Brian O’Day and Jonathan Davis, who served in the Marines and the Army Reserve, respectively, now serve in full-time ministry.
Davis serves as lead pastor of Pillar Church Jacksonville, and O’Day, who planted the church, is executive director of the Praetorium Project, “a family of multiplying churches in military communities worldwide.”
About 75% of the congregation at Pillar Jacksonville are active duty military personnel and their immediate families.
“We don’t have a ministry to the military,” Davis says. “We have a church full of military members.”
“Including in leadership positions,” O’Day adds. “Which is hard [because] they’re leaving. We put people in leadership positions that’ll be there for six months or a year. It’s not something we do on the side.”
Caring for and discipling mostly young families that are often only part of the church for an average of three years take creativity and intentionality, the leaders have found. But it’s worth it – as they have also seen a hunger for the Word and a desire to know Christ.
Davis says they have to “be mindful and be creative in our raising up of [these guys] and, Lord willing, helping them mature in the faith despite the fact that they’re away from church and away from family.”
One of the advantages of being part of the Praetorian Project, Davis says, is “we have Pillar churches in different areas of training, so sometimes they’ll be able to plug into another Pillar church.”
Onslow County, where Jacksonville is located, is one of the youngest counties in the country. Many of the couples at church are in their early 20s. One of the common and unique needs among their church body arises when someone deploys, often leaving a spouse and young children.
“We have a small group that helps with what’s called ‘deploying well,’” Davis says. “They try to maintain some healthy semblance of making sure they’re taken care of, making sure they’re in a group of other peers that are also with deployed spouses.”
They are also far from their own extended families, adds O’Day.
“One of the opportunities though for that is there are a lot of folks that either are retired from the military, or even never served in the military, that have really taken this on. They love these families well,” he says.
“It’s a huge hospitality-based ministry, but it’s all centered around the local church.”
Raising leaders, planting churches
As part of a church planting family, O’Day and Davis are passionate about helping men transition from active duty to full-time ministry as pastors or church planters, like they did.
Joshua Brown and his family became members of Pillar Jacksonville in 2017. They found a place to “fully be a part of things,” O’Day remembers. Brown, who has served with the Marine Corps for 20 years, led small groups, and his wife Brittany led the women’s ministry for a while. In 2018 Brown became an elder, and he was ordained in February 2020.
Around that time he and Brittany began praying that his last set of orders would be to an area where they could plant a church.
“I received orders to the other side of Camp Lejeune, where Pillar Jacksonville had a small group, and one of our pastors was driving quite far to worship on Sundays,” Brown says.
In November 2020, the Browns were sent out to plant Pillar Church of Topsail. Brown is completing his last six months of service with a Pillar Church internship through the DOD SkillBridge program.
He says the internship has helped him transition well out of the Marine Corps, learn the daily responsibilities of a vocational pastor and focus on shepherding the flock.
“The extra time to transition to shepherding has been eye opening and healing,” he says. “Having the time to walk through the different systems of the church with experienced pastors from our sending church has been instrumental as the church grows.”
Brown’s own experiences from the last two decades allow him to relate closely to many of Pillar Topsail’s members.
“Sometimes it just comes down to people trusting us, knowing we understand their struggles.”