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Pro Deo Et Patria- An Army Chaplain

I am a chaplain in the US Army, serving in Iraq. I'm keeping a blog to share my thoughts and experiences while deployed. They are my thoughts and they don't necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Army! :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Chaplains Need To Do

I want to post something a little different than what I've done lately. I'm going to write a little about what chaplains in the Army ought to be able to do- as seen from my limited experience. I am working with two Soldiers here at 1st CAV who are planning to go to seminary and becomes chaplains, and I know there are some who read my blog who are considering the chaplaincy. So, with that said, here are my opinions (i.e., this is not official... just my thoughts):

-A chaplain needs to speak well in public. This includes not only preaching, but giving various kinds of briefs, as well as speaking at Command and Staff meetings. During any given week, I will preach to my service, which has grown from about 30 people to close to 100, I will give two morning devotionals at the Commanding General's battle update, I will give briefings for Soldiers going on R&R, and I lead a Bible study for about 15-20 people. You have to be comfortable in front of various audiences, especially in tense or emotional settings like a memorial ceremony.

-You need to be able to create an atmosphere in which Soldiers feel welcome. In other words, be friendly! Love the Soldiers. Joke with people, get to know them, circulate, start conversations. Since moving up to 1st CAV from my previous FOB, I have finally started to really get to know people and have seen my counseling load increase as people feel comfortable chattin' with me. You have to be approachable.

-But you also need to remember that you're an Officer. This carries certain obligations, responsibilities and authority. As a Reserve chaplain, I'm a pastor most of the time, and this mindset has been the biggest change for me while on Active Duty. There is a certain way of speaking, of carrying yourself, and it includes times where you need to be a little "strict." This includes such things as remembering the chain of command, knowing which jobs you can do, and which your assistant can do, and not mixing them up.

-You also need to be comfortable with doing a lot of counseling as a chaplain. It's a huge part of your job. As Soldiers get to know you, they will start coming with various issues. Often times they are very difficult problems, with no simple solution. It's important to be comfortable with this. For seminary students considering the Army chaplaincy, I'd strongly urge you to take as many counseling courses as possible in seminary, especially in the area of marital counseling. Also, have your own sets of resources, a knowledge base, and examples when it comes to speaking with Soldiers about marriage. Marital issues are the largest group of issues when it comes to counseling Soldiers.

-Along with this, you need to be able to listen non-judgmentally. Soldiers have strong opinions and language, and they don't usually mute it all around chaplains (though they do try...). When I'm counseling at my church, I don't usually have people dropping F-bombs or other swear words. With Soldiers, it's sometimes a different story! You can't flinch. You'll also hear lots of complaints, and even if you don't agree with them, you have to listen. This isn't the same as condoning language, and there are times you have to stop a Soldier and call them on their language (that's part of your role as an Officer). When I was at the mob station, there was a Soldier making loud, crude comments about women, and I locked him up, and told him to stop. But for the most part you just gotta love the Soldiers and meet them where they're at.

-The last thing is that you need to be able to think theologically. I know that sounds like a given for people coming out of seminary, but this isn't as easy as it sounds. Many Soldiers come to me with theological questions, and I need to answer them as I believe, but I also have to understand that this isn't a church. In a pluralistic in environment, no one is asking me to change or mute what I believe, but you also need to know when to say certain things. This takes some theological discernment. Experienced chaplains know what I'm talking about.

Finally, two other things: you have to be flexible and you have to be organized. Both are crucial.

8 Comments:

Blogger sarah cool said...

This was so great to read!!!!!

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Captain Chris!

Your comments about being an officer really hit home. My dad, a retired Air Force Major once said he had a guy who was really difficult to deal with and he so had the urge to stand him at attention and then walk off and leave him standing there!

I would guess some prep for being an officer comes from being a parent. Your soldiers need of leadership superscedes their need for friendship--just like our kids. There are times I want to by my boys best buddy and there are times I HAVE to be their father.

I am also rejoicing this morning at the news that your Sunday evening worhip has grown like it has. This is definitely proof of the power of the Holy Spirit coupled with your abilities as a Pastor and as a man. Way to go, God!

And, the next time I am sitting in your office, I will be careful not to drop any F-bombs!

PAGGS

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved your comments Chris! You speak of being relational not "religious" and that is exactly the way God always intended it to be.
I work in the airport and see many soldiers coming and going. I see the hugs and the tears and am able to be a part of "marketplace ministry." You don't always need to be preaching a message to reach others with the love of God. Sometimes just listening,a smile, a pat on the back,or saying God Bless or I'm proud of you goes a long way in ministering to others.
When you choose to be a chaplain you are choosing to be an ambassador of the love of Christ Jesus. Not to be haughty and religious like the Pharisees but humble, asking the Lord to fill you with His love so you can splash it on others wherever you walk.
An excellent marriage resource is online called Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage by Mark Gungor.He is hilarious yet in your face truthful.I would suggest you get his DVD's.You won't stop laughing!
God Bless you my brother,praying for you!
Linda Mishler

1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris

You are correct about the language in the military, not only soldiers and the Army but all Services, When I first joined back in the Day, it was common and for lack of any other phrases so common that it was a way of life for all in the Military, Once I found the Lord!! It was still hard for me to change my ways, it took time, but it was time well spent, don't get me wrong, I still slip, but it is not a way of life for me anymore. And I truly feel that the image of the military and how they speak and subjects they talk about have changed over the years.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I am new to this, and I had alot typed out and then lost it, but I agree, and I hope that what I hear and see these days is a change for the better. It took me along time to change from the military way of life, even when I was in, I changed, I just listened to what others were saying and changed because, one I knew it was wrong and two, it sounded stupid..

Rodney
USMC
Retired

5:52 PM  
Blogger Salomé said...

Wow, this is quite a different ministry, but so worth in God's Kingdom. I absolutely salute you for your work. I SOOO wish I could be in the military, but perhaps God knows why I shouldn't go there. I'm from South Africa, but I pray for the US soldiers very often.
I work in a ministry where we minister to the prostitutes. Totally different to yours, as I mentioned earlier, but both so important.
I'll pray for you as you go forward. And I hope to read more of your posts in the future. :-)
God bless, take care and keep shining!

3:08 PM  
Anonymous J Kent Kroencke said...

Sir,

I will be going to seminary soon and taking a commission in the Illinois National Guard. I have been a full time pastor for 12 years, but feel that the military is a ministry field in great need. Thank you for you comments and I will be checking back often to read your blog. Check out mine at www.fearandtrembling.org

10:26 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I am very excited I have found this blog. I am in the beginning stages of being a reserve Chaplain. I am a few months from finishing my BA then will obtain my M.Div. I am prior Army so I know exactly what you mean about language and soldiers in general. I have been reading this blog for only a few days, but I cannot seem to stop. I started from the first entries until this post before I commented. I intended to contact you in the later entries and if possible exchange emails for a more direct contact. You have been an inspiration and a plethora of knowledge from training until active duty. I enjoy this blog and I am overly excited about what God is doing in my life and guiding me towards the ministry.

Here is my email army_running@yahoo.com I would love to hear from you directly.


Thank you and keep up the good work.

God Bless you

6:49 PM  

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