by LtGen Bruce Fister
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Congratulations! You have graduated and are ready to enter the profession of arms. Let me offer you a crash course in Christian ambassadorship: becoming a person of influence who influences others for Christ.
“What is required of a man or woman who is called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope?”[i]
Become a person of influence; establish your credentials. Begin immediately to seek out leadership positions among your peers and subordinates in your workplace and neighborhood.
You are a Christian with a Christian set of values, virtues, and obligations. You are called to live out your faith in a glorifying and obedient way.
God’s Word outlines for us a personal morality in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, and a public morality regarding our obedience to those in authority over us. Scripture also tells us that we have an obligation to be good news and to bring good news.
You are an officer commissioned to prepare for and to make war in the name of the President of the United States, expected to defend our Constitution and to obey those in lawful authority over you. The values and virtues of our commission are captured in laws, codes, conventions, creeds, values and traditions.
You are a Christian officer. Your Christianity is preeminent; your Christianity modifies your officership. Your challenge is to meet your military obligations in a manner which is wholly consistent with your Christian value system. The great danger to any ambassador is to “go native,” assimilating the culture where you serve, forgetting whom you serve, and becoming double minded. The essence of integrating faith and profession is in finding a practical and workable response to Paul’s exhortation: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”(Romans 12:2).
Influence other leaders; healthy relationships and shared experiences. As your leadership experience and reputation grow, you will be selected for positions where you impact the organization by leading the leaders rather than the doers. An OCF installation-level ministry is like this as well, where your job is to encourage others through relationships of trust in an environment of grace.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” Army Rangers talk about giving “100 percent and then some.” For you as an ambassador, this means wholeheartedly accomplishing every task in ways that glorify God and taking care of all service members and families in your care. People will respect you, gravitate to you and want to be like you because you are excellent as they define excellence.
“…and to God what is God’s.” Maintain contact; stay in fellowship with other Christians. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work”(Ecclesiastes 4:9). OCF’s purpose statement includes: “uniting Christian officers for biblical fellowship.” You have the right to and need to:
- Meet in fellowship, pray without ceasing, stay in the Word, worship together, and come alongside your chaplains.
- Practice your religious beliefs as you wish while maintaining sensitivity and respect for those of different faiths or denominations.
- Share your convictions. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Influence the organization; show respect and impartiality. You will develop and eventually be promoted to the point where you can only communicate intent and inspire vision and can no longer directly supervise activities. As a Christian officer you might be called to serve as an OCF local leader, serve as an OCF area coordinator, or serve on the OCF governing Council.
As a military professional you may also be called to serve as a unit commander. In these leadership positions, there must not be even the hint of misconduct or favoritism.
Respect for all faith groups and all denominations. You must never allow even the hint of religious partiality in the exercise of leadership. Religious slurs or jokes, favoritism or discrimination, proselytizing, inappropriate use of email and print media, and the use of rank to influence subordinates are not the tools of an ambassador.
We can inadvertently offend people of other faiths or those without spiritual convictions. One of the reasons we serve as professionals in our military is to defend the freedom of religion for all of our citizens.
However, respect and sensitivity do not require checking our own faith in Christ at the door. We live our faith through the profession of arms in a way that allows others to see Jesus through us: through our love, integrity, honor, courage in the face of danger, and our moral behavior.
Jesus said, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl…. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16).
Respect for others. Developing healthy relationships with non-Christian friends and associates and accepting them where they are in their spiritual journey through life is essential to both your officership and your ambassadorship. It sets the stage for us to share the gospel. Sometimes our isolationist or conformist approaches to non-Christians hide our faith, making it lukewarm and ineffective.
At other times an “in your face” approach is equally ineffective, coming across as disrespectful of the beliefs of others.[ii] Jesus always seemed to meet people where they were, caring first for their physical and emotional needs, then connecting with those who were open and receptive to treatment of their spiritual needs.
Produce professional and spiritual heirs[iii]; count the cost. When you look back on your lifetime of service to the nation and to our Lord, will you see that you have spent much of your time teaching people to do things? Or will you also find that you have reproduced men and women who will reproduce?
These are people with the capacity to question, challenge, and reinvent institutions in order to keep them relevant to changing times-including recruiting and evangelizing.
I am currently reading a book in which the author identifies four kinds of Christians that caused him to recoil from the faith:
- “In-your-face” Christians-inopportune, uninvited “drive-by shoutings”
- “Greeting card” Christians-shallow, simple-minded clichés
- “Holier-than-thou” Christians-smug, self-righteous, better than others
- “Cosmetic” Christians-skin-deep faith, no change in behavior, attitudes
He then defines a fifth: the Christians who had the biggest impact on him and were a factor in his journey to know the Lord were the “Costly Christians” who lived their lives in a way that demonstrated their faith without regard to the personal costs.[iv]
Should we evangelize throughout the military society? The answer is absolutely yes, but when and how? Influence first by example. People will notice as you serve your earthly and heavenly commanders with excellence. When they eventually see that Christ is the difference, you can legitimately bring Good News without being obtrusive, irritating, or otherwise professionally inappropriate.
Go…make disciples. There are no easy answers, no instant recipes, and there will be trials. Whether our trials cause us to reflect on a moral crisis or to regain our balance after a misstep, they will be times of great transformation. What we become through the experience is what ultimately matters.
I envy each of you who is about to enter the profession of arms as both leader and ambassador. Good luck and Godspeed.
by Lieutenant General Bruce L. Fister, United States Air Force, Retired, OCF Executive Director from 2000 to 2010
Co-authored with Colonel R. Michael Tesdahl, USA, Retired, OCF Director of Operations
[i] Nouwen, Henri J.M., The Way of the Heart, New York: Random House Publishing, 2003, p. 2.
[ii] Barnes, Rev. Paul, Senior Pastor, Grace Chapel, Englewood, Colorado, sermon May 1, 2005
[iii] Leadership progression inspired by Clarke, General Bruce C., “Leadership-Commandership-Generalship-Followership,” in Armor, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Armor Association, Sep-Oct 1963, p. 16.
[iv] Strobel, Lee, God’s Outrageous Claims, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997, pp. 61-63