by: Valerie McNulty
As a side note, this letter is not intended to point fingers or place blame; rather, it is intended to begin a conversation that can potentially bridge a gap evident in the church.
As we dive further into this topic, I want to focus on both sides of the fence. Today, I will primarily focus on the church leadership side of this divide. What works and what doesn't? How can we, as military families, support our church leaders in a better way?
One of the beautiful aspects of military life is the opportunity to join church congregations nationwide. Military families have a unique perspective from seeing how so many churches function. Some churches thrive within the military community and some struggle with the revolving door. (Manna Church, I am looking at you. Thank you for being a church that embraces the military community with open arms.)
I want to flip the script on the revolving door. What if instead of looking at the revolving door of church members coming and going as a problem, you see it as an opportunity for outreach? You know the potential that these families have within your church body. You see opportunities to love and support these families, but you also see the mission-minded potential as they walk in and out of your doors.
As you welcome these families with open arms and choose to dive a little deeper with them, you will quickly discover that a lot of them have a desire to serve. They long for a role. A place that they can call their own for a little while and thrive in it. As a church leader located near a military installation, you may be missing the mark if this thought isn't a blip on your radar.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to sit down with my father-in-law, who happens to be a pastor of a thriving church in Georgia. I wanted to hear his thoughts on this divide within the church. While he doesn't pastor a church near a military installation, he does have the perspective of someone raised in the military lifestyle. He and his wife grew up as military brats, moving around often. I knew I wanted to dive into this topic with him because of his unique perspective.
He remembers the moves. He recalls growing up in the church as a child, no matter where they landed as a family. His father and mother faithfully served the church in several ways, always having a job to do. The details of going to church as a child came flooding back as he described how his family would dive right in and meet a need that the church might have.
As we discussed his experience, I was reminded of my experience at various churches. Some churches are eager to have you step up to the plate and serve, while others are hesitant to give you a role because of your limited time, which brings the need to replace you when you leave.
Knowing this, I asked him, as a pastor, what practical steps military families can take while diving into a new body of believers.
He responded military families can do a few things to dive in early and establish a deeper level of community. For one, attend church regularly. I know the military can be demanding of your schedule and time, but when work is not conflicting, prioritize church attendance. He also mentioned the importance of actively growing in your faith. Diligently show up in your relationship with the Lord. Make Him a priority. Lastly, he emphasized the need to dive into a small group, comparing it to the church's fabric.
If you are a military family and just attending church on Sunday mornings but hoping for deeper relationships, you must do more than attend once a week. A small group is pivotal to cultivating the community you are seeking. A group of people who not only encourages you but can hold you accountable. These are the people within the church body who will show up at your door when your spouse is deployed to make sure you are okay. These are the people who will put you to work within the church body and encourage you to find your place and serve.
So, thank you to the church leaders who see their church's revolving door and embrace it. Thank you for helping us find a place to plug in. Thank you for making exceptions to your bylaws and allowing us the opportunity to step into a new role. Thank you for treating us the same as the family who has served their whole life at your church.
I know accepting us and giving us a place to grow and learn may make your job a bit harder in the long run. I recognize that we are a bit different than your local members. However, if you, as the shepherd of your flock, give us military families a chance, we may surprise you. Something you should know about most military families is that we realize time is not on our side. We don't play around when it comes to diving in. Time is of the essence.
When we find our church and actively seek our people, we want to go all in. To some, this is intimidating. Others may not know what to do with us, nor do they want to take the time to get to know someone new just to say goodbye in a few years. But to the pastor who recognizes our need for community and accepts it, you, my friend, make all the difference. We need pastors and leaders like you who are unafraid to come alongside us in this fast-paced lifestyle and say, welcome; I have a seat for you at my table.
A military wife on a mission