No two OCF local fellowship will look the same. We can describe OCF fellowship using our pillars by saying, OCF groups “Unite for Fellowship” that is “Centered on Scripture” and “Engaging in Prayer” so that all are “Equipped to Serve,” the “Family is Nurtured,” and Christians leave ready to “Integrate Faith and Profession.” The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to draw near to God, hold fast without wavering, and motivate one another toward love and good works within the context of meeting together (Hebrews 10:22-25).
When thinking about starting or sustaining a local fellowship, consider how God has equipped and placed you so believers can better live out their Christian faith in the military context.
TAG! YOU’RE IT
Throughout the New Testament, we see examples of believers gathering for mutual encouragement and teaching. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, did not hesitate to gather his relatives and close friends to hear from Peter about what God had sent him to share. In a sense this was the start of military ministry, a gathering of Gentiles hosted by a military officer (Acts 10:24).
How are we to exhort and love one another deeply if we do not spend time getting to know each other regularly (Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25)? Just as commissioned officers bear the responsibility to lead the organizing, training, and equipping of military personnel, so too we ask OCF members to organize, gather, and facilitate the equipping of Christians in small-group Bible studies.
You have military leadership skills and credibility, so be courageous and gather others with you to study the Bible. If no OCF fellowship exists, or if you are unable to join a group nearby, then “Tag! You’re it.” Practice hospitality, even if it feels awkward at first—you’ll get better with time. And you don’t have to do it alone or make it look perfect, simply open your home and life.
Get ideas from those you know who seem to host well. Start your efforts with prayer, specifically a PDO, then focus on what will be a blessing to your guests. Spread the word that you are hosting a Bible study, get started, and keep meeting consistently as much as it is in your power to do so.
Before you head off with the good idea of getting an OCF small group started, we exhort you to slow down and be still. Most have the tendency to ask God to bless well-intentioned ideas, but the better way to move forward is to ask God for wisdom first. James writes, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). For amplified thoughts, see chapter titled, “Pray-Discover-Obey (PDO).”
Informing the chaplains that your OCF group is meeting will do several things. For starters, it keeps the chaplain(s) from being surprised to find out that there is a group of Christians gathering. The commander expects them to know about religious activities that affect the force. Further, chaplains advocate for your First Amendment freedoms, so informing them can help guard you from objections regarding your free exercise of religion.
Also, commanders charge the chaplain’s office to publicize and make Bible studies or fellowship groups visible to the military community, and they are a good resource for counsel and wisdom as you seek to establish appropriate parameters for your OCF gathering. We are not in competition with other Bible studies or fellowship gatherings, so open the door as wide as appropriate.
WHAT TO CALL YOUR OCF GROUP
How you name the local Bible study group has the potential to open the aperture to welcome all to participate. It can also help to define who you expect to regularly participate in the gathering. This is a good topic to cover during the Pray-Discover-Obey planning process. Should your local group use “OCF” in the name? Because OCF has brand recognition throughout the military, it is wonderful to call your group an OCF Bible study.
However, if you are in a location where some may stumble over the OCF label, then feel free to use a Bible study group name that addresses your local situation so that spouses, children, and non-officers are encouraged to gather every week. Example names for groups led by OCF members might be, “Family Bible Study,” “Base Housing Study,” or maybe even “[Location] Christian Fellowship.”
Some groups have a specific purpose, and the name of the group can help identify why the group is gathering (e.g., Senior Leader Bible Study). These targeted groups might be for men, women, junior officers, commanders, etc.
Once you start an OCF gathering, keep it going and growing by faithfully gathering every week (or your specific interval) … and prepare even if you think no one will be around. Many times, people are in town for only one week or weekend, and fellowship is critical for them. Other times a shift worker or recently returned member is finally able to join you in fellowship, so do not cancel on them.
Leaders need to set an atmosphere for a reliable gathering that does not measure success based on who they think is able to attend. Pray for God to provide even one person to show up, and even if no one comes, your faithfulness is seen by the One who knows your heart.
Try to meet at the same place and time so that habits can be developed. If the location gets changed too often then there is a risk that some may grow weary of trying find the meeting and give up. Same place, same day, same time gives the fewest excuses for attendees to say they forgot or did not know where to meet. Keep your door open and minister to whomever God brings. Reliable habits bless many.
If you are the primary host who must be out of town (or will be working late), consider leaving your key or code with a reliable person who will be able to arrive early, get the coffee and hot water started, turn on the lights, and then secure things at the end of fellowship. This provides a consistent day/time/location for the group to get together and helps gap those days when you cannot be present. Many OCFers who live in base housing have enjoyed the fact that front doors may not be locked, thus a key handoff isn’t necessary.
BE READY TO LEAD EVERY TIME
You who belong to our Lord have an obligation to greet newcomers, say hello to old friends, love the household of faith, and to generally help create a warm atmosphere for gathering people together. Welcoming others into personal space isn’t for extroverts alone. Introverted personalities share the love of Christ—they just need quiet recharge time. It is well known that food makes fellowship a bit better.
Everyone requires nourishment, so meals or snacks can be a big blessing. If you do meals, they can be potluck, a host-provided meal, ordered out, or the group can take turns bringing the meal.
Keep alert for unhealthy groupings (cliques) in which no one breaks out of their comfort zone. Simply going to a Bible study or small group is a stretching event for some people, so take the opportunity to set the example by reaching out to others with empathy and genuine love. Being the “new person” is tough, so welcome anyone you don’t recognize—and admit that you don’t know or remember their name. You may find out you met them previously, but taking time to say hello helps recover a poor memory.
Always prepare for Bible study with the assumption that you will have to lead. Military folks serve amid unplanned contingencies and short notice taskings. In some cases, we cannot even assume that the Bible study leader has time to prepare or is going to show up in good health. If you prepare to lead, but then do not actually have to do that, you will still be a great participant in the discussion (and you will get much more out of the study). Your weekly preparation is a way to meet “Commander’s Intent” from your Father above.
Plan for contingencies such as a short-notice deployment or TDY/TAD, or when someone becomes ill and is not able to host. During PDO, you can spend some time praying and talking about this, but you can also brainstorm later. How likely is it that your group might be impacted by obligations like exercises, inspections, combat operations, etc.?
If you have a large group, the impact might be small, but if the group is smaller, be ready to adjust. It might be wise to have a primary and backup facilitator each week, and an alternate hosting location that can handle bad weather or sickness contingencies. Whatever arises, remember the Hebrews 10:25 exhortation to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” and always try to meet together.
Regular preparation never ends, and since it is God who moves the hearts of individuals who are going to join in fellowship, pray for His sheep to gather. Pray for God to bring those who have been gone for a long time or for Him to send a person who is traveling through. Some weeks God may bring a new person who has heard about the group for a long time and only recently decided to check it out.
Ask God to teach everyone from His Word. Pray for the host and for the leader, that they are ready to welcome the body and to lead. Pray for the weary to be refreshed. Pray for conviction that brings about obedience. Pray that your heart is open to the Spirit’s teaching and to participation.