My name is David Cotner, and I am an Army Veteran. I served from 2006-2010, deploying twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. My job? I was a paratrooper (i.e., I jumped out of airplanes) and was an All-Source Intelligence Analyst for the 10th Special Forces Group (based out of Fort Carson, Colorado).
My position demanded a top-secret security clearance. Indeed, I loved the world of secrets. I took great pride in the fact that my intel analysis helped drive combat operations, leading to the death and arrest of multiple high value targets–many of them foreign fighters. I’m an adrenaline junkie by nature, and this job provided enough adrenaline to last a lifetime of memories.
After my time in the U.S. Army, I got married and headed to Faith Baptist Bible College (FBBC) in Ankeny, Iowa for pastoral training. I studied there from 2010-2014. At the time, I thought my soldier days were behind me. Little did I know that I had entered a Warfighting School in the middle of Iowa. I thought I was going to FBBC to train for ministry. Little did I know I was going to FBBC to train for war.
I entered pastoral ministry at Prairie Flower Baptist Church in November of 2013 (at the tail end of my senior year at FBBC). After the excitement of a new ministry position faded, the reality of war became extremely visible to me. This war was all around me. I encountered division, death, divorce, drugs, and disapproval of my performance as a pastor. As I battled to shepherd this tiny but precious flock of people in the middle of a cornfield, the war all around me soon became a messy war inside of me. The destruction around me began to splinter my heart, leading me toward depression and a battle with a thick, thick darkness. At the height of my pain that was altogether physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, I contemplated ending it all in the spring of 2018.
Ironically, my life verse ever since I was a young believer has been 2 Timothy 2:2-3, “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” Apropos for the military–and the ministry. Through the loving support of my wife, understanding ministry partners, and a healthy dose of Biblical counseling, I was able to regain my focus and soldier on. The apex of my deepest pain was five years ago. But by the grace of God, I’ve been able to soldier on for another five years and am eager to reach my 10-year mark this November as the Lead Pastor of Prairie Flower Baptist Church.
Folks, make no mistake about it and don’t get it twisted–the Christian life is war. Pastoral ministry is the tip of the spear in this spiritual war as pastors lead their people to beat back the darkness with true Gospel Hope. Part of soldiering on requires a mindset of perseverance through the darkest night of the soul. What does this mindset look like? The U.S. Army entrenches this mindset in something they call the “Warrior Ethos,” which states: “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.” As believers, our mission is clear, namely, to advance the Gospel in word and deed. Because this is our mission, the world, the flesh, and the Devil will seek to either kill us (literally) or minimize our effectiveness by driving us into a plethora of besetting sins. So, we must quickly put to death the temptations around us, choosing to never accept defeat–to never quit. Along the way, you and I will find fallen fellow soldiers who’ve been wounded by the enemy or by their own foolishness. Don’t. Leave. Them. Behind. Help, encourage, counsel, and point them to our loving Commander: Jesus, who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
To the current students of FBBC, soldier on. The darkness is thick out there, but so is Gospel Hope. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Press forward–soldier on. Take your studies at FBBC seriously. You’re not just in a Bible College. You’re in a Warfighting School. You’re being prepared for life, for ministry, and for war. As a no-name pastor in the middle of a cornfield, I can promise you that we need more fighters on the frontlines. Who will join me? Who will answer the call to snatch souls from the fire? Who is ready to lay it all on the line? The answer is you. So, practice now how to mount up, catch grenades, dodge darts, and soldier on for the glory of our perfect Commander. I promise you that your practice of these vital skills will not be in vain. Soldier on!