Churches of Christ Chaplaincy Programs

Over the past few generations the Churches of Christ have developed really strong Chaplaincy programs. But what we’ve needed the entire time is an even stronger Prophet Development Programs. Wait a moment before you tune me out, or begin disagreeing. Give me a few minutes to try and explain what I mean.

Two or three times a month I get to work at the Blessing Hospital as a Chaplain. For five hours I get to sit and visit with patients. Sometimes there’s a crisis situation where I’m asked to console family members that have just gotten some really bad news. Other times I just sit and pray and visit. It’s a great program and involves many of the local preachers/pastors from the area. Because of this program every patient has 24/7 access to pastoral care. Plus, it gives us preacher types another opportunity to serve and a really good opportunity to serve unchurched people from our community. It’s a win-win all the way around.

That’s the main gist of what a Chaplain does in the hospital. Of course, chaplains exist in other venues as well–the military, nursing homes, ball teams, prisons, police and fire departments, universities and in some cases, even corporations. The main idea is that a clergy member provides a specific need-based ministry to a secular group of people with similar needs. From there it’s easy to kind of figure out the role of the Chaplain. All you have to do is determine the spiritual needs of that particular group of people.

That list wasn’t quite complete. We need to add one more to it — the Church. Keep in mind that there is absolutely nothing wrong with chaplain work in the Church. In fact, it’s quite necessary and completely biblical. Just start reading the “One Another” passages and you’ll see real quick that there’s a lot of needs that require “chaplain type” duties. Here’s the catch . . . ALL Christians are supposed to be busy “One Anothering.” That was never meant to occupy the attention of any paid clergy the way it now does.

But this is exactly what we pay our Preachers to do. We want them to minister to us. Sure, we give lip service to the Preacher doing evangelism. And some of us do it well – at least those with the spiritual gift of evangelism. And that’s problematic though. For the Preachers with that spiritual gift, they’re supernaturally gifted with the ability to share the Gospel with anyone. The rest of us are going to struggle with that a little. Not for lack of desire, but for lack of God-given talent. Just like anyone else, some of us Preachers are complete introverts around people we don’t know. We struggle to create conversation, much less turn it into a discussion about faith. But I digress . . .

Back on track. Next time you see him, ask your Preacher what takes up most of his time. Better yet, just ask him about his schedule and what he does. As long as you don’t come across as attacking him, I’m sure he’d be completely comfortable sharing that with you. As he tells you, write it down and then mark which of the activities are geared towards 1)serving the church, 2) serving/reaching the unchurched and  3) equipping the church to “do works of service” and reach the unchurched (you know, Great Commission kind of stuff). Ever wonder exactly what the Bible says the Preacher should be doing. Well, there’s no short answer on that one. But check out this passage. It’s a real good start.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.                   – Ephesians 4:11-14

Here’s a run down on how a Preacher might “typically” spend his time. If he’s teaching four lessons then he’s going to need to spend about 20-25 hours in study and preparation. If it’s too much less, then either you’ve got an all-star on your hands, or your not getting his best efforts in terms of teaching. 10-15 hours will go towards visiting with church members. This will include hospital visits, “counseling” visits, checking-in and keeping in touch visits, and “noticed you’ve not been to church in a while type of visits.” That’s the bulk of his schedule right there. About 10 hours will go towards planning and clerical work and miscellaneous work that’s kind of unplanned. Then maybe another 2-3 hours on church related meetings.

Okay, assuming that’s close to typical, scrub it against these three criteria: 1) serving the church, 2) serving/reaching the unchurched and  3) equipping the church to “do works of service” and reach the unchurched. It’s pretty clear that we’re talking about serving the church. And unless your preacher is really hammering away at evangelism from the pulpit, nearly all of his work is geared towards serving the needs (and wants) of the church. It’s no wonder that our churches are so inward focused. And it naturally follows that, it’s no wonder that so many of our churches are slowly dying.

It kind of makes me wonder what would happen if our preachers just quit doing chaplain work and started ministering according to 1) their own spiritual giftedness and 2) the actual spiritual needs of the church. I’ve got to be honest, I’m not a very good chaplain. At least I don’t think I am. I wonder if I have some of my church fooled on that. And of course, I also wonder when they will start to figure it out. But that’s neither here nor there. I suppose a more helpful comment is that I have very little passion for chaplain work in the church. Not because it’s not important. But because 1) I feel like my giftedness leads in other directions; 2) chaplaining in the Church is really “One Anothering” – which is the work of every Christian and 3) it’s not what my church needs from me. They need vision casting, direction and leadership. Otherwise, we’ll keep walking in place, not realizing that our hard work isn’t getting us anywhere.

Back to my wondering . . . what would happen if our Preachers quit doing Chaplain work. Well, the Church may actually erupt again, like what happened in the 50s-70s. But, with the way things currently stand, that’s not going to happen. Our church model won’t allow it to happen. Everything we do as Church is egocentric and ethnocentric. We’ve built and grown our churches to serve our needs. And so when it’s time to look for a Preacher we find the guy who will help us continue that trend. For our Preachers to be able to quit focusing on being Chaplains, we’ve got to stop requiring Chaplain services. And instead, start asking to be equipped for works of service. 

—Check back next time when we talk about the Prophet work in the Church.  God Bless!




4 thoughts on “Churches of Christ Chaplaincy Programs

  1. Lyn Farris

    I agree on most of this. There is one point you made that I’ve come to question more and more over the years. I’m not sure we can assume some are introverts or extroverts and thus better suited for certain ministries. Most people have a mixture of introversion and extroversion, and it seems some of those most lacking in confidence can become great at witnessing if they step out of the boat in faith and let the Holy Spirit teach them. It seems to be largely a matter of willingness, submission to God’s will and lots of practice. Even if we take our eyes off Christ and sink the first few times, He won’t let us drown if we accept His hand to pull us up and we can let our faith be strengthened and watch in amazement as God takes over and gifts us with abilities we never dreamed were possible.


    1. Hi Lyn,
      Thanks for commenting. I understand and agree with what you’re saying. I’m an example of it. At first, I was terrified of talking to people about faith (and as a result not very effective at it). As I “jumped in ” and got more practice, I got more comfortable (still not as effective as I would hope to be). But, no matter how effective and comfortable I become, I realize that it’s not my spiritual gift to do that. That being the case, does not lessen my responsibility to respond to the Great Commission. It just helps me to understand where my greatest Kingdom impact is going to be.


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