Danielle Strickland’s Boundless Ministry
In 2018, she appeared on stage in front of a live audience of about 7,000 people. Danielle Strickland was one of several speakers at the annual Global Leadership Summit (GLS), the world’s largest leadership conference. Because it is also accessible by any location with internet service, thousands more watched via livestream as she thoughtfully paced the massive stage or stood behind its plexiglass podium at the Willow Creek Community Church Worship Center.
It was the year Bill Hybels, pastor of the Chicago–based church and founder of the Summit and its network, resigned amid allegations that he had sexually harassed members of his own staff. His departure came just weeks before the Summit would broadcast around the world.
“I was asked to speak at the Summit,” recalls Strickland. “It was at the height of the Hybels scandal; lots of pressure, things going on. They asked me if I might speak on how men and women could work better together. We were also in the midst of the #MeToo movement, specifically. So, I really felt like God gave me a word that was hopeful and faith–filled instead of fear–based.
“I had 27 minutes to address an issue that was raging, and I had only a few weeks to prepare.” Fortunately, Strickland was prayed up for the task. “I had been in prayer before they called me. I had an inclination from God that I should be ready. It was a beautiful combination of opportunity and inspiration. Basically, I did a lot of research. That 27 minutes was jampacked with a lot of things I thought needed to be said.”
Parts of her speech dealt with the topics of oppression as it relates to gender inequality; the scourge of pornography and its effects on the spirit; as well as a discussion about the perils of power in the workplace.
“This year, I’m hosting all their ‘GLS Next’ events, which are geared to leaders around the world and streamed live,” said Strickland in an exclusive interview with SACONNECTS magazine. “I’ll also do some TV on my new book, Better Together. There’s a video teaching series and I do an online course.”
Embracing God’s family
For Strickland, such topics land close to home. Her personal story of struggle, rebellion, repentance, reconciliation, and renewed purpose causes her messages to resonate and reach hearts beyond the four walls of megachurch worship centers and global internet live-streams. “Before my parents became Salvation Army officers, they were both vulnerable orphans who were rescued by the Army in Eastern Canada. My mom was a foster kid and my dad had been sold illegally as a baby.
“People from the Army had been knocking on neighborhood doors, looking for kids and found them separately. My parents eventually found each other at a music camp program. They married at 17 and 18 and then went to training college to become officers. They had no family, so The Salvation Army became our family; it was almost like a grandparent, in a way. So, for me, the Army is a kind of a tribe; in a weird way, we belong to these people.”
In the process of growing up, Danielle experienced a lot of emotional pain. Rebellion became her response. “Eventually, I left my home, I left the Army, and I left God,” she recalls. “I didn’t really get God, you know.”
Strickland’s journey included frequent and excruciating transitions. How did she come to define herself in a world she believed was bent on defining her? “In my life, I came to the point where I tried to define myself but fell for all the classic lies of the enemy. I thought that rebellion was freedom, but I got caught up in drugs and crime.
Feeling God’s presence
“In 1990 I was 17 when I ended up in jail in Toronto. A Salvation Army chaplain came to visit me. Her name was Joyce Ellery. She just gave me a big hug and told me she loved me. She didn’t give me any lectures; nothing else. That was it. She just left.
“Maybe it was because I wasn’t receptive; I was cold. ‘You know, you didn’t even bring me a smoke,’ I said to her. But when she left my holding cell and the door closed, it was just me, alone.
“Then I felt the presence of Jesus come into my cell and do the same thing that Joyce had done. That’s really when something woke up inside of me. I thought, What am I doing? This isn’t freedom.
“I had thought God was perpetually disappointed in my behavior. But I realized that God was for me, not against me. At that moment, I changed direction. Just as fast as I had been headed to hell, I was now headed toward the Kingdom. Just the idea of life being bigger than me was a fantastic salvation moment. This isn’t even just about what God can do for me; it’s about what God wants to do for others through me.”
When I got out of jail, I went to a Salvation Army drug treatment center. After that, I went to Africa, I went to Germany, and I volunteered on a street outreach van in downtown Toronto. I just went from mission to mission to mission.
From Malawi to Moscow
“Then, I just kinda got it; got sort of hooked on this idea that I could serve God around the world. I went to Malawi with an interdenominational mission team. I spent a year in Moscow when The Salvation Army returned to Russia in 1992 under General Eva Burrows. I volunteered for a year. It was a remarkable time.”
Danielle later met Stephen Court while serving soup to the homeless in downtown Toronto. They later married and enrolled in the training college. “I think most of my officership had been about creating new things; going to new cities, making new corps plants, new discipleship training schools, new justice departments. Somewhat off the traditional path, but I loved all of it.”
Some listeners in Strickland’s audiences are surprised to learn of her association with The Salvation Army. “Is The Salvation Army a church?” many ask. Sure, they know it as a first responder to natural and man–made disasters, a provider of social services to the poor, a chain of thrift stores for the middle and working class, and a network of rehab centers for substance misusers, but a church too?
“I think that’s a symptom of us not getting out much,” said Strickland. “So, if they never meet a Salvation Army church member or never meet a soldier, they don’t know that’s also what we do and who we are. So, I think a lot of Christians are genuinely surprised. When I share my experience as a church planter within The Salvation Army, people will be like, ‘What?’ I call The Salvation Army one of the best kept Christian secrets.”
Strickland typically finds people are genuinely interested in knowing more about the Army. Their curiosity offers her a door of opportunity to speak freely. “They say, ‘Tell me more.’ They want to know how it actually works. Nobody feels strongly against the Army about anything. That’s good. We represent neutrality in the midst of diversity, and we are a great gift to the body in that way, if we would use it in our service to the poor.”
Mobilizing the Church
In the year 2020, Strickland is laser–focused on mobilizing, bringing down boundaries, and making a difference in the lives of seemingly voiceless and invisible people. “I feel like we’re living in a time when God wants to mobilize the entire Church, not just a specific one. I really feel God is saying, ‘Hey, all these things, like social justice and women’s rights, are for everyone; for the whole Church.’
“I feel a lot of hunger from different churches. They’re saying ‘Would you teach us? Would you help us? We want to do this, but we don’t know how.’ So, all these things that I’m involved in are mobilization strategies. They’re all action–based strategies that churches or communities or organizations can use to disciple others to get the Kingdom to come to earth.
“When we limit ourselves, when we put the boundaries on a little too tight, we don’t allow people the freedom to use some of their gifts for the larger body. Certainly, that’s been the case in my life. It kind of came to a head when it was impossible to say ‘yes’ to what I felt God was calling me to and where the opportunities were to speak and to collaborate with other kingdom–minded people and to be an officer at the same time.
“I’ve come full circle, back to Toronto, the place where my journey began,” she reflects. “When I was an officer, being a speaker was always something I did on the side for fun. I loved doing it. I loved those moments when I could see people come alive with a new knowledge of the Truth of God Himself.”
Whatever boundary Strickland throws her hat over from here, one thing is certain, God’s truth will meet her there on the other side.
by Warren L. Maye