Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My View on the Chaplaincy

Last week, this question was posed via an anonymous comment on Laura's blog:
Hi, there, My husband is currently a pastor and has been looking into the military chaplaincy. My question is, how did you and your spouse, and others on this blog, decide to go this path? We have thoroughly enjoyed the pastorate, yet, at the same time, been deeply hurt as well. My husband always has been interested in the military chaplaincy, yet, at the same time, I am wondering if we are just running away from something because it is so stressful or is God leading us this way. I hope this makes sense. This is just a very difficult time for us right now.

First of all, you can read our story of how we ended up in the Army here.

When I met Jon, he was already in the chaplaincy, so that wasn't a decision we made together. However, the decision to transition from National Guard to Active Duty was. Before he joined the Army, he taught Bible at a Christian school and I was a church secretary. I love the chaplaincy & the ministry that it is- and to be honest, Jon & I have a different perspective on it than many people I've met. Here are some of my thoughts...

Pastors go through times of hurt, times of questioning, times of grief. Jonathan and I are both pastors' kids and have also been involved in church settings on our own- this is not a new idea to us. However, if you're looking to the chaplaincy to get away from problems- be they personal OR interpersonal, I would ask you to seriously consider your motives. Jon and I have noted about a few guys we have met- "Hurt pastors make hurt chaplains." The Chaplaincy is different from the pastorate- but that doesn't mean it's easier- or harder- just different. People are people, regardless of where you are.

I don't know what your situation is at all; you have probably been trying to make it work at this church, and it just isn't. You possibly are considering leaving the ministry because of hurts it has caused, but you just love the Lord and people way too much to do that. The chaplaincy seems like a way to stay in the ministry but get out of the church. (I could be completely off...)

Now, mind you, please don't get the impression that I think making a life change when you're unhappy is wrong- quite the opposite! I fully believe in our free will, and I also don't believe God has called us to be miserable! If you're unhappy with your life and can reasonably change it, by all means, do! Trying to reconcile is the first option- if that doesn't work, staying in a mentally, emotionally, and spiritually abusive church (I think that corollary can be drawn) isn't healthy- for anyone.

I suppose, what I'm saying is that, before entering the chaplaincy, make sure you do your research and KNOW what you're getting yourself into. I think that's the way to keep from getting hurt- having realistic expectations. The worst possible thing you can do is enter it without doing your research. (To be honest, probably the day I hated the Army the most was when I realized what exactly the current deployment tempo is- when we first got engaged/ entered the Army- happened near the same time- I thought a 20 year career might entail about 3 years gone- one year gone, 6 or 7 at home... man, was I wrong!!)

Here's a start- the chaplaincy is NOT the pastorate. The chaplain's job is not to be a pastor- or a missionary- it is to provide religious support. This will mean working with people who are not Christians- and working with other Chaplains who are not Christians, or who are Christians but have different beliefs. It means vocalizing your personal beliefs when it is appropriate, as an individual- and knowing when it's not appropriate. That means that if one of your soldiers wants a Koran, you get one for him. The Army doesn't pay pastors and missionaries. The Army pays for religious and ethical support.

There are a lot of pastoral functions of the chaplaincy, specifically in the context of the chapel ministry itself and in counseling. Those are the areas that you and I would consider the best "ministry"- and what great opportunities they are! This is where, as a wife, you can have a big impact.

On that note, I would add that you sometimes have to seek out these opportunities. In the pastorate, as soon as you get to a church, everyone knows you as the pastor's wife. That brings with it a connotation all on its own, and you will probably fall into activities. That's not how it is in the chaplaincy. Many chaplains' wives aren't involved- it's not expected. So, you have to make yourself known. I have had wonderful opportunities- I directed Kids Church, was PWOC President & Vice President, have counseled with various young wives, have assisted my husband in planning events for his unit, have been involved with my FRG (and am getting involved in the new one), and recently joined our spouses club. There are a wide variety of opportunities- you just have to get yourself out there! There are many things on post I'm not a part of- the ones I listed are the areas I have chosen to invest in. If you wait for an invitation- it may come, or it may not.

Also, the Army is a very unique venture- and will impact your marriage profoundly. Jon and I have spent our entire marriage in the Army- but in speaking with other wives, there are many adjustments to be made. You will spend quite literally YEARS away from each other. There is no way to be adequately prepared for such a thing, but you need to be ready for your marriage to undergo that stress- specifically in the chaplaincy. As the chaplain, my husband hears all sorts of horrible marital problems from soldiers; you have probably dealt with that to some extent in the pastorate, but it happening while he's on the other side of the world is difficult. As a wife, you need to accept that there will be times you will run the house by yourself, that life goes on whether he's here or not.

I also must make a note here about the "call" of God. What is a call, what does it look and sound like? I have no idea. Here's what I would ask- What are your gifts? What are your desires? Where is your heart? That's probably where God has called you. I don't personally believe He calls most of us to a specific place- rather, we have His word to guide us. James does tell us that if we ask for wisdom, God will grant it, so I suppose that might be considered a call. I spent many years of my life trying to "figure out" the will of God- that one perfect will He had for my life. You know what His will is for my life- and yours? To follow Him through our actions. To love Him and others through Him. You can do that as a pastor, a chaplain, or a mechanic. If it works for you and your family, and you consider it to be wise after praying about it, I don't think it's a matter of a "right" or "wrong" place for you to be. Trying to figure out what is "right" will probably leave you doubting.

I certainly don't mean to discourage you- I hope you don't take it that way. I just know the disappointment and heartache that can come from being unaware of what this life will be like. The Army life isn't for everyone- but if it is for you- it's great! I think that, as long as you come in prepared and seek to serve God in this setting, you can have a great life and ministry!


Rhonda said...

Wow, Sara - You are insightful and thought-provoking. I am glad you are in a ministry where God is using both you and Jon!

Greg said...

My wife and I are considering a call to Army Chaplaincy. I wonder if you and he could reply to this question:
How did you and your wife discern your call to chaplaincy?

I did read your post on your journey toward chaplaincy, but would like to hear how you discerned the call.


Greg said...

Sorry, I should have said you and your husband!!


wife & mom said...

Just wanted to say thank you - for your blog as well as specifically this post.