Wednesday, April 29, 2009


from The Professional Soldier, by Morris Janowitz (1960)

Military officers frequently made reference to linkage between their profession and the ministry. One Army colonel, when asked about the gratifications of military life, said: “It is not too different from priesthood or ministry in serving a cause.” In a letter a retired naval captain wrote to his son, which was widely distributed, the analogy is spelled out in detail:

The naval profession is much like the ministry. You dedicate your life to a purpose. You wear the garb of an organized profession. Your life is governed by rules laid down by the organizations. You renounce your pursuit of wealth. In a large measure you surrender your citizenship; renounce politics; work for the highest good of the organization. In the final analysis, your aims and object are quite as moral as any minister’s because you are not seeking your own good, but the ultimate good of your country. You train the men under you to be good and useful citizens, and, like the minister, what you say must conform to the rules of the organization.

It has not been unusual for a young man to have made a decision as to whether he would enter the ministry or the military. In the United States, and more often in Europe, sons of clergy have frequently taken up a military career. Conversely, officers who resigned from the military have found in the clergy an expression of their desire to “do service and perform in the name of a great cause.”


These ancient archetypes: the hunter and the shaman, the warrior and the priest, have been at the heart of human society since before civilization or recorded history. Only motherhood is arguably an older "profession." In an earlier post I suggested that there was potentially a great deal that clergy could learn about their vocation by studying the leadership experiences of commissioned military officers. So it's interesting to discover that this scrutiny has occurred in the other direction as well, and that military commanders are looking to religious and spiritual leaders in order to better understand the challenges facing them when leading soldiers in combat.

And at some point this will probably be worthy of a much longer post. But for now I just observe that Schaller's book is about 25 years old now, and Janowitz's more than 50. A lot of things have changed in both the military and the ministry in that time. Yet with such ancient archetypes, the fundamentals endure, and continue to be illuminating. What do other folks see here? Is this really a worthy line of inquiry leading to profound insight? Or am I just way off base here, without a lot of foundation or support?

Friday, April 03, 2009



The words below are some twenty-five years old now; they were first published in 1984, the year I completed my internship at University Unitarian Church in Seattle and was called to my first settled ministry in Midland, Texas. The book itself had its moment of attention mostly because of Schaller's early discussion of the ways in which congregational size helps dictate congregational culture and thus effective ministerial strategies. Schaller called them "Cats, Collies, Gardens and Ranches" to differentiate between what we would now call the Family, Pastoral, Program and Corporate-sized churches. And it was all the rage in the circles I ran with, in much the same way that Alice Mann is now.

But for some reason, it was these other words of Schaller's tht really struck a lasting chord with me, and although now I am much more curious about the DIFFERENCES between these two vocations, the haunting similarities (especially around issues like the mission comes first, leading by example, the connection between discipline and discipleship, and the distinctive "cultures" of both professions) have stuck with me, and return to mind often in the on-going discussion in our denomination about ministerial recruitment, formation, education and settlement. And the challenge of "careerism" continues to plague us as well, especially with the loss of real ecclesiastical knowledge by the laity, and the surge of second-career individuals into the profession.

That being said, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the many talents of my colleagues, who come from such different backgrounds and yet all bring significant gifts to share in ministry to our people and our theological movement. In the meantime, I now find myself reflecting upon my quarter-century evolution from naive and idealistic young mystic to curmudgeonly old fart. And I find myself wondering what the next quarter-century may bring, disappointed in the knowledge that I probably won't be around to see it with my own eyes....

For those ministerial readers who are affronted by the suggestion that the churches can learn from research about military organizations, it may be useful to reflect on a few of the parallels between the ordained clergy and the commissioned officer corps. Historically, both have occupied what the rest of society perceived as a distinctive office, both have a custom of wearing special garb, both place a great emphasis on titles and rank and the garb often reflects title and rank. Both have relied on their own special training schools to prepare candidates for that vocation and in both cases entrance into the profession has been controlled by the graduates, not by the general public. Until recently compulsory chapel was a part of the daily routine in these training schools. Both draw most of their administrators and teachers from those within that vocation. Both have a tradition of a special commissioning or ordination ceremony following graduations that includes the taking of an oath or vow by the candidate. Both are seen as “set apart” vocations and the families of the practitioners are very conscious of this. Historically, both have assumed that induction into that vocation was for a lifetime, or at least until retirement. (In both vocations the current generation of new entrants places less weight on that tradition than did previous generations. Increasingly both are becoming entry points into the secular labor force.) In both, the tradition has been that the needs of the cause, rather than the preferences of the individual, determined placement. In both vocations the practitioner, at an early age, had many firsthand encounters with death. In both vocations the handicap of a comparatively low salary was offset by perquisites of office, womb-like care from entrance to death, the mutual support of the brotherhood, the feeling that one was responding to a calling rather than simply “making a living,” a sense of service to the public and a pension following retirement. (In both cases those now responsible for paying pensions are beginning to show signs of rebellion.)

In both professions the wife was expected to be the husband’s helpmate, but celibacy was encouraged. Both have a long tradition of employer-owned housing, transfers at the convenience of the institution, special tax advantages, and an expectation that many practitioners will serve in foreign lands. Both vocations have a distinctive jargon, a tradition of in-house jokes, a code of ethics, a professional association, an assumption of peer group rather than outside evaluation, and special orders for the elite within the profession. Both place a great weight on graduate degrees and credentials in placement. Civilians have been expected to accord special deference to those in these vocations, ut both have experienced a substantial erosion of these deference patterns in recent years. Both have a long history of an elite office cadre who are presumed to possess certain mystical qualities. There are distinctive titles (bishop, general, admiral) for those at the top of the deference and command pyramid. The tradition that “rank has its privileges” is part of the reward system for those at the top of the hierarchy. In both vocations there is a long tradition of the oldest son following in the father’s footsteps. Both have long traditions of naming buildings after distinguished members of that vocation. What is sometimes referred to as the “ecclesiastical escalator” has its counterpart in the military. Both have a long tradition that subordinates have an obligation of loyalty to senior officials that often must override personal inclinations. Both have been experiencing an erosion of the belief that if they are loyal to the system, the system will take care of them when they are too old to be contributing members.

Finally, both are vulnerable to the blight of “careerism,” of placing the future career and well being of the individual ahead of the cause.

Lyle E. Schaller, Looking in the Mirror: Self-Appraisal in the Local Church, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984), pp. 56-8.