I've been thinking recently about the place and value of specialist knowledge in The Salvation Army. It seems to me that sometimes it's difficult to find the right place for expertise in our structures. How can we better demonstrate the value of expertise and experience in particular subject areas? I think there are two areas of challenge to consider in relation to this question:
Firstly, our hierarchical organisation places inherent value upon officers and more specifically on officers with good generalist skills and the ability to adapt to new circumstances. Because officers move from place to place on a reasonably regular basis, and because each appointment has (sometimes dramatically) different expectations and demands, the 'best' officers are those that can do a bit of everything. It's much more useful to have wide rather than deep experience as an officer. The higher up you go, the more diverse responsibilities you have, the more your generalist, 'jack of all trades' experience assists you to fulfill your role. Officers who 'pigeon-hole' themselves into particular areas of interest or skill can end up restricting their scope of ministry (though sometimes this is their intention!). Yet, it seems to me that we often don't know what to do with the expertise that these officers have developed. Their knowledge and understanding is always filtered through the lens of the generalists, sometimes at multiple levels. What we do with the expertise of our employees, soldiers and volunteers presents an even greater challenge.
Secondly, it seems to me that we can be suprisingly democratic when it comes to the value of knowledge and education. I realise that I'm potentially putting myself under fire here as some kind of academic snob but I'm becoming increasingly aware of the times when all opinions on a matter are valued equally despite the fact that one may be based on a gut feeling, ignorance or prejudice and another may be based on years of study, experience and research. To be fully honest, depending on where these various opinions fit into our hierarchical structures they may not even be valued equally. I want to be clear about this - I don't think that education is the only way to understanding, nor does it necessarily always lead to the right answers. There are lots of smart people with little education and lots of highly educated people that seem to say and do plenty of dumb things (myself included at times). However, I can't help but wonder if we hold all opinions equally why anyone would bother pursuing any education at all? Surely there are benefits to delving deeply into subject matter for both the individual, their ministry and our movement as a whole?
How can we better use and value our subject matter experts?