When people think of military ministry, chances are they think in terms of the crises of anxiety, depression, and suicide, that we read about in the headlines nearly every day. What Christians likely don’t think about is military ministry as a component of strategic global evangelism. Ministry to active duty service members has enormous potential to impact the entire world for Christ.
Like the leaders at Mighty Oaks, I too believe that anxiety, depression, and suicide are serious issues that need to be addressed. However, I believe both Soul Survivor Outdoor and Mighty Oaks understand that ministry to the U.S. military is bigger than these issues and has even greater implications in terms of world evangelism.
That Christ is the answer to anxiety and depression within the military, and to the world’s problems, this I am sure. In their book, Path to Resiliency, Chad Robichaux and Jeremy Stalnecker said, “those who are resilient are those who align their lives to the blueprint for life given by their Creator.” Aligning our lives with the Creator is not only the first step in conquering anxiety, depression, and suicide, it’s the first step in building a firm life-foundation that is the ultimate key to resiliency.
But what next? Where do we go once we’ve given our lives to Christ? The Bible makes clear that we aren’t meant to live our lives in a vacuum. We aren’t made whole through the blood of Christ so that we can keep this new life to ourselves. We’ve been given the Great Commission which asks us, even commands us, to “make disciples of all nations.”
Who better to “make disciples of all nations” than members of the U.S. military? Of course, advancing the gospel by force is not what I’m talking about. Nothing could be further from my mind. What I am talking about is the enormous potential that already exists for sharing the truth of the gospel with the world, by those that are already deployed across the globe. To a degree, this is already happening.
In an article published in June 2017, Christianity Today spoke to this very issue. From the article, an Iraqi translator noticed that a member of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne, “had a book in his knee pocket all the time.” This book was the Bible, and the Iraqi translator that was assigned to the soldier’s unit, immediately “realized there was something different about him.” Not long afterward the Iraqi came to Christ by way of the American soldier. How many more stories there are like this one isn’t known, but it’s likely there are many. Read the full article on ChristianityToday.com.
In a recent interview I had with Talia Wise of the Christian Broadcasting Network, I said that “the church was missing an opportunity.” I went on to say that we “have only begun to scratch the surface” in terms of reaching the active duty military community with the gospel. I believe this applies to the church as a whole that, in large part, sees military ministry primarily in terms of benevolence and help rather than as a component of strategic global evangelism. Organizations like Mighty Oaks and Soul Survivor Outdoor are only part of God’s larger strategy to reach the world for Christ, but what about the church by way of the U.S. military?
The U.S. military is in a unique position to have global and strategic impact for the gospel. I recently attended a meeting where the issue of unreached people groups was being discussed. This subject represents a huge challenge and is something both church and parachurch leaders have devoted significant time, energy, and money to for many years. Entire organizations like Joshua Project, Global Frontier Missions, and others, exist for the sole purpose of reaching the unreached.
As I stared at the map of unreached people groups, I couldn’t help but think that this map also largely represented where U.S. military forces are already deployed. There are currently 165,000 U.S. military forces deployed to 150 of the world’s 195 countries. That’s nearly 80% of the globe! After looking at the map, it was clear that the world’s unreached people groups and U.S. military presence largely overlapped. Coincidence?
This begs the question, what if? What if the U.S. military were filled with Christian service members actively living out their faith, like the soldier in the 82nd Airborne? Having served nearly thirty years in the Marine Corps, I can confidently say that the U.S. military is not largely Christian. But, what if the church here in America and organizations like Joshua Project, Global Frontier Missions, and others, were actively engaged in reaching the U.S. military, an organization that is already in most of the places where we find unreached peoples? What if the same level of effort applied to winning souls on college campuses was applied to the U.S. military? What might the world look like in just a few years?
Why the U.S. military? U.S. military service members are already seeking to serve a cause greater than self, are willing to lay down their lives for fellow service members and our country, are already accustomed to service to others, and taking on a leadership role. Yet these same service members generally do not have a clear sense of what drives them, are unsure why and/or what they were created for, and don’t fully understand what really is worth dying for. I believe the aforementioned is in our DNA. These are desires God put in each one of us, including those serving in the U.S. military. What an opportunity for the church to show military service members the way of fully knowing the One that created them so that they might also “go into all the world.”
As Christians we know that we are all created on purpose, and with purpose, by a God that loves and cares for us. However, most people don’t know this, and when one’s identity isn’t firmly grounded in this reality, the consequences are significant and the resultant lost or confused identity contributes significantly to the anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and suicide that is so prevalent in our society and in the military and veteran communities. On the other hand, when we align ourselves with the God that created us and understand where our true identity comes from, our perspective changes, and often much of what causes these negative issues is either minimized or may even disappear altogether.
Sharing the truth of the gospel with active duty military service members, showing them the source of their true identity, and helping them properly align their lives with the Creator… it’s a dynamic combination that not only addresses the issues that so many struggle with, but has the potential to impact the entire world for Christ!
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19