by COL Jim Hougnon, USA (Ret.)
From the time I joined OCF in 1970 up until the mid-90s, I always thought of OCF as small group Bible studies. My guess is that most of our members and other military who know about OCF think the same thing.
However, I have learned in the past ten years that OCF is not defined by Bible studies. OCF’s niche is Christian leadership in the military.
Bible studies are a tool, arguably our most effective tool. However, nowhere in our purpose, vision, mission, or pillars do you find a call to small group Bible studies. We can’t even claim it as a distinctive: small groups are endemic now, and they have been a part of the Christian Church since around 30 AD.
So what about our niche? Leadership. We encourage and equip officers to minister effectively in the military society. Why officers? Because officers are commissioned to lead, and they need to use that leadership in a biblical way.
They lead biblically in their homes, in their units, and in the Christian community of their installation. The small group Bible study is our primary tool for this encouraging and equipping.
One of our OCF staff members says we need to produce qualified elders. He is right, but “elders” is a church term that means different things in different denominations, so a more applicable term for us is leader. Military people understand leadership.
Cadets at West Point know from day one that the mission of the Military Academy is “To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character…” (italics added). The other U.S. service academies have similar missions. Lieutenants and ensigns from every commissioning source are primed to hit the ground running as leaders of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, or coastguardsmen.
Every job that every commissioned officer does is a leadership position. True, some officers want to be technicians and hide from responsibility, but the fact is that they are all commissioned to lead. From platoon leader to battalion supply officer to Chief of Staff (and equivalents for the other services), every officer is a leader.
Are we communicating the right message in OCF? Are we focusing on process in training leaders, or are we focusing on vision? Is the question going into an installation Pray, Discover, and Obey, “How many Bible studies do we need?” or is it,”How are we going to build Christian leaders…families…fellowships at our installation?”
The first is a process question, the second is a vision-a leadership-question. Ephesians 4:11-16 talks about the leadership model of the church. God gifted some individuals to be apostles, others prophets, evangelists, or pastor/teachers. That is leadership.
To what purpose? “…To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (v. 12). Our purpose is to build up the body of Christ in the military (in concert with chaplains, Cadence, CCC, Navs, PWOC, et al.) by exercising our gifts of leadership.
That means we need to understand and practice servant leadership. Leadership doesn’t mean we look for someone else to do the work. Servant leadership may mean sweeping the floor after the potluck. An Air Force major doing finances for the OCF Europe conference is exercising leadership.
Coast Guard cadets running the children’s program at White Sulphur Springs Conference Center during the Easter retreat are exercising leadership. A colonel who has been selected for promotion to brigadier general acting as the registrar for a LEAD! is exercising leadership. An area coordinator organizing the leaders of all Christian ministries at the installation is exercising leadership.
Our chief means of encouraging and equipping officers for biblical leadership and effective ministry is-and will remain-the small group.
I get really encouraged when I see the young officers leaving Pensacola eager to get involved in military ministry; when Christian officers deploy to Southwest Asia and want to immediately start a fellowship-in concert with the chaplain; when 37 cadets and others spend their spring break roofing a church and teaching the Gospel to children in the Dominican Republic; when OCFers volunteer to teach a Sunday school class for Officer Training School at Maxwell; when ROTC cadets drive across states to attend the Fort Stewart LEAD!; when OCF midshipmen buy 1000 tickets to get people to go see “The Passion of the Christ.”
That is all effective ministry. It all happened because of small groups. If we have effective ministry without small group Bible studies, we are getting the job done.
If we have small groups without effective ministry, we are failing. In most cases, effective ministry will die off without effective small groups, so we must continue to encourage that. But, the questions for the local leader are, “How are OCF members ministering here, and how are you encouraging and equipping one another?”
Overall from where I sit, OCF is healthy. There are places and people where we need to do some work, and there are people who will never catch our vision. We can’t fret over them. We just keep casting the vision out there and keep leading.
Jim Hougnon is Director of Field Outreach for Officers’ Christian Fellowship. He coordinates the ministry’s activities on U.S. military installations and ships throughout the world.