Christians and soldiers have a lot in common, or at least they should (2 Tim 2:3-4). Firstly they both know that submission equals survival. The wise infantry man always awaits the order to advance—especially when the machine gunner next to him is laying down cover fire.
Secondly, both Christians and soldiers know that suffering is par for the course (2 Tim 3:12). Members of the Australian Defense Force (ADF), on exercises in the outback, don’t get up in the morning, stretch and declare, “Man … I really miss my flannel jammies”.
There is a third attribute of soldiers that, when found in Christians, makes them very effective. It is ‘ambiguity tolerance’ (AT). Soldiers who can tolerate ambiguity are lethal. AT is one of the key attributes military psychologists look for when recruiting soldiers. High AT is what differentiates the special force soldiers (eg. Australian SAS + USA Date Force) from the regular army recruit.
Let me explain what I mean.
In the regular army, you don’t really need high “AT.” Why? Because your roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. The Lieutenant barks a command to the Sergeant, he barks it to the Corporal, who then barks it down the line to the Private. The front-line soldier has no confusion about what he must do.
But in the special forces, it is different. When eight Australian SAS soldiers are dropped behind enemy lines during a war, they do have a plan, but they’re always ready for the inevitable ‘stuff ups’. Let’s say they get inserted 4 km east of their designated DZ (drop zone) under cover of darkness. They don’t panic! They stay focused on the mission. They revert to plan B or C … or even D. They can tolerate ambiguity. Not everything has to be ‘spelled out’.
AT can make a good soldier great.
Growth in AT can also increase the effectiveness of a congregation, a Christian and a pastor. AT is all about your answer to these questions: “How do you respond to a sudden change in circumstances?” “What’s your emotional response to situations that turn out differently to what you expected?”
As I observe life in Australia, it appears me that people (especially those under 40 years old) love change. They like ambiguous situations. A big part of life’s thrill is waiting to see, or anticipating, what’s going to change next. I think that’s why most believers love the ‘post-Bible talk question time’. People are fascinated by what questions might crop up. Have you ever noticed this? During the songs, prayers, sermon, etc., the congregation looks like Obelix after he’s eaten two wild boars (i.e. drowsy, to say the least), but when question time starts, the body language changes: people are sitting forward, they’re attentive, and you can see them thinking, processing, frowning, interacting, objecting, laughing, enquiring, etc. It’s quite exciting.
So if a pastor can increase his AT, it helps the congregation. If the congregation can increase their “AT:”, then it can help the elect and the lost.
Here’re some examples of high AT ministry and the fruit God has grown as a result:
- MOLDI dinners: In the late 1990s, the Sydney University Christian group realized that it was difficult to get ‘not-yet believers’ to come to outreach events. So they decided to go to them. They organized dinners in King Street, Newtown, which were designed for the express purpose of discussing the meaning of life. Dinner and discussion took place in a neutral territory: a restaurant. A campus in Melbourne adopted this idea, and gave them the name ‘MOLDI dinners’. M.O.L.D.I stands for ‘meaning of life discussed intelligently’. In 2007, this campus ran nine dinners which were attended by 45 ‘not-yet believing’ Uni students.
- Venue relocations: Sometimes meeting in another building binds the brethren. World (Catholic) Youth Day in Sydney forced many school building-based churches to relocate for two weeks. Several I know enjoyed the change. So why not deliberately meet in another location? Just SMS everyone the night before (bulk SMSs are easy with sites like one2many.com), and tell people you’re going to meet in the Botanic Gardens and ‘do church 200 AD-style’.
- Family devotions: Our daughter Isabella is seven years old, Edmund is four and Samuel is two. In the past, Bella used to enjoy Bible reading aimed at Edmund. She doesn’t anymore. We’ve had to change the evening routine. I read to the boys, and Emma reads something ‘meatier’ to Isabella. Things change. Roll with it. AT.
- Congregational question time: Give it a go! Are they scary for the speaker? Yep. Are they a great catalyst to edifying the saints? Yep! Give it a crack! (NB: remember it is a skill that takes time to get good at).
AT isn’t anything new. AT is just another way of saying “be all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22) or “consider it pure joy when you suffer trials of many kinds” (Jas 1:2-3). By God’s Spirit, we can grow in AT over time.
A greater AT will help you be more ministries-minded, and it will help you focus more on your people, rather than your programmes.