32: Learning from Military Life


Those who serve in the military will be changed before they separate or retire, so what follows are some ways to think intentionally about capturing the good while resisting the bad of military culture. It is good that we get to serve alongside people different than us. It is also good that we learn to live disciplined lives, but serving within the government can make us dependent on government privileges if we are not alert to the danger of the insidious expectation that we deserve something.

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So much of what we learn within the military profession is good and helpful to our personal life, our family, our church, and our community. When your family and friends watched you leave to join the military, they knew your military service would change you, and most expected you to be changed for the better. That means we need to think about what we are learning, or have learned, in military service. Which of these things might benefit others? What follows is a sample of things to consider.


We can begin by thinking about the wide variety of people we have gotten to know. Think of people with gifts and talents different from yours, people with different accents, people who have unique hobbies. Every one of them is a valuable part of the unit and team, and you give praise to God their Creator by developing their abilities and trusting them to grow. It is amazing to think how quickly the military gives responsibility to young men and women. Similarly, you can be quick to value the gifts and abilities of coworkers, family, and friends. Are there things you can turn over and trust others to do? No one will do a job the same way you would, but relational bonds develop as you trust others and give them new opportunities.


Think also of how many ways you have been taught to communicate at work. We are often expected to use drawings, pictures, handouts, and on-the-job training with step-by-step demonstrations. Try to use these various instructional styles in your personal life so visual and tactile learners, and those who need repetition, will retain what you are teaching. Practically, you could lead a Bible study or Sunday school class with the same diligence and lesson planning you use at work. If you are a parent, plan the tasks and building-block approaches for your children—just like the military taught you.

Commanders expect subordinates to ask regularly, “Who else needs this information?” Military operations require an informed and synchronized effort with regular updates for all who are involved. This is also true in the rest of life, so keep asking yourself who needs to know, hear, or help with what you have been entrusted.

In an age of too much data, we can be helpful members of the body of Christ by sharing the right information at the right time. Within the local OCF fellowship, you can share TDY/TAD and deployment needs, write down prayer requests, and keep chaplains and pastors informed. Share with your spouse what is happening in your unit, and make sure your children learn about assignments, promotions, and deployments from you. Honor others by regularly communicating with them.


Since the military is an intentional, deliberate organization, nearly everyone participates in a planning process. We learn to use checklists to ensure nothing is forgotten, and we conduct after-action reviews. Bring these skills into your personal life. Not only should you try to learn from past activities, but good planning of future events will decrease the stress of those in your home or group.

When planning, you can use the Pray-Discover-Obey approach to help you remember the importance of being still in prayer and seeking God’s wisdom. Maybe you can execute a deliberate planning process, using the skills of those who are good planners, and develop checklists for executing the event. Take time afterwards to talk about what you learned and how to improve, and then document your lessons. If possible, include both adults and children in the planning and assessment process. Young boys and girls notice things that adults miss, and hopefully they will gain ownership and a desire to be involved in the activities. 


The military requires currencies and qualification to assess readiness for combat. Think about your personal life—what are your most important tasks? If you have a family, what are the things you want them to remain “current and qualified” on? It could be everything from safety skills to educational abilities to home maintenance processes.

Pray about the mission God has given you (see PDO and Professional Calling chapters). Develop a Mission Essential Task List (METL) to carry out this mission. Then, since most of us learn by repetition, build a training program that develops muscle-memory type capabilities. Tasks might range from hospitality, cooking, camping, and backpacking skills, to first aid, CPR, fire escape, and family winter survival skills. You can include memorizing and meditating on God’s Word, remembering the books of the Bible in order, writing letters to family members, etc. Focus on what is important for your phase of life. 


For good reason, our professional environment requires both the exercise of leadership authority and the submission of followers. Similarly, every home needs a leader and followers. Leaders do not have greater value than followers. Leaders should know the strengths and abilities of followers, seeking their input to make decisions for the good of the whole body. Good decisions that are made in light of mission and purpose may take followers into tough situations that may not be comfortable or easy. If you are a follower, be a blessing by helping, advising, co-laboring, and motivating … and staying on mission.

Maintain the exercise of self-control and self-discipline in your personal life. You have been given authority, relationships, and resources that need to be stewarded. The lives of servants are not their own, since their job is to care for what belongs to the master. Therefore, pursue self-control in all things and discipline your body so that God’s temple is available for His purposes (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Even as every civilian expects the military to be fit to fight, Christians strive to be both physically and spiritually available for good work in this world.

Be sure to have fun. Military units work to develop integrity, partnership, and esprit de corps within their organizations. In much the same way, our personal lives and our churches need us to work at building cohesion among singles, couples, and families so that we have fun and build memories together. Shared memories develop group resilience when we hit hard times.

Our nation’s military exists to mitigate threats from its enemies. Not everything that appears to be a threat is an enemy, and not every enemy is an immediate threat. They must be studied, analyzed, and prioritized. Take time to look at the culture in which God has placed you. What are the threats to you personally, to the church, to religious liberty, to sound doctrine, and to your ability to raise children to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ? Decide which threats are most imminent and which will require the most resources to counter, and then develop a plan to meet the threat(s). Ask God for wisdom in preparing for expected trials.


Now a caution. There are some things found in the military profession that should not be brought into our personal lives. One is the government worker’s “use it or lose it” mentality that expends resources simply because there is a fear of losing out in next year’s budget. Instead, see yourself as a steward of resources who ultimately belongs to God. Fulfill the obligations you have today, and do not presume on receiving a monthly paycheck lest you fail to budget or maybe decide to take on unnecessary debt.

Military members can sometimes be heard declaring that their profession is particularly hard or unpredictable. When speaking this way, we accidentally devalue the sacrifice made in other professions. Avoid a martyr mentality that sounds like whining to those who listen. Nearly every career has trials, hardships, and uncertainties, so be appreciative of agricultural, plumbing, and electrical trades, medical professionals, first responders, and the many other skilled people around you. Finally, the military rank structure gives positional authority for mission accomplishment, but you will be wise to practice relational skills for the day when you serve where no rank exists.