By Jonathan Ransom
In the military everyone is evaluated by their mission readiness and capability. This evaluation happens at both collective unit and individual levels. Every unit, and every person in that unit, is expected to be ready and able to contribute to the overall mission of the military at any given time. In fact, mission in the military is such a big deal that mission accomplishment actually trumps troop welfare. All that to say: Mission readiness and mission accomplishment are big deals in the military. When you plant a church, and seek to make disciples in a military community, you will most likely discover that the people you are working to disciple already speak the language of mission, and, in many cases, are trained and ready to adopt a missional posture, as it relates to living to make Jesus known. As pastors and planters we then have the unique privilege of leading these mission minded young men and women to see that as noble as their mission in the military may be, and as commendable as their personal sacrifices and contributions towards that mission are, there is a mission that is more noble still. There is a mission that is more deserving of their personal sacrifice. While their mission in the military may contribute to the overall good of people around the globe (Romans 13) there is a mission in which they can participate, which God has ordained for His glory and for the ultimate and eternal good of people around the globe. It’s not that God’s church has a mission, as much as the mission of God has a church.
The history of our armed forces is replete with poignant examples powerfully illustrating that any mission worth fighting for is almost always accompanied by great personal sacrifice. The history of the church, and her work to advance the gospel and make disciples over the last 2,000 years is no different. Her mission to know Jesus and make Jesus known moves forward with great personal sacrifice and at great cost. As you plant in mission-minded and mission-postured military communities you will have the great opportunity to teach with your lips and demonstrate with your life what it looks like to live on Jesus’ mission, for His glory, and the good of people. You have the privilege of leading young men and women who are already living lives of sacrifice and are ready to respond to an even greater calling – to see what it looks like to pour your life out for Christ. Jesus poured His life out to obey the will of the Father and secure our redemption. Paul, and others throughout the New Testament, adopted that language and lifestyle as they too poured their lives out to advance the gospel. Now, as we work to regularly rehearse these truths of the gospel with them, the privilege is ours to see God awaken the hearts of another generation who will willingly and gladly pour their lives out.
Band of Brothers
There is something unspeakably powerful about living together on mission. With shared sacrifice, shared suffering and shared pursuit of a mission, comes a relational cohesion and deepening loyalty to each other. Again, most young men and women in the military already speak this language and long for this kind of family – this band of brothers. In fact, many young military members come from families with varying and often devastating levels of brokenness and dysfunction, and have turned to the military in hopes of finding this family. But those hopes in most cases are disappointed, and these hurting men and women are left searching for that family to which they can belong. Here is the beautiful reality: By God’s design the church is not LIKE family. His church IS family. Through the gospel, this family is called to live a life of shared sacrifice, shared suffering, and a shared pursuit of mission. It is a family which offers reconciliation, belonging, loyalty and inseparable bonds. The church, not the military, is the truest band of brothers (and sisters) and is the family where every wandering and weary rebel can find their rest.
Military members move a lot. Because of this dynamic, planting a church in a military town is one of the fastest ways to reveal whether your loyalties belong to God’s kingdom or to your own. You will labor hard to make disciples of Jesus, but most will not remain to help you plant ‘your’ church. Those loyalties will be tested most at the end of your first year when you realize most of your core team has received orders and will be moving. The turnover rate in military towns, and for church plants in these towns, is constant and can be brutal. You’re left with three options. One, don’t plant in a military town. Two, plant in a military town but fight against this cultural reality (not recommend). Three, plant in a military town, fully embrace the constant movement of military members and their families, and leverage that movement as much as you can for the advance of the gospel. Think about it. You have the opportunity to train followers of Jesus to know Him and make Him known wherever they live, and then the military will pay all of these people to move to a new community where they can bless another church plant. When you plant in a military community, the department of defense is essentially offering to fully fund your missions strategy. Don’t fight against it. Rather, embrace this reality for the advance of the gospel, and thank God that planting in a military town, with constant population turnover will keep you humble and completely dependent on His power to build and sustain His church.
Published November 2, 2015