Updated: Mar 11
For many decades, the United States has benefited from having the strongest military in the world. This is something for which we can be extremely thankful given current events and the many ever-looming foreign threats. But how did the military become so effective at multiplying leaders, and what can the church learn from their example?
While it is true there are many differences between the military and the Church, they share many similar challenges. Both entities must constantly “commission” leaders who are entrusted with carrying out “the mission.” In both cases, the success or failure of the mission is heavily dependent on raising up leaders with exceptional competence and character.
What can the LCMS and other denominations learn from the U.S. Army? Let’s examine the history to find out.
In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy. This institution is what we now commonly refer to as West Point. Today’s West Point is considered the premier military training center in the world. Therefore, we can say it is the “gold standard” for officer training. In this residential program, cadets live, breathe, and apply military doctrine every day.
One of the early distinguished graduates from West Point was Alden Partridge. He
graduated in 1806. Upon graduation, he was given an assistant professor role at the academy in mathematics. Two years later, he was promoted to tenured professor and was given the responsibilities of Acting Superintendent. In 1814, Capt. Alden became Superintendent, a position he held until 1817. Capt. Alden ultimately resigned from his role and commission under somewhat contentious circumstances.
However, not very long after, in 1819, Capt. Alden Partridge used his experience to establish
the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy in Norwich, Vermont. This institution is now regarded as the nation's oldest private military college.
Capt. Partridge advocated for an innovative process through which able-bodied men would receive military training while attending civilian institutions of higher learning and even pursuing civilian occupations. This method of producing "citizen-soldiers" in the local university took root and later became the program that we now call ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps), which was later formalized through legislation.
What was the result? ROTC made all of the difference for our nation when it was called upon to mobilize for World War II. There was absolutely no way West Point alone could produce the number of officers required to fight a World War. Fast forward to today. West Point remains the world’s most prestigious institution for officer training. It sets the best practices for others to follow. At the same time, ROTC is now offered in 1,700 colleges and universities across the United States. Seventy percent of all U.S. Army officers commissioned are graduates of the ROTC program. Nearly three out of every four graduates may have never received a commission apart from the ROTC program. This includes many distinguished alumni, such as General Colin Powel.
What if the LCMS would do the same? What if we had our own version of ROTC? Could this program quadruple the number of future church workers, just like it does for the U.S. Army? We believe the answer is a resounding yes. Our seminaries and universities of the LCMS are equivalent to West Point. Our partnership with Kairos University could be its ROTC.
Some might fear this type of arrangement could poach attendance away from the residency program, or that it would undermine the quality of leaders being developed. But the ROTC & West Point case study shows differently. These two programs are much better together.
Jack Kalleberg—U.S. Army, Retired