To Battle We Go: Supply Sergeant Syndrome
By: Dr. Steve Kellner
Most of the columns in this series have been about positive aspects of our military services might beneficially apply to The Salvation Army. But not everything about our military services is perfect or should be emulated. We can also learn what not to do.
This is the case with something I have half-jokingly termed “Supply Sergeant Syndrome.” Every unit in the military has a supply sergeant who is responsible for acquiring, maintaining, securely storing and accounting for all the supplies the unit needs to accomplish its mission. Even small units like the division band I started out in require a mountain of supplies to operate—music stands, instruments, sheet music, mouthpieces, valve oil, reeds, drumsticks, staff paper, batons, drum major maces—hundreds of different items in varying quantities. It’s a big job and, to top it all off, the supply sergeant is held accountable for all this equipment. If any of it goes missing, he or she is financially liable.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that supply sergeants begin to think of the supplies they are responsible for as actually belonging to them, and they become stingy about letting the members of the unit use any of it. They prefer to keep everything on the shelves in pristine condition and resent anything that disturbs that perfect order, like issuing supplies or having the troops damage or lose the equipment. They forget that their job is to resource the unit, to say “yes” if possible, to put people before equipment or systems.
Something similar can happen among Salvationists when we become inwardly focused on our own needs and programs. It’s easy to get comfortable with our own little “band of brothers” inside the corps building, and to prefer that our weekly activities hum along undisturbed by outsiders. Those outsiders aren’t familiar with the way we do things and may bring needs we don’t feel equipped to meet, or don’t want to go out of our way to meet. We sometimes prefer to protect our fellowship by shutting others out.
But the Bible is very clear that believers must get out into the world and preach the gospel, and to give a reason for the hope that is in us, which more than implies that we must rub shoulders with those outside of the walls of the church and invite them inside those walls. This is doubly true of a movement like the Army, which didn’t even have church walls when it began.
It’s true that welcoming outsiders into the “supply room” of our fellowship will be disruptive. They will want to use our supplies, and they will probably tear up or lose things on occasion. But it’s our job to resource them both physically and spiritually, to say “yes” to their needs if possible, and to put others before ourselves.
And, after all, what’s a couple of dents in a cornet if it draws a beginner band kid to the Lord?