Leadership & Ministry Lessons from a World War One German Officer (Part 1)

My brother recently pointed me to a book by Captain Adolf Von Schell called “Battle Leadership“. Based on the forward it looks like recommended reading in the United States Marine Corp. Schell fought for the German army in WWI and shares his insights on the psychology of war, combat readiness, and leadership. There are a few great leadership lessons found in this book that I would like to pass along that are just as valuable today almost exactly 100 years later.

One of  Von Schell first major points is that it is extremely difficult to train soldiers adequately for war in a time of peace. It is one thing to teach techniques and tactics on a practice field and quite another when the shells are exploding and the bullets are flying. You might think you are level headed and know how to handle things until you realize you could die any moment. All of a sudden, all of that training can easily go out the window and there is a temptation to want to do things you never learned in training.

When it comes to learning to handle intense situations, there is no substitute for experience. The problem is you can’t just start a war to train your troops. Captain Von Schell tells the story about how they had run low on troops and had to replenish them with some green recruits who had just been trained for three months with no combat experience. He watched them get defeated and suffer great losses. The next time around, they took the new recruits and made sure they had an adequate number of seasoned recruits who could teach them in the field. What happened from those relationships was that the new recruits learned from the stories of the experienced men that they very quickly learned how to survive because they were spending time with men who had combat experience. They began fighting like men who had much more experience due to the time they spent hearing the stories of those who could share with them from their own combat experience.

Here is the point. There are things that happen in ministry that cannot be taught in a classroom. You just have to experience them. It is so much better if you can experience those things with someone who has been there before, who can help you unpack the experience so you can growth through it, rather than let it tear you down. There are several reasons we are losing ministers left and right that could be addressed by the insights of Von Schell:

  • Ministry can be painful and not having sufficient support and training can lead to failure or the inability to cope with failure
  • Accountability – too many ministers have zero accountability. That can be dangerous ground to tread on. They need people with more experience who can teach them the ropes and help them when they make mistakes.
  • Friendly fire – not all churches provide a safe environment for ministers. You can’t learn how to deal with this in grad school. It must be experienced, processed and grown through.

It is important that elderships are supportive of those on staff and not adversarial. Failure is going to happen to everyone who ministers. The question is, what do we do with it and do we have anyone in our corner who can help us work through it so that we do not become the next casualty of ministry.

One Response to Leadership & Ministry Lessons from a World War One German Officer (Part 1)

  1. Eric B says:

    Great application Matt! As we’re thinking about discipleship I think the same can be said. It explains why so many who sit in bible classes for years haven’t learned to love family, neighbor, much less enemy any better. I’m becoming more convinced that “life on life” is the way life changing discipleship happens and there are no more efficient short cuts.

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