive contribution, that’s worth celebrating!
“Our Christian faith is the heartbeat of this organisation, and what we are endeavouring to do around the globe comes from that place. I think, if anything, that should give people confidence that our good motivation comes from a faith that expresses itself in acts of loving-kindness. This is the driving force behind this movement. The motivating force behind this movement is God’s love for us and our desire to express that towards our neighbour.”