In the broadest sense, a chaplain refers to those who are assigned to care and provide ministry for a specific group of people. Military and hospital chaplains, for example, have clearly defined groups who come under their care and ministry.
In local church ministry, we don’t typically use the term “chaplain,” though there are many pastoral roles that are congruent with chaplaincy. In fact, most of the pastoral care and concern for church members are chaplain-like functions.
Without a doubt, pastors should minister to church members. The danger is when pastors do little other than minister to the needs of church members, and the leadership of the church is neither equipping others nor leading the congregation to reach those who do not have a church home. In essence, the pastor is becoming a chaplain. Here are ten warning signs that such a process is likely taking place.
- The pastor is not equipping others. Church members expect the pastor to do most of the ministry, and the pastor fulfills those unbiblical expectations.
- Pastoral care of members is increasing. As a consequence, the pastor has less time to lead the congregation to reach beyond its walls.
- The pastor does not take time to connect with non-members and non-Christians. Simply stated, there is no outwardly focused Great Commission leadership.
- The pastor deals with members’ complaints at an increasing rate. Once members get accustomed to the pastor being their on-call chaplain, they are likely to become irritated and frustrated when the pastor is not omnipresent and omniscient for their every need.
- The pastor worries more about the next phone call, conversation, or email. Such is the tendency of the pastor-chaplain who knows there will always be complaints about needs not getting met.
- The pastor experiences greater family interference time. Many pastor-chaplains are fearful of protecting family time lest they not be highly responsive to church members. Some of these pastors have lost their families as a consequence.
- The pastor is reticent to take vacation time or days off. Pastor-chaplains would rather have no time off than worry about what they may miss while they are away from the church.
- The pastor is reticent to take new initiatives. There are two reasons for this response. First, the pastor-chaplain does not want to upset the members with change. Second, the pastor-chaplain does not have time for new ideas because of the time demands of members.
- The pastor has no vision for the future. The pastor-chaplain is too busy taking care of current member demands. Little time is available for visionary thinking and leadership.
- The pastor has lost the joy of ministry. Of course, this unfortunate development should be expected. There is no joy in dealing with unreasonable expectations and constant streams of criticisms, or with a ministry that has no evangelistic fruit.
I pray you pastors will look at these ten items as a checklist for your own ministry. And I pray you church members will look at the list and honestly evaluate your church to see if you have pushed your pastor into full-time chaplaincy.
As always, I value your input on these topics. Let me hear from you.
Posted on September 7, 2015
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Greetings, I think it is kind of silly to malign the office of chaplain with an article such as this. They are separate offices with separate responsibilities. A pastor is either doing the job the Church hired him to do or not. Having an accountability structure in place is vital. Then you won’t have to write articles speaking as if the duties of a chaplain are not something a pastor should be found doing.
I think you are misunderstanding the role of the modern day military chaplains. They are involved in all levels and activities of unit and base activities. They serve as connective tissue for the health and well being of the community.
I really enjoyed this post. Five years after it was written, I came across it. I am a Hospice Chaplain and NOT a Pastor anywhere. You were so precise with all of your points that most individuals, church members and some pastors alike do not realize. I explain it to patients this way. The Pastor/Minister is responsible for teaching the rules of the game and getting everyone to practice and prepare for and play the game for the season(however many years that might be). I as a Chaplain have the honor and privilege to be the Assistant Coach that is dedicated to being at your side supporting you to keep your faith at the Super Bowl of your life and you the patient are going to make the winning touchdown/field goal. The Chaplain is not ever the Minister(Is the Agent trying to sign you up on his team)who trains you and makes sure you know the rules of the game and sees to it that you adhere to those rules. The Chaplain is the booster club President supporting you in what you have already been taught while you’re playing the game, not in refereeing you or holding you accountable.
I am a hospital chaplain, Peter and appreciate your analogy above. Do you mind if I quote you?
Thank you, Peter, for your analogy. Your words paint a clear picture of the roles of a pastor and a chaplain. You also help clarify the sense of urgency from Thom Rainer regarding a Pastor not getting entrenched in pastoral care to the point of stepping away from the great commission of going into the community and teaching believers to also go into the community and make disciples. I received my chaplain training through a church. There are several large churches in my community who have many chaplains for their church members. The chaplains help carry the burden of soul care with pastoral staff and keep the pastors informed of the health of the congregation. It appears chaplains within churches have a role to play in helping pastors to stay above the mire. I wonder, has something happened to the role of elders that a “chaplain” should be warranted within the fold? James 5:14 states, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”