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Tuesday, October 15, 2013 Military-Friendly Churches best practices

Participant "Best Practices" and Questions from the July 18, "Military Friendly Churches" Webinar

(Posted: Sept. 9, 2013)

Given the significant participation and discussion by attendees at the July 18, 2013 IMR Webinar on “Military Friendly Churches,” I wanted to provide you with a comprehensive list of the best practices, questions, and recommendations provided by participants.  If you were unable to attend the Webinar, you can access it on the Institute for Military Resilience (IMR) website at www.LUOnline.com/IMRWebinars.

Prayerfully, this follow-up BLOG will prove to be a good resource and provide a cross leveling of best practices, aimed at empowering churches across America to provide abundant love, spiritual helps, and tangible support to our nation’s military, military families, and veterans.  Parenthetical comments by Bob Dees have been inserted in italic below.  Here we go…

Best Practices submitted by Webinar participants:

  1. We have great success allowing our church to serve as a Pre-Deployment Brief Site...especially since we provide child care!  A huge blessing to families.
  2. My church has teamed up with The Navigators (www.navigators.org) who have a Navigators couple in town.  The church added a "Military Ministry" tab to our website to help the new military in town (PCS) can more easily find a military friends church and the Navigators Bible study.
  3. One practice that I have been using is to make sure I have contacts within the local veterans health organization, and within the local veterans service organizations.  It allows me to show to the veteran or transitioning military person that I am trying to help them.
  4. We also provide a location for approximately 6-8 different command Family Readiness Group's for their monthly meetings.  Child care provided.  
  5. Since starting the new tab on our website a couple months ago, we've had two new families get involved with the Navigators Bible study and one of the couples are engaged in a Sunday School class.
  6. My church in Carlsbad, CA has as separate ministry called Military Support Network.  They reach out to the Marines and Sailors at Camp Pendleton.  They help families with furniture, etc and also are involved in various events at Camp Pendleton - Family Days, Marriage Seminars, etc.  It is a serving ministry that shows the church's presence with our military personnel. 
  7. The work the Navigators do on the West Coast.  They have led Sunday services for the recruits at MCRD San Diego and at Camp Pendleton.  Many Marine recruits would give their lives to Christ during these services.   The Navigators also help the Marines to have a continuing relationship with Jesus Christ.  Men from various local churches participate. 
  8. One of the "best practices" of which I am aware is an intentional program called "Partners in Care" that is designed to connect local congregations to military units.  You may well have heard of the program. It is a National Guard program developed by the MD NG Chaplains office and has spread to several states. Congregations sign up through a memorandum of understanding in order to participate.
  9. Gary Sanders and the Military Missions Network (MMN) www.militarymissionsnetwork.com is an awesome model of "3 streams, 1 river". Streams are 1) church, 2) para-church, and 3) military chaplains .  All have a role.  www.militarybeliever.com is a place for churches and military to connect.
  10. It is also hard to get the military and veterans to come to church.  It helps to have veterans as the outreach persons contacting the military personnel and veterans.
  11. The response from my original church when I got out of the military was "how dare you go and kill innocent people and help bomb innocent people."  The first requirement IMHO for a church to be military friendly is for them to be non-judgmental.  [Amen!]
  12. Churches must be willing to serve and love on the local military with "no strings attached."  (i.e., not trying to grow your membership or take from the chapel community...just SERVE.)  

Questions with Brief Answers

Note:  we will seek to address some of these questions in greater depth in future webinars

  • Can choirs arrange to meet service men upon arrival home to USA, or upon deployment and sing praises to the Lord?

This sounds like a creative idea, entirely dependent upon the trust and confidence with local military organization or service organizations which afford access to such events.  Times Square Church in New York City did something such as this, sponsoring a worship service on behalf of the military on the deck of the mothballed aircraft carrier INTREPID in NYC Harbor.  They then distributed thousands of copies to military members worldwide.

  • Is homelessness mostly due to PTSD or TBI?

Hard to characterize. Both of these conditions, one psychological and one physiological, present symptoms which often incur lack of motivation, drug dependency, poor emotional regulation, lack of clarity or longevity regarding critical tasks related to balanced living and long term employability, et al.  All of these challenges can result in homelessness.  In addition, lack of a sufficient support structure for the transitioning veteran often leaves them to fend for themselves on the streets, where they often find a subculture with which they can identify.

  • From one of the webinar participants:  “During my time homeless, the bulk of the veterans that were homeless, besides myself, were about 40% Vietnam, 20% interwar years, and 40% OEF/OIF.”

The trends indicate increasing percentages of homeless veterans are in the younger age group.

  • Is substance abuse higher than civilian population?

No, not within the age group that generally characterizes the majority of military members.  However, prescription drug abuse in the military is an alarming trend.  Many of our wounded warriors have access to large quantities of prescription drugs which become collateral for trading with others, or even selling in black market fashion.  Defense and Veterans Affairs officials are working to stem this trend.

  • Is long deployment a major cause of divorce?

The causes of the unacceptably high military divorce rate are myriad.  With long and repeated deployments as a given, other equally erosive factors include infidelity, serious financial challenges, combat trauma (mental or physical) placing great demands on the primary caregiver and other family members, and secondary trauma in wives and children.  Apart from anything related to military tempo, our military is a reflection of our culture at large.  Disregard for traditional marriage and an ethic of divorce in the civilian population influences military divorce rates as well.  The reality is that God’s blueprint for marriage and His guidelines for relational health are the only antidote to the challenges of military service and cultural erosion.

  • Do soldiers get any retraining $ for further education and future employment while they are in service? after they leave service?

All of the Services have Transition Programs for their departing service members.  This does not include retraining $ before or after they leave the Service.  As well, there are a number of programs to help veterans transition.  For Webinar #6 on November 7, we will discuss Veterans employment, including a number of private programs that address Veterans unemployment issues.

  • Is there an organization to give $ to start a new business for returning veterans? (Like buy a truck to let them do UPS or FedEx route?

Similar to above, we will discuss employment opportunities for Veterans on November 7 webinar.

  • What if there is no kind of ministry in the church now that is for military?

Suggest the following:  Address with leadership and missions representatives.  Identify a military advocate who could drive the program;  it may be YOU!  Inventory church strengths to determine what areas of excellence can be applied intentionally to ministering to the military.  Identify military person (and family members) within the church, and in the locale of the church (including military facilities, academic institutions with military students, Veterans Service Organization, any community veterans assistance initiatives, and VA/Vet Centers in the locale.

  • Do the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) have a program for assisting with spiritual healing of veterans? 

DVA has a large inventory of chaplains, many of whom provide true spiritual care, who service their facilities.  There are also DVA counselors and social workers who possess a Christian world view.  As well, DVA has an office which is an extension of successive Presidential faith-based initiative, although the greatest emphasis of late has been on community organizing.  Institutionally, DVA does not strongly promote or support faith-based programs.  Despite these constraints, the needs within the Veteran community provide many opportunities for spiritual healing ministries.  Times Square Church, for instance, teams with three VA hospitals within the tri-state area to include a solid spiritual focus.

  • What are your thoughts on starting a church plant predominantly composed of military members and their families?

Clearly God can allow something like this to prosper for a season, a matter of God’s leading according to overall circumstances.  That said, I would opt for a chapel community that already exists or a church/church plant in the civilian sector.  This avoids the military persons from having to “administer” the church program, a difficult task in light of the challenges of military life.  As well, integration of military and civilian members and families has many relational advantages in both directions.  Perhaps an alternative to your question would be to form a small group of couples/families with similar life situations (such as the military), and journey together in Bible study, prayer, and fellowship while experiencing the benefits of “church” in a more conventional setting.

  • I am part of a veteran’s task force at a nearby community college. I noticed that particularly for the public university/college, there is a true absence of faith-based, specifically Christian-base presence. Any ideas on how to better form a relationship?

This seems to fall in the category of “earning the right to be heard.”  Providing value add to the overall task force mission, developing close relationships with leadership and veteran students, and wisely demonstrating the relevance of faith-based approaches (such as in the Resilient Warriors curriculum, www.ResilienceTrilogy.com) will prayerfully build the trust and confidence needed to further the Gospel in this secular setting.

  • Do you know of any universities that have certification in military relations and combat related trauma for counselors?

I do not know of any accrediting bodies which certify institutions in these areas, although this may occur with greater emphasis upon military care programs in coming years.  Perhaps some of our readers can provide additional information on this matter.

That said, Liberty University has approved Certificate programs for “Care and Counsel of Military Personnel” at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  These certificates assist with developing a competitive resume, as well as providing focused expertise for vocational or Avocational endeavors.  For more information, see www.LUOnline.com/IMR, the Institute for Military Resilience (IMR) website.

Recommendations [with brief comments]:

  • Suggestion for 2014: Spiritual healing as a part of the treatment of PTSD and other traumas. 

Will work this one.

  • Have a webinar about how to minister to military personnel who have PTSD or have had suicidal thoughts.

Webinar #1 addressed this in broad terms.  You may want to listen to that.  We will have a 2014 Webinar that dives deeper.

  • I am prior service and processing the necessary paperwork to enter the Army Chaplain Candidate program. I would like to see some webinars that talk about the challenges for Christian Chaplains within the military.

Final feedback from our “Military Friendly Church” webinar

  • “Thank You so much for this presentation. I am one of the fellow Military persons. This indeed has helped guide me in the direction I consider to go with my Military & Civilian Career. Ministry is in my Heart.”
  • “Really getting a lot out of seminars that are helping to add valuable components to our street ministry.”

It is our prayer at Liberty University that the activities of the Institute for Military Resilience, including these webinars, truly assist you in achieving your full God-given potential as a student and beyond.  As well, we pray that military counselors and caregivers will be better equipped to provide expert care and counsel to the military population they serve.   To God Be the Glory!

Bob Dees
Director, Liberty University Institute for Military Resilience

PS- We hope to see you at the next IMR Webinar on September 19 concerning “Military Friendly Campuses.”  How to be one?  How to find one?  See you then! Stay tuned to the IMR website for registration information, www.Liberty.edu/IMRWebinars.

Posted at 12:53 PM | Comments (0)
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