by Abbey McCormack
The one constant in the life of a military family is change. That being said, it is almost impossible to build a program to the point of most mega-churches in a matter of a couple years with limited resources, mountains of red tape, a transient volunteer base and shared facilities. If you start your ministry with an elaborate and professional-grade program in mind, you’re setting up yourself for disappointment and your people for burn-out. Start with the people instead of the program and you will succeed. Do what is doable for the volunteers you have and the program will thrive. Here’s what works for us:
- Biblically solid lessons with real-life applications. We use Wonder and the Feature Presentation videos for our large group lessons in K5 and PreK. This way, we know that the quality of the Bible story will be consistent from week to week. When my teachers feel confident enough, they teach the lesson live—that’s the goal, but their life pace and spiritual maturity will determine when they are ready, not our ministry timeline.
- Focus on the memory verse activities and Bible navigation skills. Bible, Bible, Bible. Your families will PCS (permanent change of station) out of your ministry. Teach them to use the Word! It is the one thing that will not change no matter where they go. Home will change, countries will change, friends will change, family may change . . . but the Word of God will be constant forever. What a gift!
- Teach them how to pray. Again, this goes back to helping kids and families cultivate a relationship with God that will outlast your influence on them. They WILL leave you . . . soon . . . show them how to talk to God.
- Show them who God is. In your words, attitudes and actions. You might be the only “Jesus person” these families encounter. Genuinely love If nothing else, they might remember that “cool church guy” they knew from [insert military installation here] and give church a try at the next duty station.
Above all else, keep compassion and understanding at the forefront of your mind: Make an exception for the mom who is running late because her husband finally was able to Skype that morning. Allow for changes to the schedule for families to visit their mom or dad while they hit a port nearby. Understand that military families usually travel during the holidays because they live far from home. Realize the mountain of responsibility placed on the remaining spouse during a deployment and give them grace if they need to take a step back. Schedule subs during cold and flu season because most families are depending on one Dr. Mom or Dad during a long deployment.
Bottom Line: Create a ministry that serves military families and they will serve in turn.
In short, it is all about your people: your kids, your volunteers, your parents and your community. We have the privilege of serving those who serve—and we as leaders need to be sensitive to the demands on their lives. Serve them first and build a program around their strengths then just stand back and watch God do HIS thing!
Abbey McCormack is a 10-year family ministry veteran, former 252 Basics Curriculum Writer, wife to a deployed Active Duty US Navy Sailor, mama to an adorable toddler, expecting her second son in a few weeks and is the Director of Religious Education at NAF Atsugi, Japan.