Reflections from Navy ODS: Young Adults, Ministry, & Leadership

So, I’ve completed 2 weeks of my 5-week training at Navy Officer Development School here in Newport, RI. On a personal note, things are going pretty well for me. I am our company’s assistant division officer – which is sort of ironic in a way, because I shunned such things during my Naval Academy days.

But the position has afforded me the opportunity to be “front and center” from a leadership standpoint – both in our training to be Naval Officers and as a Chaplain. With that has come the privilege to bearing and sharing life with some great young people who are passionate about life and the calling they’re pursuing. And I’ve either learned or been reminded of a few things along the way:

1. Shared experience opens up space for relationships of vulnerability and growth. One of the unique things about my presence here at ODS is that I’m both significantly older than most of the students (average age is like 25; I’m almost 35!) and that I am the only prior commissioned officer in the class. And despite that prior experience, the fact of the matter is that we’re all in the same boat – trainees and student going through the same experiences and feelings. We’re getting yelled at together; we’re marching, shining shoes, memorizing facts together; and we’re succeeding and failing – together.

And all this opens up the possibility of relationship, regardless of background or experience. And that makes me wonder, as both a pastor and a leader, if we have to experience life with people first before we ever enter into or speak into theirs.

2. Young adults: it’s all about stories. I’ve tried to do my best getting to know as many people’s stories as I can. It’s the most interesting, and honestly, engaging part of life and ministry. And what I find is that every time I hear someone’s story, I always walk away changed and impressed. Listening to their stories of who they are, why they’ve joined the Navy, and what drives them just downright fires me up. It’s in listening to those stories, I’ve witnessed God in new ways, and I hope that’s been true for them too.

They’re a different young adult than what the church (the flavor I belong to) and its’ people tend to focus on and engage with, but they are just like any other young adult – and I would encourage you to take the time to talk to a young man or women who’s made the commitment to serve in the armed forces; get to know their stories. Just a disclaimer though: be prepared to be changed.

3. Being in leadership reminds me….

……that being entrusted with people and their lives is always a privilege.
……that empathy and humility, combined with integrity and discipline make for a great leader in the 21st Century.
……that your people will always in some way be smarter and better than you, and you have to be ok with that.
……people are always watching and will judge. Accept it.
……you will always be surprised and humbled by those moments and conversations when people reveal deep need and questions – because they trust you.
……that even redemption for past mistakes as a leader can happen in the way we lead in opportunities beyond them.

In short, as much as I had apprehension about my time here at Navy ODS, it has been a good time of growth, grace, and challenge….and as always, the gift of sharing life with all of God’s people in tremendous ways.


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Filed under Children, Youth, Family & Young Adult Ministry, Navy Chaplaincy

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