As I write today, I’m reflecting on my 25-year anniversary of service in the United States Navy. On 12 February 1992, I was sworn in and shipped out to Basic Training in Great Lakes, Illinois (By the way, February on the coast of Lake Michigan is a cold existence for a boy who grew up in the south).
I will freely admit that I knew next to nothing about the Navy prior to enlistment. I knew mostly only what my recruiter had told me. But once I joined up, I began to learn from some great mentors along the way what the Navy does, how and why we do it, and many other essentials. I learned these things from those who came before me so that I could carry on the Navy’s mission after those folks moved on. The concept is known as training your relief.
As I gained experience, I began shifting out of receive mode and more into training mode. I found myself imparting what knowledge I had gleaned on to others who were joining the ranks. Now make no mistake, after 25 years, I still don’t know all there is to know about the Service I love. I’m still learning every day. But I have been able to gain a lot of training and experience that has enabled me to carry on the proud traditions of those who came before me and to pass on to those who have come behind me. And this will continue until the day my name is entered into the rolls of the Retired List.
So that’s essentially the way it’s supposed to happen in my Service. That is how the Navy personnel system is designed to function, in such a way that the workforce can successfully continue the mission (the ability to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea and keep the sea lanes open) on an enduring basis. You can see, then, that the system depends on Sailors looking to be trained and then looking to pass that training on. But what about when that doesn’t happen?
Believe it or not, the system doesn’t always function as designed. Inevitably, there are those who join up and, for whatever reason, decide that this just isn’t for them. They often take a less than serious approach to training and they rarely care to train others. These folks are therefore not contributing to the mission. When this happens, the mission suffers. The Navy team relies on its members working together and fulfilling their respective roles.
Thankfully, the above is the exception and not the norm. These can be managed at very low levels. But if enough people began to display this attitude, the Navy may no longer be able to meet its mission at all. This would tragically result in an America and a world much more susceptible to successful attack by its enemies and all the destruction that is left in its wake.
Put simply, the Navy relies on Sailors to “Train their relief.” Train the ones who come after you, because you aren’t going to be there forever and someone is going to be tasked with carrying on.
The church has an important mission in this world. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus leaves his followers this tasking:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
The primary task of the church is making disciples; that is, developing followers of Christ. The church makes disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching.
Much like me as a teenager listening to a recruiter tell me about the Navy, non-Christians rely on Christians to share with them the good news of Christ. When, by the work of the Holy Spirit, that person accepts Christ as Lord and Savior, they begin a process of growing in knowledge of the faith. In addition to prayer and Bible study, this is accomplished through learning from more experienced Christian mentors. As their own learning and experience matures, these Christians then become the mentors for those who are new to the faith. Through all of this, they never stop learning and growing in their relationship with Christ.
Now eventually, God calls them home and it is then left up to those they have trained to continue the church’s mission of disciple making for future generations. So hopefully, they have successfully trained their relief.
And why is it important to train one’s relief as a child of God? I think back to a few warnings from the book of Judges. Verse 2:10 says, “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.”
What has happened here is that, only two generations removed from Joshua (Moses’ successor), the people didn’t know God! This is unbelievable, isn’t it?
Two generations and the knowledge of God was gone! How could this possibly happen?
Simply put, these generations who knew God did not pass that knowledge on.
And the results were bad. Judges 17:6 says, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
We were never meant to live apart from God and when we allow our sinful nature to lead us, when it becomes our god, we become slaves to our passions.
No God. No firm foundation. Individuals unravel and society follows suit.
This is a sobering warning from our past.
All it takes for something similar to happen to our own children and grandchildren is our not taking seriously the Great Commission mandate of Jesus to make disciples.
Our negligence could put future generations in peril and lead to a Godless society.
In the Navy, I accepted the responsibility to train those who came after me. I am proud of what my Navy has accomplished throughout its history and I want that legacy to remain untarnished in the future. I want future Sailors to proudly carry on those traditions.
Much more so, I have accepted the responsibility as an ambassador of Christ in this world, to make disciples. I am in awe of what God has accomplished over the centuries through his people and I want future generations to know of these things and to know God and experience the wonder of his love.
I pray that I will successfully, then, train my relief.