Church of Christ: The pros and cons of overseas military congregations of the Church of Christ—Part I

Church of Christ.

I have had considerable experience with overseas congregations of the Church of Christ. I spent over twenty years in the U.S. Air Force and I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly (Sorry Clint) of Church of Christ military congregations. This is my story.

I was not a baptized member of the Churches of Christ when I first entered the military in October 1969. I was stationed at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama, (my first permanent assignment) for almost two years when I married Deborah (June 17, 1972). Deborah had been raised in a strict (dogmatic) segment of the Church of Christ. I grew up attending the Evangelical United Brethren Church which joined with the Methodist Church in 1969 to form the United Methodist Church. Although I attended regularly as a child, I was not what you would call a devout Christian when I met Deborah in April 1972.

We were engaged on the third weekend of knowing each other. Her father was in the Air Force in North Dakota and she was living alone in Atlanta at the time. I had not met her parents before we got engaged. He mother was very faithful in attending church services. Her father, although baptized, was an alcoholic and provided no spiritual leadership in the family. On the day we got engaged Deborah said, “I’m not sure how my mother will take our marriage.” I probed for further information and she said, “Well, ours will be a mixed marriage—I’m a Christian and you’re a Methodist.” This floored me and challenged me. I was determined to learn as much as I could about the Christianity and the various Christian denominations. So, when I went to Thailand six months after we got married (Korat Royal Thai Air Base) I spent much of my free time in the base library (Korat Air Base had a wonderful library) reading about religion. I read about the various Christian denominations, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, and etc.

After we got married I attended a local Church of Christ with Deborah in Selma. This was my introduction to how things were done and what people believed in the Churches of Christ. When I got to Thailand I looked for a congregation of the Church of Christ on base. I found that a group of men met on Sunday afternoons in the Base Chapel. There were only about 5-10 young men who met but they seemed serious about their faith. I attended a couple of times but no one from the group asked about my religious background. On the second or third visit they were talking about a schedule of preaching. The men took turns bringing lessons. They asked me if I’d like to be on the schedule. I told them I understood that they expected people to be baptized as adults in order to be considered members of the Church of Christ and that I’d only been baptized as an infant in the United Brethren Church so I declined their offer. I’m sure they would have changed their minds about allowing me to bring a lesson after my “confession.” I didn’t attend much after that. I just continued to study on my own.

I continued to attend worship services with Deborah when I returned from Thailand. I was baptized by Gray Bortz, the Youth Minister of the Greenlawn Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas, on October 27, 1977. I was convinced that although I’d seen and heard some things in the Churches of Christ that I believed were more denominational dogma than biblical doctrine, this group was closer to the teaching of the New Testament than any other Christian group I’d studied. Besides, I put my faith in God through Christ and not in the particular or peculiar beliefs of the Churches of Christ. I immediately let my family and friends know that I wanted to dedicate my life to working for Christ. To that end, I began making plans to leave the military after just nine years to enroll in the Bible Department of Lubbock Christian College (LCC). I got out of the Air Force in August 1978. As I already had several years of college credit from night classes in the military I only had to take classes for 18 months to finish my BA degree. I graduated in early December 1979.

My plan was to get my BA degree from LCC and to get a position with a congregation of the Church of Christ as a preacher. Reality began to set in during the summer before I graduated. I had already begun to look into possible preaching positions and found that churches weren’t very keen on hiring a relatively “new Christian” with four children (Deborah was pregnant with our fourth at the time) and no experience. Although I was carrying a straight “A” average at LCC, I couldn’t find a church willing to take a risk on me. Dr. Charles Stephenson, head of the Bible Department at LCC, helped me get an offer from the Northside Church of Christ (where he was the preacher) to be the assistant minister. They were only able to offer me a small, three bedroom house and about $700 a month in salary. That wasn’t nearly enough to support my family. I decided the best course of action for my family would be for me to go back into the military as an enlisted airman. In July 1979 I went to an Air Force recruiter and asked about going back into the enlisted force. The recruiter asked questions about my background and education and told me that I could probably go back through Officers Training School (OTS) and become a Second Lieutenant. He scheduled me to take the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) in Amarillo, Texas, at the end of the first week of August. Our fourth child, Jessica, was born in Lubbock on August 8, the day I was taking the AFOQT in Amarillo. I scored well on the test and was accepted into OTS the first week of January 1980. I decided that if I couldn’t be a preacher as a civilian I’d take every opportunity to preach and teach while I finished my military career. That way I could support my family, gain experience, and help churches wherever I happened to be stationed.

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