I fondly remember growing up and listening to my father and both of my grandfathers as they preached against sin, heaven, hell, and God’s judgment most every Sunday. Yet I never heard a word about our military families, and Vietnam was in session. Now that I’ve grown up, my father has retired, and my grandfathers are deceased, I find myself preaching every Sunday to a very interesting and changing congregation, that of an Air Force chapel family.
Pastor, who sits in your congregation every Sunday? Even if you pastor a rural church as a bi-vocational pastor and you know all your parishioners by name, do they have military relatives who are fighting terrorism or have died fighting for the sake of freedom? What about our megachurch pastors who may not know all their members by name, much less, what their occupation is – did you have any visiting military members last Sunday in your pews? I am quite sure someone from the military has visited your church within the past year, or at least since September 11, 2001, when terrorist hit us, and hit us hard!
Read carefully the following versus of Scripture as it relates to our congregation and those in our charge:
Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds. (Proverbs 27:3)
As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. (Ezekiel 34:12)
Several questions must be asked: 1) What is the condition of your flock? 2) How well are you paying attention to your flock? 3) How do you care for them? and 4) Were there any military in your congregation that are no longer there (scattered) because you did not care for them? These questions may elicit several responses. One may be that of embarrassment – “I don’t know the true state of my flock.” Trying to keep in touch with our congregants can be a tiring matter, often non-rewarding, frustrating, and sometimes the thought of quitting does surface. This is not an article on “how to” or “why” you should stay in the ministry but one that will give you a few ways to keep up with your military visitors and to preach to their needs.
Welcoming military families
Allow me to share one area of your church ministry that will have significant impact on any military member that visits your church. If you have not done so already, simply add the following to your visitor welcome card and you will strike gold! Military families have unique challenges that I will address later, but upon reading that they are welcomed and recognized via a card, you now have their attention. The below is a simply a suggested format.
Are you in the military? Yes / no
If yes, how may we maintain contact with you?
Home / work email:
How can we pray for you?
If you are deploying and have any family member(s) staying behind, may we contact them and offer support as needed? Yes / no
I have yet to attend any church that has this or any thing similar handed out to the military visitor. Recently I visited a megachurch in a large metropolitan city that has a sizable military installation on its doorstep, and there was no military welcome whatsoever, either verbally or by card. I was shocked! If your church incorporates the military into your welcome or through a visitor card, then you are a forward-leaning church and you are to be commended!
Once the military visitor realizes that your church is broad in reaching out to all who enter its doors, you probably have their attention at this point. Allow me to share two crucial areas of your ministry that are extremely important for military members, that of prayer and preaching.
Praying for military families
Prayer is vital to the military family in many ways. First and foremost is that they covet our prayers of protection, support and safety. When you do pray, begin your prayer with those military families in your church, then extend it to the community of military members, and then to all our military families worldwide. Pray specifically for troops who are deployed and those who are in harms way, and pray for those families who have lost loved ones, even if no one in your congregation has experienced this. Just the hearing of these words will instantly bond military families and your prayer may have a greater impact then your sermon! Intentionally pray for military families, especially during this day and time. Read carefully the words of King Hezekiah as found in 2 Chronicles 32:5-8:
And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, and built another outside wall and strengthened the Millo in the city of David, and made weapons and shields in great number. He appointed military officers over the people and gathered them to him in the square at the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
Pastors, this is what our military families need, an encouraging welcome and prayer targeted just for them! Hezekiah was one of the best kings who ever sat upon the throne of Judah, and if a king prays for the troops, more so should we pastors. Military families stay on the edge because they do not know when a son, a daughter, dad, or even a close friend will be called to arms, so your prayers on their behalf are crucial. Tell them to be strong and courageous, and to not be dismayed! In addition, reassure them that the Lord our God will help them to fight their battles.
Preaching to military families
The Apostle Paul exhorts us in 2 Timothy 4:2 to “preach the word.” To whom are you preaching the Word? Are you preaching to your entire congregation or just to a few attendees? So often pastors become engrossed in certain preaching topics and targets and miss the bull’s eye. A bunker-busting bomb has a certain target in mind, and so should your message. One example would be the intention to take out an airfield but not to hit the planes on the airfield that carry the bombs. Be sure your message hits the right target!
Allow me to share a few helpful preaching suggestions when you know that your church has military families:
Military families need to hear of the peace of Christ due to increased deployments and the uncertainty that their loved ones may not return home alive. Their hearts need to experience the peace that only Christ gives.
Military families need encouragement! The military family is constantly being asked to give and give, to go and go, to move here and there, and they just get tired, but they serve us with honor! Pastor, please speak words of encouragement to them.
Military families need to hear a sense of purpose in what they are doing. Yes, they do receive pep talks from commanders, supervisors and others in their chain of command, but offering them a bible-based sense of purpose as a military member will greatly further their cause. The Old Testament has some wonderful passages supporting purpose within the military.
If implemented, the above-mentioned suggestions will do wonders for your congregational military families, and will enhance the fellowship of your church as it reaches out to the entire body of Christ.
Capt. Robert W. “Bill” Johnson is an active duty chaplain presently assigned to Langley Air Force Base, VA. His previous assignments have been in Florida, Virginia, DC, and Korea.