Former military servicemen urge Christians to support former soldiers during Night of Valor event
A group of former military servicemen encouraged Christians to support former soldiers — especially former soldiers who have enrolled in seminary — during this year's Night of Valor event on Veteran's Day, November 11 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The event was well attended by a cadre of students and veterans.
“Soldiers are dying faster because of Satan’s encouragement to harm themselves than they are on the field,” said Chaplain Ken Lovett, a doctoral student at Southern Seminary who is currently serving with the Indiana National Guard. Lovett opened the evening's events at fifth annual Night of Valor, which is sponsored by the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization. The event aims to encourage students and soldiers and call Christians to pray for soldiers both on and off the field.
Lovett shared the story of his own call to the chaplaincy while in seminary. During his time in the classroom and working full-time (in addition to being an engaged father and church member), Lovett was leery of doing ministry work on a volunteer basis.
“I need a ministry that’s going to require me to be there," Lovett said. "Like literally require me to be there, and that fit well with the National Guard because if I didn’t show up to minister to soldiers and share the gospel with soldiers on a drill weekend, they can throw me in jail because I’ve got orders to be there on the weekend.”
Following Chaplain Lovett's talk, Major Austin Fletcher, who serves as the Military Initiative Coordinator for the Bevin Center, shared his story of going from Marine to minister of the gospel. Serving on the U.S.S. Baton, Fletcher remembers a time when he was talking to his chaplain roommate, who asked Fletcher why he was volunteering to do so much ministry work when he should be spending more time on his work as a marine trainer. Fletcher realized that he had reached a crossroads between doing the work to climb the ranks as a Marine versus shifting into ministry training to become a chaplain. With encouragement and counsel from other believers in the service, Major Fletcher went to seminary and shouldered the burden of working full-time while struggling with the rigors of academic life.
“The most challenging thing for soldiers when they come to seminary isn’t the life or family issues,” Fletcher told me after he spoke. “It’s the academics.”
Wrapping up the evening, J. Keith McKinley, Associate Professor of Christian Missions at the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and ministry, spoke on what it means to lead leaders. As a college dropout who enlisted as a private in the Army and served three years as a medic before ending up in seminary on track to do pastoral ministry, McKinley was surprised by the differences between the two forms of leadership.
“As a pastor in training, we did a great job on training for vision and sort of where we’re headed," McKinley said. "We were a little light, at least in my training in the M.Div., on how to get there. When I was in the military, it was kind of the opposite. We were really good at telling one another, in my squad or my platoon, really good at telling them exactly what I wanted done and when. ... Whenever you’re leading any group, you need to tell them where you’re headed and how to get there.”
While McKinley enjoyed serving in the military, the mission field has formed him in the most — both as a child when his family ministered in Bangladesh and later when he worked with the International Mission Board for 20 years in Indonesia. As a team leader, McKinley had the opportunity to create a training course to strengthen the leadership skills of other missionaries. One of those courses centers around an acronym (L.E.A.D.E.R.) on six principles of leadership, which he shared.
“As you lead in whatever capacity it is, at whatever level it is, Lead with clear vision and direction, Exemplifying good values and behaviors. Attend to the individual. Develop the team. Engage the noble cause. Above all, Relate to one another in grace,” McKinley said.
Closing out in prayer, McKinley thanked God for the men and women, the veterans and students and active military, gathered for the evening, and for their service in the armed forces.