Making Marines – Making Disciples

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

I had an interesting experience last week as I was invited to join a group of educators and spend four days at Parris Island, South Carolina, the home of the Marine training for their new recruits. It was one of my best experiences this year. I not only learned a lot, but developed a great appreciation for the men and women who defend us.

When I was introduced to the Commanding General F. M. Padilla, he said, “John Ed, I attended Frazer when I was at War College at Maxwell AFB.” Captain Lee Stuckey invited me. Stephanie Hicks and her cameraman from WAKA, attended and will do segments on the news the latter part of April.

A word used often was “transformation.” This word is a part of the DNA at Parris Island. They pride themselves in the fact that young men and women come to Parris Island, and in 13 weeks are transformed into Marines.

There is a huge sign over the Base entrance saying “We Make Marines.” I saw firsthand that process. It reminded me that in the church we say “We make disciples for Jesus Christ.” I found that Parris Island is far more intentional about making Marines than most churches are about making disciples.

When young recruits first arrive and get off the bus in the early hours of the morning, they see yellow footprints and they put their feet in those footprints and stand at attention. Stepping in the footprints is the first step toward becoming a Marine.

Throughout my ministry at Frazer we always used “In His Steps” as the theme for our church. Our ministries centered around how we get people to put their feet in the footprints of Jesus, and walk in His steps.

It takes discipline to make a Marine – and a Christian. Parris Island is discipline taken to the next degree. They exercise discipline physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. The physical discipline is very evident. Out of the thousands of Marines that I saw at Parris Island, I never saw one that was overweight. No body fat there! I experienced some of the exercises they do every day. They are rigorous.

Most of us in the church don’t exercise spiritual discipline with that same kind of intensity. Too many folks in the church are more interested in “being fed” than in being trained to become a disciple.

So much of the training of a Marine is in the context of community. Marines are trained, not to simply become individuals, but to be a part of the team. Many of the exercises required creative thinking and teamwork. One Marine leader told me, “I feel safer with a group of Marines in Iraq then I do by myself on the streets of a large city. More people are killed on U.S. streets than on the streets in Iraq. The reason – in Iraq you have a Marine standing by your side and watching your back.”

What if we Christians stood together like that. What if we were “watching each others back?” The whole Bible is about “the people of God” and about how God calls His people to carry out in unity His mission for the world

There were other great lessons about respect, honor, persistence, etc. It was a great learning experience.

The Marine motto is “Semper Fi” – Always Faithful. The Marine motto doesn’t mean to be faithful only if it is convenient, or the weather is nice, or if it doesn’t offend anybody, etc. It means always faithful. It sounds like the Bible to me. How many Christians are faithful in worship on stormy Sundays?

At Parris Island they “make Marines” in 13 weeks. I am reexamining what it means to “make disciples.” I am told that you never meet an ex-Marine – just a former Marine.

Semper Fi!

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