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Home > 2014 > May Web Exclusives > Unconventional Warfare

What do a preacher, a new CEO, and a Green Beret have in common? They all seek to change a culture from within their jungles.

A preacher navigates the jungle of spiritual entanglements. The new CEO seeks to change the wasteful or complacent jungles of past failures. The Green Beret lives in remote jungles of conflicted areas persuading village chiefs of geo-political realities. The jungles are different. The resources are different. The heart of the mission is not. Each seeks to change a culture. This means changing people's assumptions, loyalties, and efforts. It is every leader's greatest challenge.

As a military chaplain and spiritual leader, I learned this vividly during my training with Special Forces (SF).

After my chaplaincy training, I was given the opportunity to attend the Army's Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). Upon successfully completing selection, I was invited to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course, the arduous "Q Course," approximately 18 months of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.

You are trained by "the cadre," seasoned Green Berets who ensure that you are challenged with physical, mental, and ethical dilemmas. This training is designed to ensure that those who graduate are able to represent the strategic interests of the United States with minimal supervision and significant authority.

The "bread and butter" mission set for Special Forces is Unconventional Warfare, which is defined as "operations conducted by, with, or through irregular forces in support of a resistance movement, an insurgency, or conventional military operations." Not to get tangled in the military lingo, this simply means being intentional in your efforts, in the people you work with, and in your purpose.

Changing a culture requires intentionality. But intentionality without focus can be the difference between a child's night light and a surgical laser. Whether we are ministers facing evils of "the world, the flesh, and the devil" or whether we are SF preparing a village to resist the Taliban, we are taking on culture change in a challenging context.

During this training, what I learned about Unconventional Warfare has uncanny application for ministry leadership. There are seven phases of Unconventional Warfare. Allow me to tell my story through these seven phases.


I appreciate the phrase "Not all activity is productivity." As an Army chaplain, I enjoy being surrounded by type-A personalities, goal-oriented and motivated. I get jazzed as I consider the possibility of a church full of men like Peter. Just imagine the benefit for the Kingdom of God with a group of all-or-nothing men on fire for the Lord and their families! That was one reason I was excited to attend the Q course, where I'd be among this kind of men.

Jeremiah 12:5 says, "If you have run with footmen and they have wearied you, how can you contend with horses?" My heart was pounding and I questioned my sanity when I agreed to attend the Q Course. What have I just gotten myself into? I was a non-tactically trained chaplain about to contend with horses half his age. But I wanted unfettered access to these men, and taking the full SF training was an important step.

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Posted: May 12, 2014

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Marshall Shelley

May 12, 2014  8:52am

I appreciated meeting you at graduation at Fort Bragg, Tim. And you have communicated very well some of the lessons of leadership you have learned. Thank you for your service and for sharing your experiences with the rest of us.

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