For those living in America, you know today is Memorial Day. For my international readers, this is a day where we honor those who have served our country in the military, particularly those who died for our freedoms. This typically means the Sunday before (yesterday), churches acknowledge this holiday in all kinds of ways. You will find churches doing full blown patriotic musicals in place of the corporate gathering, to nothing different than a normal Sunday service.
Some go way over the top, while others do nothing trying to make a statement about how church is not a place to celebrate your country, but worship God. Regardless where you find yourself on this spectrum, most churches have men and women who have served in the military who are present on Sunday. How does a pastor encourage these members in his church?
I must confess, in the early years I was more concern with upholding Sunday as a day to worship God, not honor our country. This caused me to make some unhelpful and insensitive rookie comments in discussions with a few folks wanting more done on Sundays. I still feel that Sunday is the Lord’s Day and should be focused on the Lord, but here are a few ways I have learned we can still encourage those who have served in the military over Memorial Day Weekend without compromising our convictions about Sunday worship:
1) Recognize vets in your congregation publically.
We do announcements at the beginning of the service as well as any other logistical issues before our call to worship. This is a great time to do things like this as it is placed before worship begins in our view. This can be a great encouragement and help church members learn something about each other they didn’t know before.
2) Pray for the leaders of your country in a pastoral prayer.
American holidays as this give us a great opportunity to teach our congregation how to process them in light of the gospel and God’s glory, not a man-centered focus. A well prepared pastoral prayer can accomplish this in a powerful way. We should be regularly praying for our President and those leading our nation in our public gatherings any way throughout the year.
3) Thank military service men and women privately.
There is an elderly saint in our church who fought in a war defending our country over 50 years ago. For several years, we argued about why we don’t do a musical and sing patriotic songs in place of Sunday worship. I have learned throughout the years how to kindly explain why we don’t do this. Yesterday, I decided to go to him first before we had a chance to meet and discuss the service planned for that day. I went to him, looked him in the eyes, and thanked him for all his service. I acknowledged I don’t say it enough, but I am aware of the freedoms I enjoy came at the sacrifice of men like him. This 80 year old man looked up at me with tears and just hugged me. There was no argument about the service.
This is a lesson I wish I had learned years ago. These faithful folks don’t want a musical, they just want to feel appreciated by what they have done and the sacrifices they had made for us. They want to know their young pastor cares about this important part of their life and history and does not take his freedoms for granted.
Pastors, we don’t have to change our convictions, but we need to be sensitive to all our people and seize the opportunities to encourage certain folks. Memorial Day in America is one of those days. Call the vets in your church today and thank them for their service. You may be surprised how much it means to them and will open future opportunities for ministry with them.