The Army that Shoots its Officers
by Dr. Jack Elwood, WACMM Co-Founder

In the not too distant past, the church was described as the only army that shot its wounded. While it was and is true that there was and is often a very ungracious form to church discipline for sinful behavior, there is an even more pressing issue to the army of God. We, the church, are struggling to recruit and retrain the best and brightest for pastoral ministry because we keep shooting our best officers (pastors).

In making this claim, I am not making excuses for pastors who shoot themselves in the foot (groin?) and then want pity for their pain. I am also not ignorant that pastors can become arrogant, power hungry, and self consumed and use their position to seek control over others. I am suggesting that churches first begin with unrealistic expectations (you ever see a job description for a Pastor that didn’t raise the bar so high that even Jesus himself might not qualify?) Pastors are to be leaders and teachers who point the way to Christ but they should not be expected to be Jesus. Such unrealistic expectations then produce critical and contentious followers, who want to act as judge and jury when evaluation time comes around. Biblical standards for leadership (II Tim 1, Titus 2, etc.) can be used by legalistic Pharisees (yes, they do still exist) to promote self- righteousness for external behavior while missing the very core gospel aspects of grace and mercy. Good leadership that is truly collegial, as in a council of elders, can help others to understand that no one person has all the spiritual gifts or can be expected to be engaged in every form of ministry. A good and growing congregation will be one that puts the focus on the true Shepherd of the sheep, not the sheep dogs that keep the flock close to the real leader.

The church, as the army of God, is not only losing its officers at an alarming rate, due to unrealistic expectations, it also continues to repeat the process over and over again, expecting different results. I think that was called the definition for insanity at one time. Church who burn through pastors regularly fail to own up to the fact that maybe the problem is internal rather than external. Every church has a personality or DNA that sometimes can be abusive, dysfunctional, or just downright sinful. They often put their hope in a new pastor, who unlike their old pastor will be able to be both pastoral and prophetic, one that will preach great sermons but never bother anyone with hard truth. It doesn’t work and pretty soon the firing squad is being recalled to formation. Rather than examining themselves, they put the blame on the officer, and start the process all over again, never once bothering to question why this pattern keeps repeating itself over and over again.

Thirdly, the church as the army of God often uses the wrong process of selection. Almost no other profession in the world allows you to graduate from school and begin at the top. Churches that put young, inexperienced people at the top can almost always fail. The Scriptures indicate that life experience, proven character, and godly wisdom are the most important characteristics for the spiritual officer corp. Education, personality, or even skill sets, are to way down the list in qualifying someone for pastoral service. The military does not place Academy grads as senior leaders but instead grows them through a series of progressive tests and challenges that take significant time. They have learned that when lives are at risk, you only want the best leaders in position to make decisions. Can we afford to do less?

Historians tell us that during the European conflicts of the 18th and 19th century, there was an unwritten rule of military protocol; that is you don’t shoot the officers of the opposing army. They knew it was the officers who kept order, prevented the soldiers from atrocities, and minimized the horrors of war.  I don’t think it would have ever occurred to them to tell their own troops not to shoot them. As someone has said “Be careful not to get too far ahead of your own troops lest they mistake you for the enemy” Maybe it is time for the troops to be rallied to remember that their officers are not their enemies. They indeed have an enemy who seeks to kill, rob and destroy and all aim must be directed toward him. When handing out rifles to new recruits, drill instructors always remind them, only point this at the enemy! Maybe this instruction needs to be a part of every church new members class. Maybe then fewer officers will be shot. Maybe then the gates of hell will not stand before the advance of the army of God.

Dr. Jack Elwood
a pastor with multiple purple hearts
Dr. Jack Elwood is co-founder of WACMM and a WACMM Pastor-at-Large. He has served on the mission field in China and as Senior Pastor at Granada Heights Friends Church in La Mirada, CA., Burke Community Church in Burke, Virginia and at Euzoa Bible Church in Steamboat Springs Co. In 2007 Jack received the “Pastor of the Year” award from the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries (NCMM).