We are all patriotic this time of year. We all took the family to see our local fireworks show, sometimes with classic patriotic songs playing in the background. You can hear “America the Beautiful” or “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” playing in the background at your local grocery store, and the old red, white, and blue is on full display. With these displays, Americans celebrate our freedoms, given to us by our creator and secured by the constitution.
Now that the grill is cooling off, the red, white, and blue clothing put away , and fireworks exploded, our celebration dims. Patriotic feelings, however, should not end with the dawn of July fifth. We should remember the freedom we have and those who have fought for us. Members of the American military are scattered across the world in bases and battlefields. When they come home, many of them need the support of a grateful nation.
Attending worship is one of the most powerful predictors of an easy transition from active-duty military service to civilian life. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey on this transition. They found that post-9/11 veterans who attend religious services once-a-week had 67% chance of reporting an easy transition while those who did not attend had a 43% chance. In addition to delivering eternal salvation through Christ, connection to a church can greatly ease a veteran’s transition into civilian life. Here are some ways that churches can reach out to veterans.
Pray for Veterans and Active-Duty Members of the Military
The first and most important way for Christians to do anything is with prayer. Prayer to our Father in heaven is always the most powerful tool a Christian has. Because we pray to the creator of the universe, we know that his power can do anything he wants. He can accomplish more than we think is possible.
Include members of the military, both individuals and members in general, in your daily prayers. Pray not just for their safety, but also for their families and for an easy transition into civilian life. In addition, encourage your church to include them in your corporate prayers. Ask your pastor to pray publicly for safety and for the comfort of Jesus Christ.
Find Resources to Care
Churches have been serving veterans and their families for decades, and many have lots of experience. Your church can learn from those who have researched, tested, and implemented great programs. There is no reason to do all that hard work when others have done it for you. Here are some great organizations that support churches in their effort to reach out to veterans.
Operation Barnabas is a national outreach to the military from the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Barnabas means “son of encouragement,” and it was given to one of the members of Paul’s missionary team on his first missionary trip. Operation Barnabas aims to encourage members of the military, their families, and veterans through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This group provides congregations with resources to serve veterans and active service members. Not only do Operation Barnabas chapters reach out to veterans with the gospel, they also serve active military members as well.
Operation We Are Here is a group that provides guidance to churches and individuals who want to care for military members and for veterans. They have pages and pages of guidance for working with families and veterans. They also include examples of ministries that churches have already started. Their guidance can help your church reach veterans.
Create a Veteran-Friendly Culture in Your Congregation
Many veterans have both internal and external wounds that need healing, so their needs are different than than the civilian population. Churches who want to reach veterans should consider how to make themselves more welcoming to them. There are several ways that a congregation can become more veteran-friendly:
Be Accepting Despite what we preach about love and forgiveness, churches can be a hard place for someone who is struggling. Many people do their best to look like they have everything together with the perfect family and perfect life. Christians, however, confess that we are all broken in various ways, some more obvious than others. Accepting churches are churches that confess and believe that everyone is a sinner and everyone is broken. The more your church is open about loving people who are struggling, the more likely a struggling veteran will feel accepted.
Tone Down Worship Many larger churches have worship services that include bright lights, loud noises, and a raucous environment. While some veterans might not react to this, others will have a difficult time navigating this kind of worship service. Veterans who struggle with noises, crowds, and fast movements will find the predictability of more traditional services comforting.
Know Your Local Support System Christians and pastors should know the local support systems well. Your pastor, especially, should have a list of mental health professionals to whom he should refer members of the congregation. Ask your pastor if that list includes counselors who have experience working with veterans.
Serve Active-Duty Families
Many veterans feel like we have forgotten about them and the sacrifices that military families continue to make. While our armed forces are still deployed in combat operations around the world, our news outlets rarely report on them. When churches continue to serve active-duty military members through care packages, letters, prayers, and other projects, it signals that the church cares.
If your church is near a military base, find out ways to connect to the people there. If your congregation has an active-duty member or a veteran, use that person as a key contact to begin welcoming families and individuals. Engage veterans in this process to help them find ways to serve that capitalizes on their unique insight into military culture.
The church has been called to serve all people through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Veterans need the gospel as much as anyone else. Your church can reach people in your community who have served, especially those who are struggling to integrate into civilian life, through these guidelines. With prayer and perseverance, your congregation can serve those who have served us.
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