It was dark and late at night. A light breeze whisked by which felt refreshing on a warm July night. There I was, in my uniform, armed with my rifle, and guarding the flightline. The land around the base was pretty flat so I could see pretty far off in every direction. Against the background of the black night sky, I could see bright colorful fireworks bursting in the air. It was July 4th and several towns around the base were celebrating. On the most patriotic night of the year I was surrounded by multiple celebrations in the distance while doing my job and serving my country. It was one of those moments that you just want to soak in. I couldn’t believe how blessed I was to be born in America, and to be serving in the military. It’s a moment that I won’t ever forget.
Serving in the miltary taught me a lot. I was a medic in the Air Force and I spent one year augmenting on a Security Forces detail. Both experiences were pricelss. The lessons I learned about life and leadership couldn’t have been learned anywhere else or in any other way. The military knows how to train leaders. It knows how to prepare you to survive worst case scenarios and how to guide others to do the same. It took me a while to understand that a lot of those lessons could also be applied to my ministry. The military and ministry may seem worlds apart at times, but there are some valuable ministry lessons that I took away from my experience in the military.
I’m going to attempt to pass on some of those lessons to you. Nothing will replace experiecne as the ultimate teacher. Hopefully my experiences and knowledge will help you see things in your own ministry in a new light.
Prepare to Sacrifice
There are a lot of reasons young men and women join the military. The benefits can seem appealing from the outside. Free college, free travel, free training, and a decent paycheck right out of high school. Those alone could motivate some to sign their name on that dotted line. If those are the only reasons someone joins, they’ll be sorry. They’ll be poor at their job and miserable until they get out. There has to be a greater purpose. You have to want to serve others. There has to be a desire to fight for those that can’t fight for themselves.
In the military you will be called to sacrifice something at some point. Many pay the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. Some sacrifice their limbs and minds. Other sacrifices don’t seem as extreme in comparison. Things like time away from loved ones, consistent late nights, no holidays off, putting education on hold, working hard when you don’t feel like it, physical training, and more are still sacrifices that you have to make in the military. Having a greater purpose makes those sacrifices seems more tolerable and sometimes even worth it.
Ministry will also call you to sacrifice. Some ministers have absolutely made the sacrifice with their lives. Most of us in the United States don’t have to worry about that kind of sacrifice. We live in the comfort and safety of our communities and churches. Unfortunately there are a lot of ministers who avoid sacrifice. They refuse to minister outside of their set office hours. There are pastors who will only do hospital visits on specific days regardless of what happens to members of their flock. Benefit packages become a primary means for recruiting new flashy pastors. Doing ministry in the trenches, in real life, with real people who are really hurting seems to be a lost art. To minister the way that Jesus calls us to minister will cause you to sacrifice. You need to know that and be prepared for it. I recommend finding an old “retired” country pastor and spending some quality time with them. Let them teach you what real ministry looks like.
Take Care of You
The next lesson is to take care of yourself first. This sounds like I’m contradicting my last point, but I’m not at all. The military requires their personnel to maintain strict standards in fitness, mental health, and other areas of readiness. They want to make sure that if you get into a tough situation, you’re going to be able to contribute and not become a liability. The only way to increase your chances of helping is by taking care of yourself first. They used to tell us that we needed to be “fit to fight.” PT (physical training) is a regular thing throughout the week. Annual physicals and other tests are a priority. As a member of the military, you have to own this. They can’t do it for you. If you’re overweight, or hypertensive, you need to change your diets and routines. Those who don’t take care of themselves will eventually find themselves kicked out. You can’t serve others if you’re not fit to fight.
As a minister you have to be fit as well. I’m not saying that you have to be able to run a marathon or look like a model on the cover of a fitness magazine. In fact, physical fitness is a small part of our overall fitness. We have to be concerned with our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness.
I’ll be honest. After the military, I let myself go physically. It’s been hard to try to get back into shape. It’s been hard to to build the necessary routines in my life and I still have a long way to go to get there. There’s also no one there to grade me or judge me on how well I’m doing. We all need to find out what physical fitness looks like in our life. My advice is to start small and build.
We also have to make sure that we are emotionally and mentally fit. One way to do this is by making sure that our relationships with family and friends are healthy and strong. Another way is to try and learn new things. Many people have experienced benefits from consistent journaling.
The biggest step in emotional and mental health is the step that no one wants to take. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional counseling or therapy if needed. Many ministers suffer from things like depression for years without getting the help they need. When we aren’t emotionally and mentally fit our congregations and our families suffer because we cannot be the pastor that we need to be and we cannot be what our family needs either.
I hope that these two lessons help you in your ministry. I pray that God uses them to bless you as much as they have been a blessing to me. There are more lessons to come in this series. Stay tuned. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn to make sure that you don’t miss out on what’s coming next.