As the officer in charge of Army chaplain recruiting at Fort Knox, KY, I met a lot of pastors, priests, rabbis, imams, evangelists, theology students, and seminary professors who inquired about becoming a chaplain. Most of them were good people, effective in service and ministry in their congregations and organizations. Many of them applied and were accepted. Some of them, however, didn’t meet all the criteria. Therefore, it’s important to understand what is required.
A phone call came from the pastor of a large church on the West Coast, who felt the Lord was calling him to become a military chaplain. He wanted to know how long it would take to get in, so he could notify his church board. After getting acquainted a bit, I started asking him about his qualifications. He had more than eight years full-time ministry experience, was in pretty good physical shape, with no criminal history or use of drugs. It was looking like he might be a great applicant for the military chaplaincy . . . until he was asked about his education.
“What do you mean I have to have a Master of Divinity? I have a B.A. in Theology & Ministry from a great university, and I got an A in every single class, and the Lord is calling me to become a chaplain NOW. I don’t want to go back to school.”
“Well, brother, sounds like you’re a great pastor, but you’re just not qualified without an M.Div. If the Lord is calling you, then you need to obey, and the first step is to get into seminary and complete the degree.”
His anger took over from there, and the rest of the call wasn’t very pleasant. Apparently, he had gotten into some sort of trouble, and needed to leave his church immediately. Going into the military would have been a perfect “out.”
A few weeks later, I got a call came from another pastor who felt called to the chaplaincy. When she was told there was an age limit, she asked, “But I heard I could get an age waiver. Can’t I get an exception from the Chief of Chaplains since I’m a bit over the cut-off?”
“Well, ma’am, the current guidelines from the Office of the Chief of Chaplains says he’ll consider age waivers up to forty-six years of age if you have prior military experience, but you’re already fifty with no previous time in service, and though you seem like a fantastic minister of the gospel, there’s no way you can begin a military career at age fifty.”
“Oh, I see.”
There are seven qualifications for every applicant who desires to become a military chaplain: Education, Citizenship, Ministry Experience, Security/Background Check, Medical Exam, Ordination, and Physical Fitness. Every one of these is also a potential disqualifier, which means as far as the military is concerned, it doesn’t matter how good a preacher or counselor you are, if you don’t have all seven qualifications, you’re not going to be a chaplain in the military.
The three military Chiefs of Chaplains have the authority to grant waivers or exceptions for faith groups that have a shortage of chaplains, but those faith groups tend to be Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Muslim. The rest of us need to make sure we understand and match up in all seven ways.
If you’ve done what it takes to fulfill all the qualifications, if you are a good minister who likes people, and if you’re sure this is the direction you’re called to go, chances are, you’re going to fit in really well, make some great friendships, and have a dynamic and effective ministry career.
For a complete understanding of what it’s like to be a chaplain in the Army, Air Force, or the Navy, take a look at the book Military Ministry: Chaplains in the Twenty-First Century. Click on the Books tab above to read more about it.
2 Replies to “Qualifications for Military Chaplaincy”
Sounds like the first individual doesn’t belong in any ministry.
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Yeah, that might be true. On the other hand, we all get into tight spots once in a while and look for ways to improve our situation. So I don’t blame him for trying.