FOCUS – Paul, Apollos, and your new officer

by Lt. Amanda Reardon – 

How does a soon-to-be-commissioned cadet release a little tension amidst finals, commissioning rehearsals and uniform inspections? By playing the time-honored game of filling in the appointment blanks around the territory. Officers receive their new appointments a few weeks before commissioning. Once that happens, the cadets begin making lists of vacated appointments. Then they predict who will fill which spots. They compare notes, laugh, anticipate, and dream.

Today, these spit-polished, beaming, new officers nudged each other covertly on the platform, whispering “I knew it” when they had guessed an appointment correctly. Occasionally, a ripple of shock may have spread through the group when someone was appointed where no one had predicted.

The commissioning congregation, too, experienced surprise, joy, and perhaps trepidation. “Hooray! We finally got a much-needed assistant officer!” was heard in one corner. “New lieutenants in charge at our corps?” was heard in another.

The shifting of officers, the Army’s own rite of spring, is unsettling for many people ­ soldiers, officers, officers’ children, community members, and so on. I am reminded of the apostle Paul, who also moved from church to church. In his own words, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.” (I Corinthians 3:10) I’ve heard many officers say the same thing. The difference is that officers frequently utter these words as a lament; with Paul it was simply a statement of fact. In fact, he says: “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose…we are God’s fellow workers” (verse 8). Does he doubt that his successor can meet the task? He knows that person is not able! But God is completely capable of working through his successor.

But how did Paul’s congregants feel? Just like us, they built attachments to certain leaders. The Corinthian church was bitterly divided: some affiliated themselves with Apollos, and others with Paul. Such loyalties caused “jealousy and quarreling” (3:3). Paul made it clear that the attitude and behavior of the Corinthians was “worldly.” Both men were “only servants, through whom you came to believe” (verse 5). Paul refuted their sectarian nonsense with a statement that should have been obvious: “you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (vs. 22)

There is one thing I like about the annual officer exodus: no one has the chance to achieve (or at least maintain) guru status. I believe this is important for two reasons: one, to encourage us to build allegiance only to Christ, not to his representatives; two, to convince soldiers that they are the nuts and bolts of the church, and if they refuse to function, the church will experience severe jolts with every officer change.

In modern Christian society, much emphasis is placed on the role of pastor. One might expect to find chapters and chapters of the Bible dedicated to instruction for pastors. But I find that the New Testament has surprisingly little to say regarding this role. Instead, there is chapter upon chapter about how all Christians must treat one another. Even in the discussion of spiritual gifts, only prophecy is mentioned as being special, and Paul says that “you may all prophesy in turn.” There is no special address to the “pastor” in this lengthy treatise on spiritual gifts and the operation of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12 ­14).

Could it be that the church is not supposed to revolve around the pastor? Is the real support structure of the church the people of the church themselves? Such a notion does not belittle the officer/pastor, but it does spread responsibility to the soldiers/congregation. God has given each of his people gifts, and he has required–not requested –that they use them. Do not expect your corps to be at its best if you are not fulfilling this requirement.

The sad truth is that many corps members do place full responsibility squarely on the officers’ shoulders. (“Hey, he gets paid for it, doesn’t he?”) Which means that corps do experience fits and starts every few years when new officers come in. But worse than that, it means there are soldiers who are neglecting their own mission within the corps.

I am a fairly new officer and a soldier of 21 years. I claim no special vantage point on this issue, yet I humbly offer two suggestions – one to soldiers, and one to officers. For the soldier, do not wonder if you will get a “good” officer. Instead, ask of God if you are a good and faithful soldier, busy at the task he has ordained for you. And to the officer, pray for your predecessor, your successor, and yourself, that each one may be a man or woman of God.

Then leave the rest in his hands.

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