For Military, Church Becomes Family | September 2012 Article from The Front Lines column by Lt. Col. Allen R. Roberts, United States Air Force, Monterey, CA
As we flew over southern Iraq, the weather was clear and seemed as though we could see for a million miles. I was number three in our formation of four, single-engine, single-cockpit F-16s as we patrolled the no-fly zone, just like we had done for weeks prior. Without warning, the enemy started firing anti-aircraft artillery at us, exploding above, in front, and below us in large black clouds. I was startled because I’d never been shot at before, but my training kicked in and we quickly moved off to another area to report the incident. It was after that flight I realized, as a relatively new believer, that this was serious.
After we landed, debriefed, and had a bite to eat, I was in my bunk thinking about what would happen if I were shot down and captured. This wasn’t a new thought for me, but as a newly saved Christian, I had a new perspective. I realized very quickly that the little Bible I carried with me in the pocket of my flight suit would be the first thing the enemy would take if given the chance. Carrying a Bible was a freedom I had taken for granted and God began to convict me about memorizing Scripture, which I started immediately. I said, “They might be able to take the Bible out of my flight suit, but they won’t get it out of my heart!”
You might be saying, “That’s a nice story, but what does it have to do with military outreach?” My answer is simple—I was given that little Bible as an outreach from my church. Before I was saved at that same church, I probably wouldn’t have given a thought about the things of God until it was too late, either in a POW camp or in Hell. But it was the outreach of a local church that God used as His instrument to encourage me to live the Christian life.
I’m humbled that God has allowed my family to serve in churches around the world. We have been members of nine churches in 20 years, which is slightly higher than the average military member who moves every three years. In addition to these nine churches, I’ve visited literally dozens of churches as the military has sent me on temporary duty (TDY) assignments. What a thrill and privilege to meet believers from every corner of God’s creation!
Whether you have a “military church” or a “church with military,” the mission is the same. However, over the years we’ve experienced an interesting phenomenon where we are kept at arm’s length from the start. Most everyone is friendly, but friendliness falls far short of real outreach. If I may, I’d like to offer three simple, yet surprisingly familiar, ways to reach out to military families.
Visit—If a military family visits your church, they are worthy of a visit from the pastor. When they make the decision to visit your church, they are already making a commitment whether they end up joining or not. Military members are used to making commitments and acting on them. But when we act, we need a response from those to whom we are making the commitment. If you can’t get on the installation, call or email the visitors and ask them to meet you for coffee. Trust me, the call will be impressive all by itself! Compared to the cost of serving our nation, what does a visit cost you?
Fellowship—Other than spouses and children, most of us are away from our families and have been for some time. Our parents and siblings would love to spend a little time with us, but often we don’t see them for years on end. They understand this, but it thrills their hearts when we tell them our friends from church asked us to fellowship with them! The local church becomes our family, so it is your opportunity to invite the military to fellowship as you would your own family. Introduce them to your favorite ice cream shop, breakfast place, or coffee house. Have them in your home or just sit and talk with them in the pew after church. Any fellowship will go a long way to reaching them.
Challenge—Military members love a challenge and there is no greater challenge today than to live as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world!” If you are faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God without compromise, people will be challenged and you will soon see the military folks stepping up to take that challenge. What’s the blessing? You get to watch them grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!
1 John 3:18 says, My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. I’m always humbled when someone stops me to say, “Thank you for your service.” I believe they’re sincere and my response is the same every time, “It is truly an honor.” Freedom is worthy of our defense and God has allowed us to love our country through service. If you would like to have a military outreach, whether they stay for a while or not, I challenge you to love your military through action! They love you enough to defend your freedom to worship God freely—thank them by loving them back!