An Interview with Captain Gary Wilson
Administrator, Suncoast Adult Rehabilitation Center, St. Petersburg, FL
SLD: You became a Salvation Army officer after many years in the military. How did this come about?
Gary: In early 1998 I came to understand that God was calling me to enter full-time ministry. I surrendered to that call in the spring of 1998 and retired from the military that fall to enter ministry. That decision was preceded by an eight year period wherein God allowed me several opportunities to serve in church youth work including three separate stints as a youth director/youth pastor in three different churches. Once the decision to surrender to God’s prompting was made, I began to distribute resumes to churches in Texas. Our specific tie to The Salvation Army came through a longstanding relationship with Lt-Colonel Dick Norris, the ARC Commander in 1998. When he heard what we were doing he asked us to provide a resume’ to him, which we did. The Norris’s and then Captains Don and Marianne Faulkner had been a great support as friends and pastors in those years in Northern Virginia and I valued his review of what I was sending out. Through these connections I was offered a combined chaplaincy and counselor position in the Fort Lauderdale ARC. My Master’s degree in counseling, earned while in the military well prepared me for the counseling facet. The youth work of earlier years and the help of officers like Majors Tom and Ann Louie and Majors Ken and Dawn Luyk were the foundational pieces of my chaplaincy. As I was comfortable working with the soldiers I had known in years past Liz and I found ourselves immediately comfortable with the men of the ARC. While serving at the Fort Lauderdale Center Liz and I became Salvation Army soldiers, Sergeants and finally Auxiliary Captains. My place in the ARC proved to be God’s direction for me – to learn Salvation Army leadership through the ministry of the ARC.
SLD: How did your previous life experience and training contribute to your ministry as an officer?
Gary: After my training at West Point and 20+ years active duty as a United States Army officer I was comfortable with leadership. Mid-way through my military career I switched specialties from Infantry to spend my last ten years working in logistics- managing supplies, overseeing maintenance operations on fleets, and resolving transportation issues. This has been very valuable to my work in the ARC where there are so many logistical issues related to the effective operation of thrift stores, warehouses, residences and other aspects of this work. My master’s degree in counseling was used in the military as a practitioner and teacher. I loved psychology and counseling and how they lent to helping those who worked around you. I believe God was preparing me through the military for my future ministry. I grew up in the church and understood the realities of having a heart divided into the two worlds of a secular lifestyle and an authentic Christian life. I finally came to a place of full commitment to what God wanted for my life.
SLD: What role has mentors played in your maturing as a leader?
Gary: I had good pastors as a young person. In the 1990’s a met a gifted pastor/teacher/mentor in Texas and through him the bible came to life. In our reassignment from Texas to Massachusetts God placed another pastor who was an excellent teacher and peer mentor in my life. God used them to bring authentic change to my life. Great military leaders taught me how to run an organization. When I joined The Salvation Army I learned much from ARC Commanders about leading an ARC. Also, my peers have been good mentors to me.
SLD: How do you resource continued growth in leadership?
Gary: I love to read. My favorite book on leadership is The Training of the Twelve by A.B. Bruce. I have re-read this book and tried to apply what I have learned. I like John Maxwell’s common sense approach, I have studied Robert Greenleaf and others on servant leadership, and most recently have begun to use works by Boa, Drucker, Collins, Kolbe and Lencioni to build up our staff in St. Petersburg, FL . In my reading I look for things I can actually put into practice in my own life and leadership-online articles from various sources like Leadership Excellence; Mutiny on the Bounty, a Case Study; and Building Church Leaders.com also lend to our development as individual and staff leaders. I get energized when I am mentoring and caring for people and connecting with them about having values that will help them. One of my values is to work hard and to do well; realizing I must model the standards I ask others to rise to meet and exceed. Others are counting on me. My father was a good role model of a responsible male; I learned being a good example from my father and applied it extensively in the military and in the ARC. My passion for learning also keeps me going. My present doctoral studies are forcing me to be clear and focused on a particular discipline – and all this in the context of working with people. I have several years of ministry to give and I want to have resources to give back through my leading, mentoring and teaching. I want to keep generating, and not grow stagnant. I want to think, work and speak analytically, yet be understood so others might apply what we discuss. While my appointments may change over time, I want to be a resource to others making my maximum contribution, just as others have pushed me forward and mentored me.
SLD: How do you stay focused spiritually?
Gary: I recharge emotionally and spiritually through personal daily devotion time, preparation for sermons, and opportunities to interact with the guys in bible studies. I get energized in the exchange as the men ask deep questions that I often can’t answer right away. My spiritual hero, besides Jesus Himself, is Jimmy Towers, a basketball-coach-turned-pastor in Texas. I related well to him and learned a great deal from his bible teaching which directly impacted my personal development and style of preaching. My wife and I have adopted a life verse from I Thessalonians 2:8 (…we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well). It is vital for us to have a heart for the men we serve and lead. This is a family affair – to show love to those we lead so that they will have hope that comes from knowing the love of God. Today I am reminded to fight on daily by I Thessalonians 3:13…don’t grow tired of doing what is right.