Ministry Lessons From The Military: Many Hands

There’s a phrase that I heard a lot in the military.¬† This isn’t specifically a military phrase. I had heard this phrase before, but it didn’t start resonating with me until I was in the military. The phrase is, “many hands make light work.” This phrase dates back in the English language to nearly 700 years ago.

From day one in the military, this concept was drilled into our heads. When you join the military, you are part of a collective. You surrender part of your individuality for the benefit of the larger group. You are asked to follow orders even when you don’t feel like it and you are asked to work in teams with people you might never get along with or work with in any other context.


The reason is simple. When a large number of individuals work together for a single purpose, the results are amazing. On a large scale, this is how and why our military exists. This is why it exists in the format that it does. The military isn’t simply a “war machine.” The United States Military also supports tremendous humanitarian aid efforts around the world. An example of this was seen during Ebola breakout in Africa in 2014. The Department of Defense used military resources (mainly military members) to help fight this outbreak.

Using men and women who set aside individuality, accepted personal risk, and chose to follow orders; the DoD was able to set up 10 separate treatment units, train over 1,500 health-workers and support staff, process almost 5,000 lab samples, provided 1.4 million sets of personal protective equipment, spent $25.6 million towards research and development for vaccine research, and more.

Many hands make light work.

Looking Closer

We can look at this from a thousand foot view, but lets bring it in a little closer. One of the things that I trained on over and over and over again was litter carries. A litter is that cot between two poles that they carry wounded people on. We had to train on the proper ways to carry people on those things. And we trained at a ridiculously high level. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some night my wife hears me calling out litter carry commands in my sleep.

Why did we train so much on something so small?

Well, as you can imagine, it takes at least two people to carry a litter in a safe way over long distances. You can drag it, but that’s only going to be effective for so long. Eventually your body is going to give out on you. Plus as a medic, you may have to move several wounded. Trust me, your arms get tired faster than you might think.

Everyone was expected to help. But if you’re expected to help, you have to be trained. Our typical carries were two person (one in the front and one in the back) and four person (one person at each corner). There were times that we used six person carries. This type of carry was used in two types of situation.

First, if someone was really heavy! I know what you’re thinking. It’s the military. There are weight and fitness requirements. And you’d be right. But some of these military members were built like tanks. Imagine if you had a marine who was over six foot tall and around 250 lbs. Add to that all of his gear which could be another 50 lbs or more. Now imagine he also has some medical equipment attached to him and to the litter that you’re carrying. How far and fast can you and one other person carry him safely, keeping him safe from any other injuries. You can’t drop him or bounce him around too much. You want to get him to where you’re going quickly. Six people could help this. Two extra people can stand along the sides, helping to stabilize the litter as you carry it and holding on to any gear that may fall off along the way.

The second place where we used six person carries was lifting in and out of vehicles. Often to move patients you had to load them into vehicles. When we would load them onto buses, we would have to lift that litter of several hundred pounds safely to the level of our heads and move in a coordinated effort.

Could these things be done with four people? Sure they could. we were fit enough to be able to accomplish these tasks, but if you have the manpower, why not use six? Trust me, six people working together well could load and unload a medical bus of ten or twelve wounded a lot faster and safer than only four. If you are able to accomplish a task, risking less burnout and less fatigue, why wouldn’t you? If you are able to complete a task with increased efficiency, why wouldn’t you?

Many hands make light work.


I am reminded of the time when Nehemiah led the people of Israel in rebuilding the city wall. Nehemiah chapter 3 recounts the many people who helped rebuild the wall. Verse 28 tells us that the priests all helped to build the parts that we in front of their house. Chapter 4 verse 6 says, “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half it’s height, for the people worked with all their heart.”

Israel was able to accomplish a seemingly impossible feat with insurmountable odds, all because they worked for a single purpose and worked at it with all they had. I often wonder what the church today could¬† accomplish if we would understand that the burden wouldn’t be so heavy if we would simply work together. We could go much further, faster, and more efficient if we worked with many hands.

But these stories aren’t just about the people who work in them. In every situation, there is someone giving orders. There is someone who reminds everyone what the purpose is. They instruct others on how to reach their goals.

The Leaders

The military has a very rigid command structure so you always know where the correct orders are coming from and who you’re supposed to be listening to. Even with those seemingly insignificant litter carries, there are very rigid guidelines on who is commanding the others helping to carry the litter. It’s always the person who’s in the rear and to the right. Regardless of rank, experience, position. When you’re quickly moving patients out of harms way or closer to treatment, you don’t have tome for discussions about who should be in charge. You simply grab and go. The person who is in the rear and to the right has the best field of view of what’s ahead, what’s happening with the individual on the litter, and of the others helping to carry. They can yell out to stop if something goes wrong. Everyone has the same goal, but one is in a better position to call the shots.

Nehemiah was no different. If he hadn’t been commanding and giving orders, the building of the wall may not have been so seamless. When they met adversity, some may have changed their plans and went their own way. They could have all been building something, but it may have looked nothing like a wall in the end.

As a leader, and particularly a leader in ministry, we need to know when we’re in the position to take orders and when we’re in the position to give them. We cannot be afraid or uncomfortable with either position. We also need to know how to inspire others to follow.

I’ve seen commanders who bark orders and expect people to comply just because of their position and rank. That never lasts very long or goes very far. Why? Because the group isn’t working towards a singular goal, their simply following orders.

The best commanders I’ve seen are the one’s who can communicate why the goal is important, and how it’s possible for us to get there. They are able to motivate and inspire others with their words and their actions. They unify instead of divide.

We see this in sports all of the time. A head coach that is hard just for the sake of being hard, doesn’t last long and doesn’t win many games. A coach who focuses on motivating everyone to the same goal, guided by the same principals, that coach wins more often than not.

As A Pastor

A pastor needs to be able to accomplish the same thing on three different levels. This is where things get difficult and sometimes tricky. A pastor needs to be able to inspire and motivate his/her congregation. The goal is to get the church to do the things that God is calling the church to do. Most of the time you see people who get burnt out because twenty percent of the people are doing eighty percent of the work. Churches that thrive often see more people doing more work towards a singular goal

Pastors may have to lead staff. If your the pastor of a church that has multiple staff members, you have to lead them as well. You have to lead them to lead others. You have to inspire them to inspire others. That’s not easy and it takes time and intention.

Lastly pastors have to lead their community. The way I see it is this. Your flock doesn’t only consist of the people who walk through your church doors on Sunday. Your flock consists of everyone who lives in your community. There are plenty of times that pastors are asked to do funerals, weddings, and hospital visits for people who have never attended their church. You’re being their pastor in those moments.

But pastors should be intentionally trying to be involved in the community so that they can help shape the spiritual landscape. That might be writing things for a local publication. It could be visiting local first responders on a regular basis. You could pray with community leadership on a regular basis. Or hundreds of other ways to get involved.

Pastors have a lot on their plates. No ever said bring a pastor was easy. If you’re in ministry, you have been called to very important work. You are leading in very important ways. You should be inspiring the many hands to move and make the work light.

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