Back in Boots
By Mark McCraney
Looking ahead, I had no idea I would end up here now…but I am so thankful I have!
Growing up, I always wanted to serve in our nation’s military, and after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy I was blessed to serve as an Air Force civil engineer for almost eight years in several duty locations. During my time in service, I sensed God’s clear call to pastoral ministry and began to prepare myself to separate from the military and enter the pastorate.
After much prayer and seeing God’s unmistakable providence in our lives, my wife Danielle and I were certain that the time was right to begin that separation process in mid-2002. Shortly after returning from deployment to Afghanistan, I took off my uniform, packed away my boots, and moved to Fayette, Alabama, where I began pastoring First FWB Church. While thankful for the privilege to serve, and for the character it forged within me, I was sure my military days were behind me. I settled my focus on pastoring, but God had other plans for our family.
More than 12 years later, God has brought us full circle, leading us from the military to pastoring to church planting, and finally back to military chaplaincy. Along the way, my uniform changed as I returned to active duty as a Free Will Baptist Naval Chaplain serving in Spain. It might be a different uniform, but my passion for military ministry remains the same.
Looking back, I see God’s hand at work keeping us connected to our military roots and leading us toward this wonderful ministry. I had opportunities to speak to National Guard units deploying for service in the Middle East. There were extensive conversations (and maybe a little spiritual arm twisting) with other Free Will Baptist chaplains at our annual conventions and subsequent events.
We enjoyed special relationships with veterans in each congregation we served. God’s providence helped me complete the necessary education at minimal costs and fulfill the requirements necessary for service as a chaplain. Most recently, as we served on the church planting team at Truth Church in Castle Rock, Colorado, God brought several young men into our lives from the Air Force Academy and allowed us to minister to them over the last four years. Our time with these cadets clarified our burden for military ministry and showed us our abilities and gifts in that area. We look forward to what God has for us as we serve in Spain.
Even with our family’s return to service among sailors and marines, there remains a need for others in our denomination to pursue this unique ministry opportunity. All together, approximately 2.3 million members of the armed forces are on active and reserve duty…with only about 4,200 chaplains serving among them. Within Free Will Baptists, we currently have only eight chaplains—with seven in the Army (Active, Guard and Reserve), one in the Navy, and none in the Air Force. The need is obvious.
As Free Will Baptist pastors on loan to the military, we are expected to remain faithful to the practices and teachings of our denomination. In return, we receive the wonderful privilege of representing Christ within the military by providing spiritual leadership for those of our faith group, by facilitating others in their faith practices, and by caring for all those God brings into our lives.
About the Writer: Before returning to military service, Mark and Danielle McCraney worked with Donnie and Susan Burke in a team effort to plant Truth Free Will BaptistChurch in Castle Rock, Colorado. Learn more about Free Will Baptist chaplain ministry at www.fwbnam.com.