A Christian must have a life ministry and proactive faith to positively influence the world. There is a subtle underlying presumption to that truth, however: to effectively influence the world, a Christian has to be in it. By choosing to become a fighter pilot a Christian has elected to be deeply “in” the world, a choice that results in immense tension, a literal struggle between good and evil. A Christian in the fighter pilot world faces immeasurable pressure to compromise his convictions to conform, and he confronts the struggle of trying to be an effective Christian witness to the fighter pilots around him. The Christian fighter pilot’s eternal battle is how to be “in it but not of it”—to be different without necessarily being separate. God has called the Christian to be salt in the world, and his salt needs to be in the meal that is the fighter pilot community. Christians cannot separate themselves so far that their salt isn’t even in the same restaurant. Nowhere in the Bible does God command Christians to segregate themselves from sinners—quite the contrary: Read more
Tag Archives: Military
In a very basic sense, the Christian in the fighter pilot world lives a “ministry of presence.” Living among those to whom a Christian hopes to minister opens a door that the TV evangelist, street corner Bible thumper, and pulpit preacher will never have. Few fighter pilots would give those people the time of day—they’ll simply change the channel, cross the street, or watch football on Sunday. The Christian fighter pilot, on the other hand, they know and work with. When a Christian fighter pilot lives a wise and successful professional life, they will respect and trust him. If he lives a Christ-centered life, they will see Jesus in him. That is the essence of a Christian fighter pilot’s ministry of presence.
Importantly, though, just as being a Christian in a foreign land does not inherently make a man a missionary, simply being a Christian in an unChristian fighter pilot world does not mean he’s a ministering pilot. Read more
Whether a Christian fighter pilot assumes the leadership role of a Bible study or simply gets the opportunity to witness to a non-Christian, it is crucial that he know how to communicate his faith. How does a pilot share the gospel with those around him? There is no simple, distinct answer to that question. There is no formulaic response that will enable a Christian to take a checklist, approach a fellow pilot, and convert them by ticking off the boxes.
There are two “canned” answers I can provide. Read more
If a pilot arrives at a location (either a new assignment or temporary duty) and doesn’t find an active Bible study, he should consider starting one on his own. Often Christian fighter pilots who see such a need choose to start a fellowship under the auspices of a national organization such as OCF, the Navigators, Cadence, or any of a host of others. An important note for those pilots is that outside religious organizations that operate on base must do so “under the umbrella of [the] senior chaplain’s program. (AF Message)” This is normally not a problem since most organizations that minister to the military encourage an active relationship with the local chaplaincy. Given the current climate for a proactive Christian in the military, though, (see Religion and Military Policy), it is important for a Christian fighter pilot to make sure that he is in compliance with the appropriate procedures.
There are many resources that can guide a Christian in starting a group Bible study (See Links). Many publishers create not only the text of the study, but also teacher’s notebooks with schedules and guided discussion questions. Read more
Finding a church and Bible study to attend are the most important first steps a Christian fighter pilot can take when he arrives at a new base. Once he finds a church and study to call home he needs to do more than merely count time. In the military it’s very easy to think, “If I can just survive this assignment, at my next base I’ll…,” “Once I get back from this TDY I’ll…,” “After this remote I’ll…,” or, more famously, “When I retire and have a paycheck and free time I’ll…” Instead of making the most of the opportunities the Christian has now, he treads water while waiting for the time he’ll really be able to do what is important. In short, he’s wasting time. He should be utilizing what he has to make the most of the time he is given. Once he has found a church and Bible study, merely attending is one way in which he can count time, content with the status quo. Instead, he should contribute to the body of Christ by participating in the congregation and study. Participation in the local church’s activities builds fellowship and relationships, which gives a Christian a network of friends on whom to depend. Interactive participation in a Bible study—including leading when the opportunity presents itself—builds knowledge, confidence, and abilities; one day when a Christian arrives at a base with no Bible study, those tools will give him the ability to start and lead his own Bible study.
It’s important for a Christian fighter pilot to have an open and positive attitude towards the fellowships he may find at a new location. When departing a base with a large, well-run fellowship and moving to a place that only has a small group it is tempting to despondently remember how good it “used to be.” Even though Academy cadets eagerly await graduation, I have seen some bemoan their departure because they fear their new base won’t have a fellowship like the one they were leaving. Even though remote tours contain some of the harshest spiritual, emotional, and physical conditions I have known, I have seen airmen lament their departure from Korea for fear they’d be unable to duplicate the unique and intimate fellowship they’d experienced there.
Throughout the rest of the Air Force, this is known as the “Base X” syndrome. Read more
Attending a fellowship or Bible study is a close second to finding a church. Occasionally a Christian fighter pilot will find both a compelling church and a strong Bible study, but more often one will be weaker and it will be the combination of the two that will provide him sufficient Christian teaching and fellowship. I experienced that very thing early on in my cadet career.
Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF) conducted a Bible study on Monday nights as part of the sanctioned Special Programs in Religious Education (SPIRE) system sponsored by the cadet chapel. The hosts of OCF also hosted a Saturday night Bible study at their home just outside the Academy gate. The sponsors were Lt Col Terry Stokka and his wife, Artha. Lt Col Stokka had been a navigator on an AC-119 gunship in Vietnam. As a retired Air Force aviator he garnered immediate respect from cadets. When I attended the first OCF gathering, I was impressed with the Bible study; it involved Lt Col Stokka and some cadets playing guitar and singing praise and worship songs, and then the group divided for in-depth Bible studies. The organization and structure of the gathering impressed me, and Lt Col Stokka’s leadership style and obvious spiritual maturity reassured me that I could be comfortable and learn in the environment of OCF.
Once I began attending OCF, my spiritual foundation became significantly stronger and I started to grow. I found in that fellowship what I had lacked in the many local churches I had attended. My spiritual growth was exponential in my last year and a half as a cadet not because of church attendance but because of the teaching and mentorship of OCF. In some cases it came about simply by being around and observing other Christians. It was at OCF that I saw the benefits of the ability to play guitar. Read more
Arriving at a new base often makes a military Christian feel as though he’s been thrown into the water by himself—the only options are to sink or swim. The single most important thing he can do is establish his spiritual support. Finding a church and Bible study to attend are important to prevent him from feeling that he is standing alone.
The Base Chapel
When a Christian fighter pilot moves to a new location (whether a new assignment or temporary duty), his number one priority (short of eating) should be finding a church to attend. (At some churches, his meal may be taken care of as well.) Read more