Approach the military culture as if it were a culture of its own making, because it is. You will need to earn their confidence and respect. Be prepared emotionally, intellectually, and most importantly spiritually.
As you enter into ministry in a military community there are 5 things for you to know about the culture:
1) This is not like any other community. Get to know the community. You will find that the community is very diverse on several different levels because you will find:
- Active duty members serving
- Army Reserve and Army National Guard (it is also good to know that these components are not the same)
- Veterans that have served from between a few years to retirement of over 20 and sometimes over 30. Some of them have seen time in one or more combat zones around the world
- Spouses and/or children. For some this is the first time that they have moved away from their hometown, and for some this is just the latest stop on a long list of places the military has taken them
- Single parents serving in the military. You will find these families bring unique challenges and special blessings for you
- Military families will experience being apart several times outside of a deployment. The military member will have to attend military schooling for leadership and job training enhancement. Most will have to go with their unit for periods of time from 5 days to 45 days on training exercises.
- There will also be men and women that have signed a commitment to serve, but have not shipped out yet. With them are also parent(s) that are dealing with the fact that their son or daughter might find themselves in a dangerous place.
2) The people that you are reaching out to and ministering to are coming from a variety of religious backgrounds, teachings, and beliefs. Many will not understand that Jesus is the only way and we need to be transitioning away from the other beliefs.
Even those that identify as Christians may not have a firm grasp on biblical or theological principles. Do not make any assumptions about anyone’s salvation or Christian maturity. Pray for a way to ask as many people as you can about their relationship with Jesus and religious experiences.
3) Many of the same needs, hurts, disappointments and dreams that you have seen before will also be present in this community, but on a larger scale due to the diversity of communities coming together.
4) Those that have seen combat will have some emotional and mental issues. A spouse that has been left at home while their military person is deployed will have needs arise during the deployment as well as emotional recovery when they return. You will never understand what they have gone through unless you have also gone through it before, but you can still earn their acceptance and trust.
As soon as a military member deploys something will break; the car, the refrigerator, the washing machine, just something that they cannot fix. Most of these spouses will have no family nearby and no idea how to go about getting the item fixed.
5) Those you have ministered to and have come to love will be leaving, and new families will be moving in. This is almost a constant, but is something that you will experience in larger numbers during the summer months. No matter how hard you work and whether you want it or not, the people you have poured your heart and soul out to are going to leave.
God relocates those you have served to places that God wants to use them and He is bringing others that He wants you to reach to your doorstep. Fight the urge to think that this is as a waste of time. It is actually living out the Great Commission like few others in ministry have an opportunity to experience.
Serving a military community will be challenging, but there are also many opportunities for blessings. They will need to feel that they can trust you and that you truly care about them to be able to accept that Jesus also loves them and died for them. When you earn their respect, you will also have their loyalty and love. Love from a military community can come in many forms, but is sincere when given, whether a punch to your shoulder
by Randel “Hank” Harris – Hank has been married to his bride Angela for 26 years, and they have two adult daughters. Hank retired from the U.S. Army after 20 years of service and entered full time ministry. During his time in the military Hank and his wife Angela served in ministry in a variety of roles including Sunday school teachers and family ministry leaders. He is currently transitioning from church planter apprentice to a church planter in Burnsville, MN, a south metro town of Minneapolis.