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There is scarcely a more important man of greater importance in the battle than the combat medic. Whether it is a Navy Corpsman aiding Infantry Marines or an Army Medic, their presence in the fight is essential. By sharp contrast, the day-to-day routine in garrison in times of peace, while valuable, is at times of far less pressing concern. Their primary mission in garrison is reduced to dispensing Motrin for almost every common training injury or headache. In fact, it is used so frequently for such an array of ailments that it is known affectionately as “vitamin-M” by military members.

Pastor, our people are in combat, not garrison. The value of our sermons hinges upon our recognition of the war we are in. People come into the worship gathering every week with countless invisible wounds. They need a combat medic, not more vitamin-M. They battle physical sickness, job loss, family struggles, abuse in their lives, wayward children, and more. Some of the wounds are caused by friendly fire in the battle for our people’s souls. We also need to challenge our people with regard to gossip, backbiting, judgmental spirits, and other infighting in the Church. 

As I have always served churches in transition where the fallout of recent battles are all around, I have had to dress more than a few wounds, challenge more than a few Christians to aim their rifles in the direction of the enemy, and in the process I have learned more than a few lessons the hard way about preaching like a combat medic.

1. Wear Your Battle Armor. When the combat medic is at work on the battlefield, his weapons are bandages and sutures. He can’t always defend himself in the battle.  Be aware that non-combatants still get wounded. Pastors who preach like combat medics may address some wounds in people’s lives that they would prefer to pretend don’t exist. The pain of exposing those wounds could lead to the medic being attacked by his patient. It is also guaranteed to lead to the enemy taking more careful aim on the medic. Our enemy would much more greatly prefer that our people are wounded and infected than that they were destroyed altogether or that they are healed.

It is common knowledge among militaries that a wounded man in the enemy’s camp is better than a dead one. A wounded man needs help from his fellow soldiers. When others come to his aid they are taken out of the battle as well. The enemy will do anything that he can to stop a preacher who addresses actual battlefield wounds in the lives of Christians and the Church. He prefers to have us crippled. Limping along in the battle, we don’t make very good pictures for recruiting posters, and evangelism fails. Staggering through the battle, we become discouraged, and our discouraged attitude destroys the fervor of fellow soldiers.

Preachers who preach like combat medics need to keep their armor tightly fastened in the battle because they are high on the enemy's target list. (Ephesians 6:10-20, James 3:1)

2. Treat Actual Wounds. In the fog of war, it is altogether too easy to get distracted by superficial abrasions and ignore the serious wounds. People need encouragement, but not if it comes in the forms of balms to bruises rather than closures to cuts. People need positive boosts to nurture their sense of self-worth.  However, having their egos stroked will only produce temporary pleasure. Only by getting at the root problems associated with sin and repentance will our people find joy that lasts and peace that passes understanding.

It is irresponsible and in the long run deadly to ignore an infected, festering, open wound while treating a scratch. The people to whom we preach warrant attention to actual wounds. Even if treating the real problems cause them immediate pain it is to their benefit in the long run. It brings God no glory and we abate the substance of our calling when we treat the maladies of self-esteem, feeding prideful egos, while neglecting to point out the weightier matters of repentance, discipleship, transformation, and eternity. (Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 5:24, II Peter 2:1-2, 19)  

3. Stay Focused on the Mission. Most often friendly fire occurs in combat because of a breakdown in communication, specifically when troops lose communication or the mission objective gets compromised or confused. It is easy to become disoriented in the fog of war and make critical mistakes that potentially lead to firing upon friendly troops. This is a tragedy when it occurs.  Thankfully in military combat it is uncommon. Sadly, in the Church it is far less uncommon.

Get a clear picture of God’s vision for the local church and then say it over and over and over again. Ensure that the vision and mission are clear in the minds of every new enlistee to every battle worn sergeant, sergeant major, and major.  From the nursery to the nursing home articulate the mission of the church so that it becomes exceedingly difficult to get off course. Preach on the importance of unit comradery and unification of the battle effort.

In the military a lot of time is spent marching in lockstep in order to hone a sense of unity. Preachers of God’s Word don’t have the luxury of drilling the platoon, but we can exercise great perseverance in proclaiming the importance of unity among the brethren through constant calls to create and sustain communities where forgiveness, love, and humility are in power, rather than people’s egos duking it out over secondary matters of personal preference.    Articulate the vision. Help the people to stay focused on the mission. (Proverbs 28:19, Romans 12:11-21, I John 3:18)

4. Stay Focused on Saving Lives. There are few things more rewarding to most combat medics than actually saving the life of one of their soldiers. It is tough work to make a mission of handling wounded people and treating their injuries.  It is difficult to sustain one’s own health along the way. Combat medics risk injury themselves as the bullets whiz by and the bombs explode all around them. However, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a healthy soldier who survived the battle because God used us to stop the bleeding and get him back in the fight and safely back to his family.

Writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, the Apostle Paul says, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” (II Timothy 2:3-4 NIV84)  Fellow medic, our mission has nothing to do with the mundane affairs of this world. Our training is not well utilized in garrison. We were trained for battle and the battle rages on. 

Get in the fight! People are wounded and bleeding. Our enemy is constantly on the offensive. In the battle that wages, will we dispense a little vitamin-M, pat the troops on the back, and send them back into the battle still wounded?  Or will we roll up our sleeves and speak to the deeper matters of sin and repentance and discipleship?  Preach like a combat medic. Lives depend upon it. Eternal destinies count on it.  Present victories are lost without it.

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

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Zenaida Aguilar

commented on Aug 14, 2012

Very clear. It will be very useful in delivering sermons. It inspires and gives motivation.

Mike Frans

commented on Aug 14, 2012

As a former Army field medic in Vietnam, this all rings true and has so many applications to the ministry. This life experience for me was one of my best preparations to be a pastor! Thanks for reminding us all of this analogy and the relevant applications to preaching on Sundays and pastoring all week long! It gives me a new sense of urgency about the mission!

Dennis Cocks

commented on Aug 14, 2012

Excellent! So very true!

Mh Constantine

commented on Aug 14, 2012

Very good analogy, Chris, and so appropriate. I suppose there are times, though, when we need to use the pulpit to instruct and affirm. I am sure you know that, and do not mention it to take anything away from your valuable insights. Blessings to all!

Pollie Marabe

commented on Aug 15, 2012

Thanks! A field medic is a tough job!what an urgency!

Chris Surber

commented on Aug 15, 2012

I'm very pleased the article spoke to you. I have also been getting emails on a few subjects that this article begs to discuss. "MH Constantine" very true. Both and more are needed. It is tough enough in the trenches of the local church. At the very least we have to recognize that we are in a battle, stay focused, and promote unity in the Church. God has used my experiences as a leader in the Marine Corps more to shape me for ministry than any other things. Seminary taught me what to lead people to, the Marines taught me how to do it. Blessings!

Matt Krachunis

commented on Aug 15, 2012

one more I would add (as a former combat medic and current pastor) is TRIAGE. Any good medic will tell you that as hard as it may be, you have to spend time with the ones you can save and not get sucked into trying to help the ones who have the most horrific injuries. Triage ensures that the most people get the most help and the ones that can actually get help get help. I'm sure some will disagree with me (as they always do on this site), but I thought of that as I read this fantastic article!

Chris Surber

commented on Aug 19, 2012

Thanks Matt. I think you could absolutely add Triage to this and there is a good thought there. Blessings!

John E Miller

commented on Aug 23, 2012

Good word! The quotation from " Tim.2:4 is most compelling. May I point out the previous verse? In the heat of battle God will provide us with the fellowship and support that we need. We find that someone else is already in the thick of the battle and we have fellowship together in a common desire to serve the Commander in Chief.

Steven Crombie

commented on Aug 29, 2012

Great article! Well said and I couldn't agree more with the comment by Matt Krachunis. God bless!

Bob Bosma

commented on Apr 10, 2014

I, too, was a combat medic in Vietnam. My experiences in battle as well as the day-to-day activities of encouraging to frightened and lonely soldiers is directly akin to ministry. The sad part, however, is that many in the pews do not see the pastor, or for that matter, the Word, as their primary source of comfort and ability to continue in the fight.

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