Thriving in Such a Time
Christian Leadership Alliance President and CEO Tami Heim recently interviewed Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, National Commander for The Salvation Army, USA. They explored together the "Thrive" theme of this edition of Outcomes.
Commissioner Hodder is the sixth generation from his family to serve in The Salvation Army. He is a graduate of Harvard College (A.B. magna cum laude, 1980) and Harvard Law School (J.D., 1983).
In 1986, after several years in the practice of corporate and real estate law, Commissioner Hodder and his wife, Commissioner Jolene K. Hodder, responded to God’s call to service as Salvation Army officers. Commissioned in 1988, they served in corps appointments in Glendale and Torrance, California, as instructors at the School for Officers Training, and later as staff officers at USA Western Territorial Headquarters. They also served in divisional leadership roles in both Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.
Commissioner Hodder was appointed in March, 2006 to serve as Chief Secretary in the Kenya Territory, where he had primary operational responsibility for the creation of two Salvation Army territories. Three years later, the Hodder’s were appointed to International Headquarters in London, where Commissioner Kenneth Hodder served in dual roles as International Secretary for Personnel and as Legal and Constitutional Adviser to the General. They were subsequently appointed in 2013 to lead the Kenya West Territory, from which they returned in Jan. of 2017 to lead the USA Western Territory. Commissioner Hodder was appointed as National Commander of The Salvation Army on July 1, 2020.
Commissioner Hodder serves as a member of the board of directors for Christian Leadership Alliance. The Salvation Army is a Platinum level member of the Alliance.
What do you view as the key to thriving in Christian leadership?
I have always thought that a Christian leader will thrive to the degree that he or she remembers that the goal is not success, but faithfulness. We can consult and strategize and implement all we want. God certainly asks us to be wise and discerning. But ultimately, our plans are subsidiary to the Lord’s, and the more we remain conscious of that, the more open we will be to his direction. So I believe that placing faithfulness above any notion of success keeps us focused on the right things, takes an enormous burden off the leader’s shoulders, and allows others to make their unique contribution.
You stepped in as National Commander in the middle of 2020. How did you see thriving despite the tumultuous challenges facing our nation and world?
The challenges were vast. For example, as the largest non-governmental provider of social services in the nation, The Salvation Army normally serves approximately about one million meals a week. But last year, we served more than 150 million meals between March and September alone. And at Christmas, the number of people seeking food, utilities, and toys rose from about 2.4 million in 2019 to well over six million. So the increase in physical need was quite substantial.
In addition to that, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking emotional and spiritual support. Loneliness, fear, and even despair were common features of the conversations that we had with those coming to us. They needed love, hope and kindness.
I’m absolutely convinced that what got us through it all was a strict adherence to our Mission Statement, which says that we exist “to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” For us, it’s not just physical needs. And it’s not just spiritual needs. It’s the integrated mission to address both that that keeps us focused on the whole person.
That’s vital, because when you see another person as more than simply a client, when you understand them as someone fashioned in the image of God and loved unconditionally by him, it energizes you to care for and serve them at a far deeper level.
What most inspired you in how The Salvation Army stepped up to serve in this challenging season? What encourages you as you look to the future?
I was constantly inspired by the commitment and creativity of our officers, employees and volunteers. They never stopped.
I remember being particularly struck by a t-shirt that had been designed by one of our local units. All of their staff and volunteers were wearing it. It showed The Salvation Army shield and said, “The Church has left the building.” That’s precisely what the Army is, and I couldn’t have been more proud. It’s that kind of spirit that gives me full confidence in the Army’s ability to thrive in the days to come.
For you, what has been the most challenging aspect of leading in this time?
Without question, restrictions on human contact and interaction have been the most difficult thing for me. Of course, I understand the need for those limitations, and I’m grateful for the technology that allows us to stay in touch with one another. But ministry is most powerful when it is personal – eye contact, the reading of body language, a firm handshake, placing your hand on the shoulder of someone in need. I’m very much looking forward to the day when we can once again use all of our senses in our work.
As a leader, how have you tended to your own soul and walk with the Lord to thrive in this season?
I’ve spent a great deal of time focusing on the concept of God’s love. For example, when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 about the primacy of love in the life of the believer, he was saying that whatever obstacles lie before you, whatever challenges you might face, love will never fail. So whatever the current circumstances might force us to change in terms of goals or methodologies, and no matter what the limitations on our work might be, we can’t go wrong if love remains our guiding principle.
In a way, this is an extension of the old adage that, if you love your people, they will forgive everything else – your poor preaching, your miserable business skills, even your disheveled appearance. People will always follow a leader who they believe loves them.
That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time thanking God for the fact that, despite all my faults and all the mistakes I’ve made in the midst of this pandemic, he still loves me. And I keep trying to find ways to show that same kind of love to others.
What encouragement would you offer other ministry leaders on thriving today?
I’d like to suggest that you not view the pandemic as an interruption to your ministry. It’s not something to be overcome in order to do what God has called you to do. There’s been no mistake. To the contrary, the Lord planned from the outset that you would be where you are and doing what you’re doing at this precise moment in time. He called you when he did so that you would be perfectly positioned for this crisis. He knows who you are, and he knows what you are capable of. And above all, his promise to use you for his glory is no less powerful or true today than it was a year ago.
I do not doubt for a moment that the Lord is now saying to every Christian leader the same thing that Mordecai said to Esther: “For such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
Learn more at www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn
Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, National Commander of The Salvation Army, USA, will serve as a main stage general session presenter during The Outcomes Conference 2021, June 15-17 in Orlando. Register to attend!
Learn More about this presenter on CLATV: Experience a Podcast Episode featuring Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder.