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.

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