Preaching in a Military Context

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Strength of America is a video produced by the Army about the strength and spirit of the Men and Women who have answered our nations call.

As a Chaplain we minister to many outstanding individuals and families. We are called to “Nurture, Care, and Honor” our nations greatest treasure, those who are called to serve.  We have a unique calling and we speak into a unique context.  Think about the unique situations and the diversity of listeners that a chaplain is called to speak.

One of my favorite quotes by Douglas Macarthur in his farewell address to WestPoint sums up the virtues of the Soldier.

 The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him. However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country, is the noblest development of mankind.

As we prepare to preach, Are we aware of the context to whom we preach?

Ask a few clarifying questions to understand context:  

  • What is the occasion I am speaking?  Sunday Service or Special event
  • What is the purpose of the event? Religious Worship, Study, Fellowship
  • Who am I speaking to?  Diverse Rank, Age, Gender, Families, Religious Background, Are they known or unknown to me?, Military or Civilian.
  • How many are expected?  How would my message be different if it were 5 or 5000?
  • What is the facility?  Chapel, Gym, Conference Room, Outside, Sound System, Technology
  • What do I wear?  Dress Uniform, Duty Uniform, Civilian Clothes Casual or Dress

Coaching Tips to Help Others

  • What has helped you become aware of the situational, cultural, and individual contexts in which you preach?
  • Does to whom you are preaching effect your preparation, illustrations, and style of delivery?
  • How does context matter in our preaching?

Frame your idea worth spreading as an action-outcome response to a question worth asking.

Call listeners to action in such a way that makes the world a better place.

-Jeremey Donovan

Expository Preaching Defined

A classic definition from Haddon Robinson’s book Biblical Preaching:

“Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.”

There is a lot packed into the definition isn’t there?  I was taught that when preaching, you must “let the text win.”  Sometimes we come with our own ideas and agendas as we approach the Bible.  However, as we read, study, and pray, our goal must be to understand what God is saying, so we then can speak for God to our listeners.  Questions about context, authorial intent, and how the passage fits within the overall story of God and the Church, must be looked at examined.  A preacher must come humbly to God’s word, seeking to find and distill the message that should be delivered.

The definition says, “expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept.”  While this is true, the definition doesn’t stop there.  Robinson expands the definition, as if anticipating questions from his students.  How?  What do you mean?  Yes, but . . . Tell me more. . .

The biblical concept is “derived and transmitted through” or the Biblical Idea is gathered and delivered

*Study (Context:Historical,Grammatical, Literary)

*Spirit (apply what learned personally through personality and experience)

This is an approach that a preacher should have in sifting the message from the Bible to the hears.  This idea makes me picture a gold miner who sifts all the excess rock and dirt aside to find the gold.  All the work and sweat and pain is worth it for a tiny fleck of gold found in the sifting pan.  Expository does carry with it the idea to “expose.”  We are called to expose the truths of God revieled in His Word.  This is what we do as preachers.

We mine the scriptures, remove the clutter and hold up the truth gleaned from God’s Word!

Our charge is to communicate a Biblical idea discovered through Study and the Holy Spirit.  Own the truth ourselves then present it to our listeners.

Read, Study, Pray!  Discover the Big Idea and then share it!

  • Have you heard this before?
  • What do you think about this definition?
  • Are there things you would add or qualify?
  • How do you define preaching?

The Prophetic Voice of the Chaplain

Recently there have been a few news outlets that have highlighted the prayers of the Senate Chaplain, Barry Black.

The first (above) is from “The Racheal Maddow Show” on MSNBC.

Here is another from CNN Newsroom (link here)

  • What do you think about the news highlighting the prophetic voice of the Senate prayers?
  • Do you think they are prophetic or inappropriate?

As a Chaplain in the Army, my job is to provide free exercise of religion, as well as to advise the command in various areas regarding religion, ethics, morals and morale.

  • In our ministry of presence there is a clear pastoral role, but where does the prophetic role fit?

Currently I am enrolled in a class at Boston University entitled “Prophetic Preaching“.  The syllabus explains, “This course is designed to help students wrestle with several central issues around prophetic preaching in contemporary Christian churches: the relationships of prophetic preaching to the gospel, to the Bible, to the social-political context, and to pastoral ministry generally.”  In the class we have discussed forming a theology of Prophetic Preaching, read and discussed various books and sermons dealing with the topics of prophetic, pastoral, and social change and the interconnectedness of these ideas.   We have even looked at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his role as a preacher and civil rights leader in Lischer’s book, Preacher King.

The class has given me a lot to think about and caused me to reflect on the role of the prophetic voice of the Chaplain.

As I write this post, the government is shut down due to Congress’s inability to agree on a spending bill.

  • But what is the role of the Chaplain?
  • Do we have a role to speak truth to power?  If so in what way and how?
  • Is there a way to speak truth that transcends partisan politics and look to the greater good?

I think the answer is contextual and each Chaplain must examine his or her own calling, role and sphere of influence.

However each Chaplain has a word to speak into their context.  We must find our voice!

Maybe you, like Esther, are in your unit and location in this moment in time for a reason.

“. . .And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

My prayer is that if a fire is burning in your bones and a word is on your heart you will speak!

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”  (Jeremiah 20:9)

Find Your Voice. . . Make Your Point!

The real presence of Christ in the Christian community is God’s pastoral care for the world.  And this mist be preached!

-Rudolf Bohren

Preaching in Community (Richmond: Knox Press, 1965), 131

Check out this recent TedTalk based on Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  Gladwell discusses a unique retelling of a familiar story.  He brings various outside resources to the ancient story to fill in some of the details and draws different conclusions about the story.

  • What do you think about the way he tells and explains the Biblical story?
  • What reactions did you have to hearing his approach or unique insights?
  • Anything that you noticed about his speaking style?
  • Is is surprising to have this topic as a TedTalk ?

Communication is not about you or what people think about you or how well you will perform.

Communication is about the people sitting in front of you.

It’s about. . .

  • giving to them
  • helping them
  • instructing them
  • and persuading them of something that will enrich their lives.

-Ken Davis

Secrets of Dynamic Communication (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 11

Check out this insightful interview between Dallas Willard and John Ortberg from Catalyst 2010.

Dallas Willard says, what is wrong with the Church today is a skewed message of the Gospel?

He says specifically  that “The problem (with the church) is their message, What is their central message? and the inability to make touch with what Jesus says as the central message undermines all of the efforts of the Church.

  • Do you think that is fair?
  • What message do you want to preach?
  • The Gospel? The Kingdom of God?
  • What do message do you want the world to hear from your preaching?
  • How can we make our message clearer?
  • What do you think about what was discussed in the interview?

When you get stuck, go back to the basics:

  • What do they need to know?
  • Why do they need to know it?
  • What do they need to do?
  • Why do they need to do it?
  • How can I help them remember?

-Andy Stanley

Communicating for a Change (Grand Rapids: Multnomah, 2006), 192

In an interview from, Fred Craddock discusses the use of humor and emotion in preaching.  There are many more preaching videos (Click here). Craddock has written several books most notable, “As One Without Authority.”

  • Do you use humor or jokes in your sermons?
  • How do you decide?
  • What are the drawbacks to using humor and emotion in Sermons?
  • What are the advantages to using humor and emotion in Sermons?
  • What did you think about Dr. Fred Craddock’s comments?