Robert A. Watson is a former National Commander of the Salvation Army and the author of the recent book "The Most Effective Organization in the U.S.: Leadership Secrets of the Salvation Army." Before retiring, Watson served as a Salvation Army officer for 44 years.

What do you think are the main qualities that make the Salvation Army so effective?
I think it is because--and we have been around since 1865, though I acknowledge that longevity is not necessarily effectiveness--we're mission-driven. This huge infrastructure we have across the United States to deliver services to literally every zip code, through more than 9,000 centers and units of operation--that infrastructure has to support the mission. Not only services to people, but with a spiritual tone and quality. We're both a church and a social services organization.

What do you define as your mission?
Our mission succinctly stated is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination. Now, as soon as you use a phrase like "preach the gospel of Jesus Christ," there's some people who almost have a panic attack. Their definition of preaching is bible thumping or stuffing religion down the throats of people. That's not our style, and it's not the New Testament model of Jesus himself. And it's certainly not the Good Samaritan model in the New Testament. True faith in Christ in our case needs to contain the elements of both serving and proclaiming the gospel, but that proclaiming is sometimes in a quiet influence kind of way. We make no apology for that being part of us. The social services and the faith part are so integrated you really can't tell where the line is.

Is conversion to Christianity ever a factor for the people that you serve?
It is our hope and prayer that people whose lives we touch will come to know Jesus, but that never is a prerequisite for serving people. We serve people without discrimination, regardless of faith, or no faith at all. It's all on the basis of need and our resources to meet those needs. We try and respond to those needs from our own missional perspective.

There have been a lot of articles praising the work of the Army after September 11th. Were you involved in the relief effort? Is there any particular aspect you're especially proud of?
I wasn't involved personally. I was stuck in LaGuardia Airport.

People gave themselves totally around the clock. Grief counseling, serving meals around the clock. We served over two million meals in the first six weeks. We provided grief counseling to over 55 million people.

How do you think ordinary Americans can do better at incorporating service into their daily lives?
I think we're seeing demonstrations of that all around us now. People have contributed their money in unprecedented ways following September 11. But they want to go beyond that. We saw people show up in Lower Manhattan having driven across the country for two or three days just to say, "Here I am, I'll do anything you want me to do." I think we're seeing in outstanding numbers a generosity of spirit for which America's been known. People had no idea how deep and how strong that is. It's more than patriotism, it's the desire to help others around them.

Why do you think it takes a great disaster like September 11 to make people more service-oriented?
There was much of that there before. Philanthropic giving was without precedent. It had been up, but then we saw a spike on the charts. I think our nation and perhaps the world have been jarred to take a new look at what really counts, at what is important in life. I think they have new appreciation for the freedoms we have in this country. I think people are giving more careful consideration to their relationship with God. I think the things that count beyond this life and beyond the instant pleasure of the moment, which seems to be so pervasive in our society-I think people are reconsidering a lot of that. As tragic as the events of September 11th were and are, there can be some good come of it, if we act on those responses and those impulses.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad