WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — With more than 100 military community students, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is making strides in its efforts to engage these students and bring awareness to ministry opportunities within the military community.
Affiliated SEBTS military personnel and students gathered for panel discussions and various meetings for the seminary’s first Military Community Focus Week, Sept. 4-7.
“Discipling, training and caring for our military community is incredibly strategic for long term global, gospel impact,” said Mark Liederbach, dean of students and vice president for student services. “Our hope is to build a welcoming, strategic and caring community for our military men and women.”
During one of the panel discussions, participants addressed possible strategies for planting churches near military bases. They also considered what it looks like for a church to minister in that context.
Bruce Ashford, provost at SEBTS and moderator of a discussion on another panel, asked panelists how churches can operate with intentionality in serving military families.
“You have to be intentional about reaching the military community and meeting the needs that they have, not the needs that you think they have,” explained Brian Collison, a church planter and pastor at Pillar Church of Woodlawn in Alexandria, Va.
U.S. Army chaplain Tim Stokes, who serves at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, noted the churches that “tend to grow and the churches that tend to actually reach them are the ones that are truly preaching the Gospel unashamedly.”
That week, another panel discussion was held for students interested in the types of expectations and experiences involved in chaplaincy ministry.
Jim Houck, coordinator of military affairs at SEBTS, opened the discussion by asking panelists what key distinctive features existed between chaplains and pastors.
Doug Carver, executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board, responded, “You live with the people that you serve.” Carver formally served as the U.S. Army’s 22nd Chief of Chaplains and was the first Southern Baptist appointed to this position in 50 years.
Panelists also discussed the importance of building relationships with fellow service members for the sake of the Gospel.
Chaplain Thomas Watson asked, “Are we building the relationships to have the credibility and opportunity to speak into people’s lives?”
“I’m a missionary in uniform just like we send missionaries to the 10/40 window,” noted Watson, who serves as a North Carolina National Guard chaplain and with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in military ministry. “I went too, but I went in uniform.”
One attendee asked panelists how they are mentored and find people of like-mindedness to keep them grounded. For Chuck Gilbertson, a chaplain for the U.S. Army, opportunities like that developed for him as a student at the seminary.
“Coming to Southeastern is, for me, that chance to [re-focus] spiritually,” Gilbertson said.
This type of spiritual refresher that Gilbertson has found at Southeastern is the type of ministry Houck and others at the school have discussed providing for military personnel at SEBTS. An executive session on ministry to the military was held that week with both internal SEBTS leaders and external military partners along with a separate strategy meeting. One of the ideas discussed involved providing focused opportunities where military personnel can come together and be spiritually refreshed.
U.S. Army Chaplain Samuel S. Lee, command chaplain to U.S. Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command, facilitated a discussion that week on the foundation and relevancy of military ministry. The discussion centered around understanding the importance of professionalism, the character qualities that should be found in a chaplain, and the vital role spouses play in chaplaincy ministry.
Multiple speakers from the week shared their thoughts on what they hope to see come out of a week like Military Community Focus Week.
Carver described the outcome as three-fold:
— familiarizing students with the ministry of chaplains,
— creating awareness of the growing opportunity for church planting near military communities both nationally and internationally,
— and discussing ways SEBTS can more intentionally reach out to veterans and their families in the community.
“I believe that Southeastern is on the verge of becoming the gold standard for strategic military ministry initiatives,” Carver said.
Chaplain Lee hopes that everyone gained “a healthy dose of respect for one another and [a] reminder of our calling for the sake of the Gospel to those who are serving our country.”
John Scanlon, who currently serves as a Navy chaplain programs officer and works with a predominantly younger demographic, said his hope for SEBTS students is that they will see military ministry as “a young mission field, to have a burden for the military community as a people group with unique values, challenges and culture, and to know there is a disciple making, gospel opportunity.”
Bill Gandy, a collegiate military missionary for the U.S. Air Force Academy, noted, he believes the week can be “a launching pad for God raising up the next generation of leaders within military ministry.”
Endel Lee, the Navy Deputy Chief of Chaplains for reserve matters as well as the church planting catalyst for military communities for NAMB, desires for students to be “gripped with the realization that military members and their loved ones are certainly in need of the Gospel, are open to its truths and could serve as a conduit for influencing worldwide spiritual revitalization.”
The week concluded with a dinner for all military personnel and their families on the seminary’s campus.
To view photos from Military Community Focus Week, click here.