by Lieut-Colonel Laurie Robertson, 7 February 2011
General Shaw Clifton with General-Elect Commissioner Linda Bond following the 2011 High Council
Please tell us about yourself and your background.
Recently I contributed to a book in the Australia Eastern Territory, and this is how I described my background:
I was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, as the youngest of 13 children. My mother was British, migrating to Canada with her parents when she was 17-years-old. My Canadian father was a coal miner. You can’t grow up in a large family, having a mother with a keen mind and a fiery spirit and a father as gentle as a lamb and selfless as Jesus, without being influenced. I am my mother’s child by nature, and my father’s child by desire.
The coal mining town and political environment in which I was raised also affected the way I view life and I thank the Lord for this. The marginalised, the poor and the addicted were part of the community landscape, and my parents were committed to seeing things change for the hurting. This was consistent with what I later learned to be the Lord’s mission – and the Army’s.
Can you please describe your thoughts and feelings when you were nominated for and then elected as General of The Salvation Army?
When I was nominated I felt it was an affirmation from my peers. My overall feeling was that ‘this is of the Lord’. He had been speaking to my heart through Scripture, and although I had not intended to, I accepted nomination in obedience to the Lord. I felt that I had to wait to see what he wanted to do. When I was elected I was humbled, but I had a real sense that this was the Lord’s doing. To me it was a miracle – it was a work of grace.
In what ways is the High Council a daunting experience?
It is daunting – and this was my third High Council – because the whole Salvation Army world is watching and wanting the leaders to get it right. I don’t mean that in terms of it being a human decision, but that Salvationists are wanting the leaders to be open to the Spirit of God. High Council members want to be sensitive not only to God but also to Salvationists who are trusting them with this decision.
How is the election of a Salvation Army General different from the election of a political leader?
Well, there is no lobbying, for one thing! The major difference is that it is bathed in prayer. Unlike a political election, only a certain group have a vote yet all the Salvationists are praying for the High Council members to be granted wisdom by the Spirit.
Please describe spiritual leadership in a Salvation Army context.
I have very deep convictions about spiritual leadership, and for many years I taught classes on spiritual authority. To me the first point of spiritual authority is that power belongs to God. The power that he delegates to us has to be a power of love, the power to die to self, the power to live for others, the power for people and not over people.
Also, whatever gifts he’s given you, influence how you serve. So if he has given the gift of leadership, you serve best when you lead. If he has given the gift of preaching, you serve best when you preach. For everybody in spiritual leadership – we come under the authority of God. Ours is a delegated influence.
How do you connect with God?
For many years now I have set aside an hour of devotional time in the morning, but I am aware of the presence of the Lord all through the day.
Because I live alone I have a lot of private time. I like to have day retreats. When I have a Saturday free, I like to spend quality time in the Word and reading a good book. But mainly I love the Word. I pray the Word.
Jesus said to go into the closet [to pray]. The closet to me is the Psalms. When I enter the Psalms I meet with Jesus. I guess I could say that of the whole Bible. The Bible to me is where I enter into the presence of God and I hear his voice, and so I pray the Bible back to the Lord.
Please outline the Army’s mission and explain how it is relevant and valid around the world today.
Well, everybody seems to quote Retired General John Gowans and I, too, think he captured the mission of The Salvation Army in his phrase ‘Save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity’.
Salvationists seem to know instinctively that the Army was raised up by God to connect people to Jesus. They also know that we believe that people can be holy now, that they can be Christlike. It’s in our DNA to serve. So that is the mission of the Army and those are the guideposts for us.
How is it relevant? Well, the world needs Jesus – that’s pretty relevant, isn’t it? The ills of mankind are not going to be addressed by any other means, except through the Cross of Christ. When we talk about the relevance of holiness, this world needs to see that the people of God make holiness believable. It needs to see authentic, deep Christians who live out the life of Jesus and do not just talk about it.
There is suffering humanity – all we have to do is watch television on any given night or look around our communities and say ‘We need Christians with their sleeves rolled up’.
How is The Salvation Army distinctive from other Christian denominations, missions and movements?
I have often felt that our name not only identifies us but also tells us what our mission is. I love the fact that our very name is Salvation, and for the Salvationist that salvation means everything. It means salvation from sin, it means a full salvation that invites us to holy living. It is salvation for the whole person. This salvation moves us to address human need and to do so in his name. We are known for serving suffering humanity.
We are also an ‘Army’, which reflects mobility, flexibility, discipline, active service. That’s distinctive.
Our symbols are distinctive and our worship is often very spontaneous – as it should be. I love the Salvation Army testimony period and where it has been lost it needs to be revived, because we are in a day and age that loves to share and hear stories.
I think our Mercy Seat is brilliant – and I don’t mean to be sacrilegious in saying that! There is something about being in worship and knowing that the Word of Christ, when proclaimed, can be responded to then and there. To me there’s always something special about kneeling before God in front of the community of faith. It’s not just coming to the Lord, believing he meets us there. You know you are surrounded by people who have seen your commitment, and that they also covenant to pray for you.
I truly believe in our stand on the sacraments. The Lord needs some part of the Church to prove that you don’t need ceremonies to be truly saved, committed and Christlike. That in no way is a negative comment about how other people view the sacraments, not at all. The Lord has brought us all up with different views of things, and I feel the Army’s teaching is sound. It’s a wonderful prophetic witness.
Is it important for people who worship at the Army to commit to junior soldiership, soldiership and local officership/leadership?
I am absolutely convinced we have to be asking people to step up and sign up. I often use that phrase. Jesus called people to radical discipleship and in The Salvation Army that is soldiership and officership.
We need to be asking people not just to be members of the Army. I don’t see soldiership as membership or officership as professional clergy. Our people must believe the Army was raised up by God to be at war against anything that limits the human spirit or keeps it in bondage. We need a fighting force, and soldiership and officership are that for me.
Why are more officers needed?
Officers are not better than anybody else – we need to be clear about that. Officership by its nature is about availability and mobility. In a worldwide Salvation Army we need people who are prepared to serve anywhere and be of service to the cause of Christ, with all their gifts. We need people who are available.
So the more officers the better! We need officers who see this not as a profession in a secular sense but as sacrificial service. Officership needs to underscore sacrifice.
Are gift-oriented ministry appointments practical for all officers? If so, how can this be achieved? If not, what are the barriers?
I do believe in gift-oriented ministry appointments, but I would have to be honest with you – I have been given appointments where not just the gifts I had were needed. They were requiring of me something else that I didn’t feel gifted for.
I believe the Lord honours obedience. When he called me to officership, I just had to say: ‘You have all there is of me.’ If he asks something of me he will grace me for the task.
In my earlier officership no one would have thought I had a gift of administration, but I kept getting administrative appointments. I never stopped preaching, I never stopped teaching and I never stopped relating to people. They were my gifts, but I had to rise up to the challenge of administration. The last gift test I took, lo and behold!.. I had the gift of administration!
God has gifted us and we need to be available to use our gifts. I would never minimise that, but I sometimes wonder if we put more stress on gift-oriented ministry than we do on obedience.
Again, if we obey the Lord Jesus Christ and he asks us to rise to a challenge, we have to believe that there will be grace to rise to that challenge.
What are some of the strengths of the Army worldwide?
Our name, because we are known in most places and are found trustworthy. Trustworthiness is a huge part of what makes us effective. People trust us and we never want to lose that.
Another strength of the Army, I believe, is its mission, which is so clearly defined. You would be hard pressed to find a Salvationist who did not know the mission. There is something about being very clear about our purpose that makes The Salvation Army as effective as it is.
Our visibility is also a strength. People recognise our uniforms and logos.
We have a long history yet we are known in society as an organisation that is able to change its methods to relate to each generation while holding true to its essential principles. We must continue to do this, to be adaptable and flexible but principled.
How can the Army use these strengths to lovingly introduce people to Jesus Christ?
Because we are trustworthy, the Army does have an entrance point in people’s lives. There is a graciousness about evangelism that the Army must have. We have so many open doors of opportunity through our service to suffering humanity We can touch people’s lives, not just to help with their social needs, but to reach into the deep recesses of their hearts with the good news of Jesus. This means that we need to pray for such opportunities and then when they come, to take advantage of them with grace and clarity.
What will be the main challenges facing you as General?
It is a challenge to serve in a very complex world without losing sight of our mission. We must also serve in a secular world and never be ashamed of Jesus. Both will take courage, wisdom and grace.
And for the Army, would they be the same sort of challenges?
Yes! We are all called to serve the present age. Sometimes we use the term relevance. Well, relevance is fine as long as we don’t mean compromise. While serving the present age, there are some things that we could never compromise. The primary one is the universal saviourhood of Jesus. He is the only Saviour and we must never compromise our stand on the gospel.
Please comment on the importance of bringing children to personal faith in Jesus Christ? What specific plans do you have in mind regarding the spiritual nurture of children?
This is a passion for me and it’s not just about spiritual nurture. I am passionate about bringing children to Jesus. I guess I served in the years when we had the Sunday School Movement and the Bus Ministries and the big Sunday Schools – and it seems to have died out.
I am surprised at how many corps don’t have youth or children’s ministries. The Salvation Army needs to focus on reaching children for Jesus.
There are children in dysfunctional homes, there are children in violent neighbourhoods, there are children who will grow up without the gospel at all. The Salvation Army needs to make reaching children for Jesus and training them up in the faith one of its main priorities. This will be a major focus of my ministry.
How do you hope to use the latest technology in communicating with the worldwide Army? A question has been asked already: Are we going to have a blog?
I like using technology actually – I just love it! We need to explore every means to use technology to best advantage in order to fulfil our mission to the world.
As for a blog – again, for me it would be a matter of finding the time. But more importantly, I hope to visit and travel frequently, and I know from experience that in many parts of the Army world, it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to get on-line. But the Office of the General will require me to communicate by every means possible. I will do that. For many, they will expect to hear of these travels through a blog. Others will welcome regular electronic letters. But best of all is face-to-face contact and travelling will give lots of opportunity for this.
What do you imagine or hope The Salvation Army will be like at the end of your term as General? In what ways might it be different to what it is like today?
I don’t really have a good answer for that, as I haven’t even started yet! All I know is I am committed to uplift the name of Jesus. I am absolutely confident that when we do that, the Spirit of God blesses The Salvation Army.
I do believe in revival and pray for it on a regular basis. There has been revival in some places. We have certainly been an Army in renewal.
I have a sense deep in my spirit that God is wanting to do something in the Army, through the Army, that I can’t quite articulate. There is a sense of his Spirit moving me and saying: ‘Keep faith with who I am, keep faith with what I have given the Army to do.’
If at the end of my term, this message has been communicated and the Army’s strong sense of identity and commitment to mission continues to impact society, then he will be pleased. And if he is pleased, that’s what matters most to me.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have to thank The Salvation Army. I’ve had hundreds of messages from all over the world and I am a bit overwhelmed by it all. I want to thank people who offered Scripture – people keep sending me Scripture. People offer congratulations but they also promise prayer support. There is no greater gift that someone can give to me. I need prayer.
I would love to be strong and energetic and healthy and totally committed to what the Lord called me into this position for. I just want to do what he has called me to do.