Jeff Struecker has escaped death on more than one occasion and watched many fellow soldiers die in combat during his 22 years of service with the United States Army. The movie “Black Hawk Down” featured his service in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. With a uniform full of medals, and hair-raising story after story, Struecker said one of the most “unsettling” moments of his life wasn’t on the battlefield.
It was in seminary more than a decade ago while he studied to become an Army chaplain.
Struecker, who spoke April 16 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual spring banquet at Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, shared how his professor at the time, Daniel Akin, had him doubting whether he was cut out to be a chaplain. Both Akin, now president of Southeastern, and Struecker were at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville at the time.
“I was so disgruntled and so upset that I went to Dr. Akin’s office,” Struecker told the crowd.
“I was wrestling with ‘maybe I don’t have it in me to preach the gospel,’” said Struecker, who added that the paper he had turned in was “bleeding red ink.”
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
Jeff Struecker recounts stories from his time in the U.S. Army during a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary banquet.
His early experiences in seminary left Struecker with a respect for Akin and the Word of God. Struecker went on to get his master of divinity degree at Southern and served his final 10 years in the military as an Army chaplain before retiring in January 2011. He is associate pastor of ministry development at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga. He also is enrolled in Southeastern, pursuing a doctorate degree in Christian leadership.
Struecker’s respect for Akin’s leadership helped “seal the deal” in his decision to enroll at Southeastern.
“Dr. Akin said to the student body, ‘I want to warn your parents and your grandparents don’t send them to Southeastern Seminary and think they’re going to go home and be good boys and girls and pastor a nice little country church.’” Struecker recalled Akin saying. “‘I want to encourage them to go to some of the most difficult and some of the most dangerous mission fields in the world.’”
Struecker shared how his faith kept him focused and grounded emotionally during some of his more scary moments in combat.
“There were moments I was convinced that I was going to die in the next city block,” he said of his 18–hour gun battle in the streets of Mogadishu. “But it didn’t concern me because my eternity was settled … I didn’t worry when the bullets were flying.”
It was Struecker’s confidence that also earned him many opportunities to share the gospel with “hard-headed Rangers” while both a Ranger, himself, and later as a chaplain.
“I could literally look men in the eyes and say, ‘I know exactly what you are going through because I’ve been there myself, and let me tell you who will get you through it,’” he said.
“God had given me the unique opportunity to see scores of Rangers bow their knee and turn their life over to Jesus Christ because they realized they needed something greater than themselves.”
During his final years with multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq as an Army chaplain, Struecker said his military career continued to take a toll on his marriage to wife, Dawn, and as a father of five children. It was that toll that led Struecker to leave the military. Now he begins a new battle here in the U.S.
The need in this country for Christian leaders with character and courage couldn’t be more dire, Struecker said.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey conducted in 2009, virtually every denomination is in decline. The study showed that, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest single preference for religion that the average American will give is ‘no religion.’”
“As a nation, we are heading full steam in the same direction as Europe is today,” he said. “Europe is in a spiritual crisis, and it is because of weak preaching and weak pastors.”
Struecker told the crowd that if he was “the enemy” he would attack pastors. “The way I would undermine the men that are in the pulpit is I would start to erode away their confidence,” he said.
And with their confidence would go their courage, Struecker said. And as their courage goes, he added, so goes their conviction and ultimately their character.
“Pretty soon everyone that shows up to listen to the pulpit decides ‘I don’t need what they’re offering because it’s not going to make a difference in my life.’
“We need pastors, ministers, missionaries, men and women who love the gospel and are willing to do whatever it takes and suffer personally, financially in every means to advance the gospel …. [who] endure suffering like a good soldier.”