22: Local Church Membership
IN THIS CHAPTER
OCF members serve where the local church does not have access or the opportunity to impact lives, but where military members can. OCF gathers Christian believers together so that the gospel, and the impacts of the gospel, might go into places where their military credentials permit access to garrison installations, to deployed locations, and to the many temporary locations where the military is sent. A spiritually healthy OCF member is one who lives under the sound teaching and oversight of a local church body. These local churches have the privilege of teaching, training, and sending gospel-bearing members out as ambassadors for Christ.
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PARACHURCH COMES ALONGSIDE
A parachurch ministry like OCF needs its members to be part of a visible church, so if your church has membership, then we want you to be a member of a church so that you can be under its oversight. We cannot be “para” church (meaning an organization working alongside the visible church) unless there is a church body to which OCF members are connected. “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Our parachurch ministry should come alongside and bless the visible church of Jesus Christ by tackling a limited part of the work a local church body may not be able to do.
OCF works to grow and build up the Christian worker for places where access is restricted to those who have identification cards to pass through guarded entrance gates and into professional spaces, including overseas locations and combat zones. These are the places where military members with Common Access Cards (CAC) have access to the lives of fellow military personnel. Uniformed OCF members go on temporary duty (TDY/TAD) with them, deploy with them, and live among them. Since chapel participation is covered in a separate chapter, here we focus on the local church—either one where you currently live, or where you remain a member during military service.
The local church has the privilege of faithfully preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word, handling baptism and the Lord’s supper properly, and being responsible for the spiritual care and oversight of members. While there are some local churches that operate more like a chapel program because there is no opportunity to join and become a member of that church, most probably have a membership class that explains how that church will care for and oversee its members.
The members of OCF (usually the laity), along with members of the chaplaincy (the ordained clergy), are an extension of a church that essentially has sent them to do good work in the military. These churches would love to have healthy church members return to them after having grown and matured during their years in uniform. It would be a significant loss to Christ’s church body if members of that body joined the military and became crushed by isolation from the larger Christian body, or if they pursued the idolatry of promotion and career success. OCF fellowships challenge one another to stay faithful to our one Lord even as we are united to His one body.
BE A CHURCH MEMBER
It is important to the health of OCF’s ministry that we have leaders who are members of Christ-proclaiming, gospel-driven churches. Our leaders need to have a place where they sit under the preaching of the Word every week, where they are known and encouraged toward obedience, and where they have leaders over them who have a responsibility for the care of their souls (Hebrews 13:17). If an individual is not regularly fed by God’s Word and has no spiritual oversight and discipline, then there is a risk that one can become convinced of one’s own capabilities, operating without help from others. We can become blind to our own weaknesses and self-righteousness, possibly becoming a spiritual liability within the OCF body, within our family, and to ourselves. So we say again, please join with Christ’s body in regular worship.
Active-duty military members who move every couple of years will miss out on the opportunity to learn long endurance in a local church that requires them to work through conflict resolution. We can often leave personality challenges or relationship problems simply by moving to the next assignment. After settling down in one place, however, we ought to persevere with our local church through the normal challenges of living with other men and women who themselves are growing in personal spiritual journeys alongside us. We need oversight that helps us stay true to our Christian faith. This Biblical oversight can help us start well, stay well, and finish strong in the race marked out for us. Much grace is required of the one to whom much grace has been shown. Much love is required of the one to whom much love has been shown (Matthew 18:33; Luke 7:44-47).
ACTIVE IN CHURCH AND IN OCF
It is challenging for OCF members to know how to participate fully in their local church while simultaneously leading and participating in OCF activities, so here are some thoughts:
- Don’t minimize the challenge. It is tough to do both, but growth happens when we press beyond our own abilities and resources. If the Holy Spirit is convicting you to host/be part of an OCF group, then obey that call.
- Share OCF’s ministry focus with your church leadership early on—cast a vision for OCF’s military ministry. Talk about the unique opportunities OCF equips you for, grows you in, and sends you to do. We rejoice when the local church sees itself as your sending body. Maybe the church will “recognize” your OCF group as part of their military outreach or as the small group they want you to be part of.
- Bring TDY/TAD guests to church with you, not allowing new arrivals to languish in a hotel room alone.
- See if your church can develop a fast-track method for military membership so these folks can get involved and volunteer or serve within the church soon after arrival. Maybe a letter of introduction from the last church they worshiped with will help with this.
- Help your church use the right words to welcome the military through online visibility. Encourage them to greet new people at services and find ways to help deployed individuals and families.
- Help set up volunteer teams to assist PCS transitions (moving boxes, watching children, providing food, or helping clean). They also need you to help them understand TDY/TAD and deployment times and how they can support you (and your family) during absences.
- Ask your church to support you by encouraging your outreach within the military community, supporting Christian fellowship in your workplace, and by following up with you after you move away from the area. Ask them to call/text/email you and make sure your feet are firmly planted back in a solid church and OCF fellowship at the new location. These simple steps may help you do what you know you ought to do.
- Most importantly, help the local church see their positive impact on the lives of military personnel. The church should see that they are sending out laborers into the military mission field. Help your local church understand the way they are equipping you through the preaching of God’s Word, through church family relationships, and through caring oversight.