Ministry in a Cultural Context

Every chaplain already has the required ministerial experience, education, and other qualifications, so the initial officer training is designed to prepare you mentally, emotionally, and tactically for the service you have entered. Each armed service has its own culture, worldview, and language, and these are important. Therefore, chaplains must get ready to live, work, and minister in that environment. There are some cross trainable tasks for all of the Armed Services Chaplaincies, but the important thing is that you learn these tasks best within the backdrop of the service God has called you to.

When I was a rookie chaplain, my first chaplain mentor said to me, “Here’s my philosophy of serving as a military chaplain: ministry follows friendship. If you love your soldiers and spend time with them and they know you like them, then they’ll come to you when they want to talk about their spiritual need. Just love them, spend time with them, and trust the Holy Spirit to draw them. When they are ready to talk about the Lord, they’ll know who to go to.”

In the same way pastors and missionaries have to learn the cultural context of the people they’re called to serve, chaplains need to understand the new world they’re going to be living in and ministering in for the next twenty years. You need to know the mentality, the lingo, the expectations, and the dress code. You have to know what you can and cannot do, the limitations of your authority, and the freedoms you have in ministry.

Sometimes, there’s a fine line between behavior that earns a medal, and activity that gets you in trouble, so you have to be able to discern the differences and know who you can go to for guidance and accountability. If you do it right, you’ll set yourself up for a successful career of effective ministry, while meeting new people and making friendships that’ll last a lifetime.

The painting below was by Don Stivers on the 100th Anniversary of the United States Army Reserve. I was assigned to the Chaplains Office at the US Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort McPherson, GA at the time, and bought this print. The picture shows some of the many activities and people that military chaplains have served over the past hundred+ years.

Show Me the Money

Some men tried to set a trap for Jesus one day by asking him a trick question. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? They expected a simple yes/no, either/or answer that would force him into a corner and get him into trouble with either the Roman authorities or the Jewish leaders. It would be a win/win for them and a lose/lose for him. But as he often did, Jesus had an interesting reply . . . Show Me the Money!

“Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a denarius.

“Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.

“Caesar’s,” they said to Him.

Then He said to them,

“Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,

and to God the things that are God’s”

(Matthew 22:19-22).

In answering their question, Jesus avoided the obvious either/or, and totally reframed the dilemma. In the eternal scheme of things, it doesn’t matter who you pay taxes to. The real issue is whose likeness is on the coin and whose picture is on you as a person because the image shows the identity of the owner. Since Caesar’s picture is on the denarius, go ahead and return it to him. It belongs to him. Likewise, because God’s image is on you, he claims ownership of your life, so give back to the Lord what is rightfully his. You belong to him.

Jesus’s reply turned the tables on them because they were the spiritual leaders who were supposed to understand the scriptures. They were the ones who claimed to have the image of God. Yet in reality, they were far from God.

Give back to Caesar what already belongs to him,

and give back to the Lord what already belongs to him.

An adult insect is officially called an imago, which means image or picture. This is the stage the butterfly looks its best, is fully developed, and fulfills its purpose. This is the stage that has captured the imagination of people around the world since the beginning of history. And this is where our discussion of the butterfly life cycle comes to a crescendo.

The butterfly is a wonderful analogy of the spiritual growth among Christians because metamorphosis means transformation, and the gradual changes from one stage to the next are so appropriate for a discussion of the changes that take place in our lives. But another fantastic part of the story is that the mature or perfect form of the adult butterfly is called an imago. This is a powerful reminder that every Butterfly Believer was fashioned in the Image of God. Theologians refer to this by using the Latin phrase, Imago Dei.

His image, his likeness, his stamp of ownership is indelibly printed on our soul, our very being, and we have chosen to give ourselves back to him. This is what we were created for. This is our reason for being. This is what empowers us to reach our highest level of existence. This is what we were designed for.

No matter who you are, where you are from, whether you are male or female, or what you look like, you are made in the Image of God and there’s nobody in the world more important or more valuable than you. You are free to be yourself, free to pursue your dreams, free to express yourself, and free to fly. And in that freedom, you can liberate others to do the same. You are a Butterfly Believer. And you are beautiful.

This is an excerpt from Paul Linzey’s book, Butterfly Believers, which is available on this website and on Amazon. It is perfect for home group or Bible study discussion or for personal devotional reading.

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