Roles of the Chaplain

I know that people tend to think of chaplaincy as decidedly different from missionary. However, both come from a missional spirit, as one embraces the calling to serve others outside of the church setting. Well, I was supposed to give an commissioning address for some chaplain trainees at our center a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, our neighborhood was locked-down due to illness, Thefore, I could not speak. I decided to share the first draft of my message here. It is more finished at the beginning than the end. Hopefully, I will finish it soon… but what I have done is pretty useful, I think.

CPE has been found useful for many people in Christian ministry, as well as people in other forms of service. However, there has been a tradition of CPE used for chaplains. Chaplains are ministers whose congregation is not the church. This can include the military, a hospital, a jail, a community, a corporation, a government agency, at iba pa. So I will tell my first experience with chaplains.

Many years ago, I graduated from college and I decided to join the United States Navy. I went to Officer Candidate School (OCS)

During the fist week is Indoctrination Week. Our heads our shaved. We have to get up early for exercise, we do everything as a group. We have almost no individual freedom. We C.I.s yell at us and give us orders and emotionally abused. This is supposed to develop a group identity and a feeling of belonginess. I am not sure that that worked for me. All I could think of was that I completed a bechelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and now I am being treated like people treat a stray dog.

However, during Indoc week, we were scheduled to meet the Navy Chaplains. I think that one was Southern Baptist, another United Methodist, and a third Roman Catholic. We were marched to the Navy chapel (“Chapel of Hope”), and told where to sit. The chaplains welcomed us. They thanked our company instructors (our motivational abusers). Then the chaplains told the instructors to leave the sanctuary. After the instructors left, the chaplains went back and ceremoniously closed the back door of the sanctuary.

At that point, the chaplains told us to relax. The chapel is a refuge, a chapel of hope… there is no rank in the chapel. Chaplains will talk to us as people… not rates, paygrades, divisions, and ID numbers. They will also do their best to minister to everyone… even those of a different faith.

This is a liberating concept. My experience with Navy chaplains has been that they practice what they preach (a good thing). I enjoyed going to the Chapel of Hope on Sundays. Later, on my ship we had a chaplain. He was Southern Baptist. When he left the ship, he was replaced by an Assembly of God chaplain. Truthfully, I never met a chaplain I did not like. In the military, we were separated from our home churches, and often could not connect with a church group. Chaplains helped in this situation.

Chaplains have numerous roles. There have have been some attempts to describe these roles. I will describe some of these roles here.  See the Table at the bottom of this post.

First. A Chaplain in a sense embraces the role of an Apostle. An apostle was one who went out from the church to share God’s message of hope to those who are not part of the church.

So a chaplain does exactly this. A chaplain serves outside of the church being the carrior of hope to the hopeless and grace to hurting.

But a chaplain is not an apostle. A chaplain is not really a proselytizer… A chaplain is not a churchplanter. A chaplain’s ministry is much broader… serving those who accept the message of God and those who reject the message of God.

Thinking of Chaplain as Apostles, I think of St. Francis. He served in the streets not the cathedrals. And like St. Francis, preaching the gospel through actions… if necessary, use words.

Second, A Chaplain in a sense embraces the role of a Prophet. A prophet preaches the word of God, The Prophet served God, but also served the people by being an advocate for the people. Commonly, a prophet sought to express God’s role as an advocate of the people against the government.

As such, a positive role of a chaplain is that he or she can act as an advocate of the people— hospital patients, inmates, military personnel, and so forth— to help the institution.

But there is a bad side as well. A chaplain may serve as an advocate of the people, but is also a servant of the institution. A chaplain should never become a pawn of the institution (a “court prophet” in the worst sense)  but should not see him/herself as an enemy of the institution. He or she must work with institution, seeking to transform it, not overthrow it.

The metaphor of the “Wise fool” applies. A chaplain is like a jester, who works in the court, but is also an outsider. He can say what needs to be said, when others cannot.

Third.  A chaplain may be seen as Pastor.

The chaplain can provide a church (or church equivalent) for cannot be with their church (such as in hospital, jail, military, etc.) The chaplain can provide a community of faith where there is none.

Negatively, a chaplain may make the error of simply becoming a churchplanter. The role is much broader. It is not simply to provide a church for those away from home.

The image related to this role is the Shepherd.

Fourth.  A chaplain may be seen also as a Deacon.

A chaplain is meant to be a servant. He or she should serve all those who are in need. Frankly this draws from the earliest images of chaplaincy. Chaplains were those who helped travelers on their pilgrimmages.

However, chaplains are not just do-gooders. It is nice to be nice. But a chaplain must do more.

At it’s best, it is as Jesus who humbled Himself and served, or Martin of Tours— the founder of chaplaincy

Fifth. A Chaplain may be seen as a Priest

A chaplain serves as a priest in the sense of one who brings the holy into the mundane or secular setting.

However, much like the rest, this can be taken too far. A chaplain should not simply be the purveyor of symbols— a professional pray-er, or a dispenser of wafer and wine.

The related metaphor for this is “Circus clown.”  He or she connects the people (the audience) with that which is stunning or awe-inspiriring, while still being ordinary.

Sixth.  The final one is the Chaplain being a Monastic. Back in the 4th century, Christianity became a favored religion and finally a State Religion in the Roman Empire and in Armenia. The church became popular and as people flooded the churches and small gatherings became great basilicas, some were repulsed by what was happening in the churches. They left the church and moved into the deserts and wastelands to be alone with themselves and with God. Strangely, they started meeting other people who had experienced the same thing. These people who were trying to be alone began to gather together, and eventually started reaching out to others who were outside of the church.

A chaplain works with people who rejected the church or who were rejected by the church, or those who have rejected God. There is a pretty well-known story of a chaplan who served in a university. As chaplain he was scheduled to meet with all of the new students one at a time. Over and over again, a pattern would happen. The chaplain would meet with a student. He would introduce himself to the student and talk about the programs and services available through the chaplain’s office. The student would respond with, “Well, it is nice to meet you Chaplain, but you aren’t likely to see me very much.”

“Why is that?” asked the Chaplain.

“Oh because I don’t believe in God.” replies the student.

“Okay. Tell me about it.”

          Good. The chaplain can provide a church for those who rejected the church or those for whom the church has rejected them.

             Bad. The chaplain can become a Cultist. Just as the the chaplain challenges the secular institution without going to war with it, the chaplain challenges ones own church or denomination without rejecting or going to war with it.

Chaplain As Is Is not Example
Apostle Sent out to Give Hope Just a proselytizer St. Francis
Prophet Advocate for the People At war with institutions. “Wise Fool”
Pastor Church for the unchurched Just a Churchplanter Shepherd
Deacon Servant of All Just a Do-gooder Martin of Tours
Priest Bringing the Holy into the Mundane Just a Religious Symbol “Circus Clown”
Monastic Ministering to those who rejected the church or the church has rejected. A “Cultist”– rejecting or replacing the church Jesus

In conclusion, __________________________________________

Your Greatest Strength is….

Related image

We do a number of tests at our counseling center. We have partners in our work who are psychometricians, but we generally have little to do with tests that are built around DSM-V.  We tend to focus on tests that are more valuable in pastoral counseling, and ones that lead more towards conversation than formal diagnosis. Nevertheless, tests are often seen as valuable for self-awareness and making changes for the future. But what changes?

We like to do some simple tests in terms of relationships, conflict management, personality types, and leadership style. Most of these don’t measure linearly a certain pathological quality. Most of these look at categories that have both good and bad aspects to them. So if one looks at personality type tests such as Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, the presumption is that each type has strengths as well as weaknesses, and that the world is ultimately a better place because of the diversity of types found in society.

So what do you do with this information?  Here are three possibilities.

  1.  Work to Your Strengths. When a person takes a vocational aptitude test, or perhaps one in “spiritual giftings” or spiritual temperaments, one is often instructed that the strengths should guide one in what to focus on in terms of job, ministry, and self-growth. It kind of makes sense. If one is good in math and science, then one’s career should probably be one that utilizes and hones this aptitude.
  2. Work on Your Weaknesses. This takes a more holistic view, and can apply to certain types of tests. With NCD (natural church development) the theory is that the weakest area of a church is the limiter to growth. Focusing on strengths will do little. For humans, we may be healthy physically, psychoemotionally, and spiritually, but weak in terms of socialization (for example). To be a healthy human being, we should be healthy in all of these aspects, and so working on socialization is important.

I would like to add a third perspective.

YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH… IS YOUR GREATEST TEMPTATION

One could argue that this is a bit of a mix of the previous two. It addresses the fact that strengths are important and need to be directly acknowledged and worked on. It addresses the fact that weaknesses are also important in that over-reliance on strengths may ultimately prove harmful.

By what do I mean by the statement “Your greatest strength is your greatest temptation?”  I will start with a personal example. I am an analytic type. Being the administrator of a counseling center, I would like to say, “I minister to papers so that others can minister to people.” This was a similar view that I had when we were organizing medical missions events. While the three Rs (Reading, ‘Riting,’ and Research) may be my strength (Paperwork over People), I allowed that side to dominate my activity. I avoided dealing with people and doing counseling, and focused on activities that involve being in front of a computer (like now).

But I had to grow. Growing wasn’t to focus on my strengths, allowing areas of weakness to languish more and more. At the same time, neither was it ignoring my strengths to focus on my weaknesses. I looked at my strengths as important, but also a temptation to be unbalanced. To embrace balance I value my strengths but be careful not to focus too much on these strengths alone, but invest time and energy in my weaknesses as well.

This perspective has importance of other areas as well.

  • Consider the Love Language test. It seeks to demonstrate what is one’s primary way in which one identifies love in self and others. The five are:  Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Your primary “love language” tells you how you best identify loving behavior of others and how you generally show love to others. None of these are wrong. In fact, all of them have value… at times. The problem is that in relationships one may find that the two may have very different love languages. So one really needs to become love “bilingual.” This neither rejects one’s strength, nor fully embraces it. Additionally, in a work environment, physical touch or quality time may not always be helpful or practical to encourage employees. One may need to learn to value words of affirmation, for example. One’s strength is neither good, nor bad… but it can be a temptation.
  • Consider Conflict Management. There are different strategies for addressing conflict. Some may typically work better than others, but all work okay in certain situations. Sometimes combating is best while at other times compromising, collaborating, acquiescing, or even avoiding may be the most successful. The issue is not which one is best, but the risk of utilizing one’s preferred method indiscriminantly. It is good to be good at what one is good at (a truism certainly) but being good in one area may tempt one to use it at inappropriate times.
  • Ministry. We teach chaplaincy (CPE) at our counseling center. We teach seminarians how to utilize basic pastoral care skills to provide care for those in the hospital (and other settings). But often trainees fall into temptation and utilize their own strengths inappropriate. We had a trainee from a Charismatic Christian background who would go around praying over the dying and declaring them healed. (This was problematic to deal with when the patient would die— giving false hope and confusion for the family.) Another from an Evangelical background, would start out trying to do pastoral counseling and active listening, and then quickly drop into a canned evangelistic routine. (I can assure you that having a chaplain talking to a sick person who is undergoing diagnostic testing is not being helped if the chaplain suddenly says, “So where do you think you will be if you die tonight?”) We have had nurses take chaplaincy, and they struggle to avoid focusing on medical symptoms and giving medical advice.

Learning one’s strengths can be useful… but only if one learns how to utilize that knowledge.

The Chaplain Who Did Not Show Up

Chaplain Tom started work at Hampton General Hospital. He was excited. He had trained, it seemed like, his whole life for this day. From College, to Seminary, to CPE, he has dreamed of this. HGH was a small hospital, and he was the only chaplain, but he was excited nonetheless.

He visited as many patients as he could fit in… taking detailed notes… he did not want to appear to be not doing his job on the first day. He continued the pace throughout the week. In the Integrated Care Team (ICT) meeting, he sought to give appropriate inputs on patients who he had visited and evaluated. It was a good week.

Tuesday of the next week, he was asked to see the Hospital Director. Chaplain Tom was excited but a bit nervous. He went into director’s office and sat down when invited.

“You don’t have to come in tomorrow,” stated the Director, putting aside all pleasantries.

“But… umm… what do you mean by that, sir?” queried Chaplain Tom.

“Well, we don’t really need you.” Tom was shocked to hear this. Nothing gave him a prior inkling that the Director did not value chaplains.

“Why sir. Did I do something wrong?” The Director responded.

“Well, I have been looking at your comments in the patient records, listened to you at the ICT, and got some feedback from the nursing staff. You give patients good medical advice. You give them counsel as far as some of their social concerns. You marked down your thoughts regarding psychological assessment.”

“Well yes, but…” started Tom, but the Director cut him off. “Do you know why you were hired? You were hired to be a chaplain. You were hired because we need someone to assess their emotional and spiritual concerns. Their feelings about death, issues of belief and faith. We need to know what sort of support system they have internally and externally based on their beliefs and their community. I need you to assess what is going on inside them using skills that the rest of our hospital staff have not been adequately trained to identify.. I don’t really need you to do a psychological assessment. I have psychiatrists who are better at that than you. It is great that you are counseling patients regarding social concerns. That helps… but I have social workers who are good at that, better than you. It is fine if you want to put down medical notes that you think the nurses or doctors might find relevant— but again, they are better at that than you.”

The director continued. “I don’t mind if you want to do other people’s jobs, as long as you don’t get in the way. But you are doing everyone else’s job except your own. Take the rest of the week off. If you are ready to start doing YOUR job, I will see you next Monday. Otherwise, I really don’t need you”

As a Little Child

One of the more poignant stories to me in the Bible is where children were being brought to Jesus and the disciples were trying to fend them and their parents off. Jesus steps in and not welcomes them but notes that all of us, in some sense, must come to Him as a little child.

English: Jesus Christ with children
Image via Wikipedia

Clearly, this little vignette has great relevance within the context of salvation and discipleship. But I find it can be paralleled across to missions as well.

Recent story:  Within the last 6 weeks, I have been ordained and received my doctor of theology. The first is a recognition of ministerial calling, while the other is a recognition of academic achievement. Don’t get me wrong… I am happy with both, and perhaps even more happy that both happened in the mission field.

BUT… also within the last 6 weeks, I have been challenged by ministry that should be super easy (it seems to me) but is not. One was speaking at a somewhat political event (I enjoy being disconnected from politics even though I believe churches should be integrated with their communities, including partnership/interaction with political entities).

The other involves my work in hospital chaplaincy. I am taking CPE (since I am administrator of a training center for CPE, I felt that I need to understand what the trainees and supervisors are going through more directly). It has been a challenge to me for a few reasons:

1.  While my English serves me well in Baguio, the hospital I serve at is outside of Baguio and most of the patients and their families are very uncomfortable with English, and some are even uncomfortable with Tagalog. This makes me feel kind of stupid and out of place.

2.  Visiting patients involves going up to strangers and trying to make a conversation (not even knowing if they want to see me and if they can even speak my language). This goes against my temperament.

3.  As a chaplain, I focus on feelings (the affective region of the human condition) while I like to deal with facts, fixing, and instructing. This makes me doubt that I am doing anything useful.

4.  A chaplain has an ambiguous role in most hospitals. Some staff doubt their value… a peddlar of superstition. Others, think chaplains are there to “cheer people up.” Yet others here see the role as power praying… a faith healer. This makes me doubt my acceptance.

What is the result? I feel like a child in a crowd of strange adults. Such children doubts that they are supposed to be there, doubts that they are valued, and doubts that they can do anything of value.

YET… there is value in this. I have seen many people, including missionaries, who become masters of their own realm or ministry. They do what they do, but feel that they can’t do other things, so they don’t try. I like to do what I feel competent in doing and things that are consistent with my temperament. I hate to feel lost and confused. I hate to look silly or simple in front of others.

But missionaries are to be willing an

d flexible in ministry. We must risk coming before other people, not as experts and not a bosses… but as little children. Jesus accepts little children, but little children have to risk coming to Jesus and running the gauntlet of disapproving strangers.