Whenever I’m in my hometown and people ask me where I’m from, my immediate response, without fail, is always, “Here, actually, which is very rare since we have such a high military population!” People know it’s a rarity to meet individuals who are native to the area. Born and raised and currently residing in Hampton Roads, Virginia, I’ve befriended my fair share of military families. In fact, the churches in our area face the unique circumstance of having families join for a 3- or 4-year stent only to be sent off after plugging into the local church body.
In reflecting on what it looks like for those of us across the nation ministering to girls who are apart of military families, I immediately wanted to chat with one of the graduating senior girls in our student ministry. She has never known life outside of the military, including plugging into new church communities every few years. Her perspective on where we as the Church have gotten it right and how we as the Church could do better has helped me understand how to be more proactive in this area.
We began our discussion with her sharing the most challenging aspect of being in a military family. The truth is, any time you go to a new place (in this case, a middle or high school girl walking into a new youth group), it’s always hard when the girls there have grown up together. It’s challenging to feel accepted when they share stories that you don’t completely understand as they toss around comments like, “That was before you.”
On the other hand, as we discussed what made those transitional experiences in her life positive ones, she mentioned a situation where her family had just started attending a church right before VBS, and three other girls reached out to her and said, “We WANT you to come to VBS!” Over the course of that week, she had so much time to develop those new relationships.
Looking at these two opposing scenarios, we can be proactive in training our girls not only in the area of initial hospitality, but in faithful follow-through. Our objective should not only be, “You’re welcome here!” but “You’re wanted here!”
As we shifted the conversation to talk about the difficulty of having a parent that is deployed, she said that the most vital lifeline is consistent community. There is also an unfortunate sort of separation anxiety that can come as a result of building deep relationships just to say “Good-bye” a few years later. This reality can create hurdles in developing relationships going forward as they walk into a new friendship considering the fact that they will most likely be leaving within a few years. Depending on whether they are extroverted or introverted, the process can become even more complicated. Between deployed parents and creating a brand-new life all over again, these girls need a secure space that creates reliable dependability and security, consistently reiterating that God will never leave them or forsake them, even in the midst of so many other relational changes.
Outside of training up girls within our student ministry to be intentional relationship builders, we as leaders must dig past the surface. More times than not, a girl is not going to open up on her own about the struggles that come with being in a military family (a lot of this comes back to trust and security). After we foster a safe environment, a few good questions we can ask are, “Has this been hard or challenging? If so, in what ways?” and “What is it that weighs on you the most about this deployment?” If possible, try and have a female leader in your student ministry who has experience with what it’s like to grow up in a military family so that girls know they can talk with someone who understands their situation in a unique way. Finally, as in most cases, ministering well begins with loving well – which really comes down to being sensitively aware and intentional.
Lexi Shipp is a passionate writer, speaker, and Bible teacher. She is an author, childhood cancer survivor, and spent 5 ½ years on staff at a Crisis Pregnancy Center. With a degree in Religion specified in Christian Ministry, Lexi is now pursuing her M.A. in Human Services Counseling with a focus in Christian Ministries from Liberty University. Currently, she is serving alongside of her Tik-Tok-famous-student-pastor husband Quin as the Girls Student Ministry Director at London Bridge Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Working with middle and high school girls for years, Lexi has a heart for connecting all generations of women and championing the next generation for the cause of Christ. Lexi is the Blog Team Lead for the SBC of Virginia’s Women’s Ministry Blog, serves on the SBCV Women’s Ministry Team, and is part of the SBCV Ministry Wives Team. In her free time, she loves hanging out with her family, her dogs, and finding good new coffee shops and restaurants. Connect with Lexi: Social / Website