Ministering to Military Families
Plenty of guides to military ministry advise churches to do things like pray for the troops from the pulpit on Sunday, post pictures of deployed service members on a bulletin board, and extend special counseling to soldiers and their spouses. While these are good ideas, reaching out to military families doesn't require tacking on extra Armed Forces-specific ministry tasks, but focusing on the essential roles of the church: to serve as a spiritual home and gospel-centered community.
Military families move, on average, every two to three years. Our country's 700,000 military wives often live far from their friends and relatives, plus they spend days, weeks, and months away from their husbands, who get sent off for training or deployments. This lifestyle aches with the strain of distance and loneliness. For these families—ones like mine—the church offers a resting place for the sojourner, comfort for the weary, and a home for those seeking belonging. The church serves military families by simply being the church.
Maybe you already know of military families in your community. Or, maybe this Memorial Day you notice a yellow ribbon pinned to someone's shirt or a service flag hung in the window of a house on your street. Here are five relatively straightforward and fundamentally Christian disciplines the church has to offer them:
Unhesitant hospitality. Military folks get used to being the new ones in town … over and over again. Make them feel welcome. Give them the sense that church isn't somewhere that you have to earn your place, but where you're accepted as part of the community of believers from day one. Sit with them during Sunday services, invite them to the neighborhood barbeque, and don't hesitate to offer (without pressure) further opportunities to be a part of church and family life. You may not consider yourselves especially close, but don't let that stop you. Especially during deployments, wives may not have other friends or family to rely on for company. Check if they have a place to go for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and other holidays. Don't assume someone else is reaching out to them. Keep the invites coming.
Service and love. Christians have a heart for recognizing and meeting the needs in their own communities. They have the chance to profoundly bless military families in their midst with relatively small acts of service. The average military wife is younger than 35 and has two kids under the age of 5. A friend of mine, who fits that demographic, describes herself going into "single mom mode" when her husband is away. Like many military wives, she could use some help, but she won't come out and ask for it. Instead of saying, "Tell me if you need anything," be there to recognize a family's needs and make specific offers. Wives often appreciate help with yard work (mowing the grass, cleaning gutters), and childcare (occasional babysitting while she runs errands or takes a night off). To support the soldiers overseas, send a care package (Tip: They often have enough toothpaste and deodorant. Skip the toiletries and send yummy baked goods along with an encouraging note).