Little Boy Soldiers

Pastor Bill Walden pastors Cornerstone Ministries of Napa Valley. You can find out more info about him on his blog at, and about his church at

God calls His people to different tasks, and He gives them different gifts by which they may serve Him, but gifting is only one side of this equation.  God gives the calling and the gifting, but we must grow into these callings and develop the gifts He has given us. We must also grow in the grace of God.

Let me offer a hypothetical example.  A young man is called to be a leader in his church.  Even as a young teen, the sense of it is strong, and he is sure of it. But with that calling, the young man must grow spiritually.  He must respond appropriately.  There must be self discipline and growth.  Most importantly, he must learn to live in the grace of God for himself.  His victories must be tempered with the knowledge that God’s grace has enabled him.  His failures must be met with a sureness that God’s grace pardons him because of Jesus.

Let me offer an illustration.  A young boy wants to be a soldier.  He is intelligent, and a committed patriot.  He studies weaponry and battle tactics.  Because the army (church) is short on soldiers (servants), he is enlisted and outfitted.  He is committed, but he hasn’t grown enough (matured enough) to be effective.  His boots are too big; the gun is too heavy; and the fatigues make him stumble. Not only can he not do his job, but he endangers his fellow soldiers who have to constantly rescue him.  They may even begin to resent him; not because they don’t like him, but because instead of helping, he actually makes warfare (ministry) more dangerous (difficult).

The proof that he is not ready is that he is not effective in battle (ministry). He talks like a soldier, dresses like a soldier, thinks like a soldier, and likes to spend time with soldiers, but he is not ready to be a soldier.

What will he do next?  There are three possibilities.

1) He will go home, maintain his patriotism, eat well, exercise, and grow into manhood.  This will require patience, but he sees that it is essential.

2) He will try to force the issue by joining another platoon (church), and insist that he is ready for battle.  Because the warfare is intense, and the volunteers are few, the next platoon (church) readily welcomes him and puts him to work.  He feels approved of, and is proud of his uniform (ministry title), until he starts lagging behind in battle (service), and the scenario repeats itself, and the young man’s frustration builds. The cycle can continue to repeat itself many times over.  Either the young man will mature, or he will become so embittered that he loses his patriotism (Christian calling), and jettisons the whole idea of serving and leading.

3) He will start his own army of little boy soldiers.  They will dress like soldiers, talk like soldiers, and believe that they are on (a) mission, but will accomplish nothing, and mislead others.

In Christian service, there is no substitute for maturity.  In this instance, I define maturity as follows:  Having a healthy self image in regards to who and what you are and aren’t.  Knowing what gifts you do and don’t have.  Not needing ministry to validate your worth.

In Christian service, there is no substitute for maturity.

Christian service is indeed a type of warfare.  (2 Timothy 2:1-7).  The church desperately needs leaders who have grown into the stature required for the position.

It is a good thing to desire to serve and lead, but maturity is also needed.  May I suggest that you re-visit the comments of people that have released you from ministry.  Re-think the times when you have been ineffective, or made big mistakes. Don’t blame your fellow soldiers or officers. Take a personal inventory of your maturity.  Ask trusted friends to tell you the truth about yourself.  If there is criticism, and if growth is needed, be willing to grow into the position of leadership instead of just expecting or demanding it.

Someone has said that it takes a crucified man to serve a crucified Christ. Let God do more work in you, so that He may do more work through you.

Let God do more work in you, so that He may do more work through you.

4 replies
  1. Greg
    Greg says:

    How about a 1a… called discipleship where the young man is trained by the older so that the book learning gets a practical application… based on real-time situations.

    I have to question the army (church) that sends the recruit out, ill-equipped (clothes/boots too large), ill-trained (weapon ill-suited to big to safely handle by himself) and then hopes he returns home and doesn’t lose the zeal to come back in a few years, having taking it upon himself to grow into…

    Paul wrote to Timothy “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,” Who did Timothy learn from?

    But, and speaking from my own experience here. I’ve found a great deal of apathy in the army’s leadership ranks, in that ‘…send them home and hope they grow up on their own…’ or, what are the other two options? When you face an army that ill-equips you (looking to join), or is ‘happy with where you are‘ how do you think things will change for the soldier once grown into fatigues, boots and weapon? Won’t he still be a danger, lacking the training to function in a battle? How many comedies are there of the simpleton soldier spraying bullets in every direction because he can’t handle the recoil of the fully automatic rifle he’s been armed with?

    What of his giftings? Maybe he doesn’t have the aptitude for front line warfare, but is an excellent mechanic, or extremely competent with logistics, medical aid… pr/moral… just sending him home hoping he grows into a roll you can use, shifts the weight/responsibility completely off of the army hoping to benefit from his service once he’s matured.

    Honestly, I’d rather go into battle with the knowledge David had to face Goliath than the armor Saul had but wouldn’t.

  2. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    I agree that many ministries are guilty of what you describe. I have said “no” to guys who wanted to lead, and have encouraged them to first grow and be equipped. Sometimes they think that they are ready, and that I am just holding them back.

    They take their “commitment” to our church, and jump ship rather quickly. They find a ministry that is too eager for leaders, and they become quickly appointed or ordained. Then the sad scenario that you described happens. I have seen it. Every author on this blog has seen it. And apparently, according to your clear description, you have seen it too.

    God is not in a hurry to accomplish His will. Moses needed much time to be prepared. The Apostle Paul had his desert time with Jesus. Let men first be tested, and their lives put under review.

    Make disciples, train men, bring them along in the book and in the street. I think I am hearing you correctly, and I agree with you.

    The trouble is that some little boy soldiers don’t realize that that are not yet ready for the battle, and they insist that can handle what they in actuality cannot handle.

    As far as some being mechanics, etc. That battle is needed too. A rush to repair military equipment can only be accomplished buy a seasoned, battle tested mechanic. Lives depend on him do a good job. Enjoying changing sparks plugs doesn’t equip one to fix a much needed tank or supply truck.

    I agree with you that many times the church is to blame. Perhaps, just as often, little boy soldiers are hurrying the process.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Greg
      Greg says:

      Bill, thank you for your reply… and yes, ‘make disciples, train men, bring them along in the book and in the street…‘ is exactly what I was getting at. Unfortunately, it seems that such training has given way to programs that are much like signing up for cable service, pay a huge premium for channels/services you don’t want/need and have no intentions of ever watching/using.

      Bob Caldwell made reference to heightened senses in a session he gave ‘India Breakthrough’… whether a hunter, or a football player knowing what things to watch for in a quarterback’s behavior… those things would be lost to the casual observer. So, how test? You may know that boy soldier isn’t ready, but does that test tell/show him that he’s not? Hunter misses the target, overlooks clear tracks; defensive end blows coverage and quarterback sails one right passed his head. Pretty apparent to everyone. (Sonar operator missing the sound of an enemy sub, mistaking it for a gray whale).

      Eyes, in basic training I remember learning how to identify enemy ships/planes, insignia and uniforms to differentiate them from ours and our allies. What of those who wear our uniform but serve the enemy? How are those discerned? Certainly not by sight… but Paul was able to identify them right away. So, how tested?

      David was opposed by his brothers and by Saul. The only one on either side of the conflict who hadn’t had any battleground experience was the only one willing to face the giant. How test for maturity? What determines a competent, capable soldier?

      Honestly, I’m coming at this more from the perspective of the boy soldier, experiencing the bitterness first hand and sharing the observations of others. A woman in a Christian bookstore looking dejected because God wasn’t answering her prayers like before. A young man identified in Pastor Chuck’s book, Why Grace Changes Everything, commits suicide because he just didn’t ‘get it’; the director of a Christian ministry back east telling me ‘God doesn’t work like that anymore’. I’ve seen and experienced all those emotions, except for the suicide… though have come near to the despair!

      So, while you can’t prevent those who want to leave from leaving (John 6) there has to be a way to test that helps those who want to serve, better understand their need for training so that 1 and 1a become the options of choice.

      I identify with the people I mentioned… and clearly don’t want to end up like the man mentioned in Pastor Chuck’s book, how to break the cycle? “Your hands made and fashioned me, give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments”; and hold on to the hope that even though we get tired of following Lassie to rescue Timmy from the abandoned well, one more time (sigh)… “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.” and not extinguish a smoldering wick.

      I have to hope He won’t give up on the little boy soldiers, able and willing to bring them to maturity because I’ve been one.

      Thank you again for your comments.

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