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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.

1. The pastor is not equipping others. Church members expect the pastor to do most of the ministry, and the pastor fulfills those unbiblical expectations.

2. Pastoral care of members is increasing. As a consequence, the pastor has less time to lead the congregation to reach beyond its walls.

3. The pastor does not take time to connect with non-members and non-Christians. Simply stated, there is no outwardly focused Great Commission leadership.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources and the co-author of Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.
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Talk about it...

Rodney Shanner

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Thom, identifying problems is not helpful if you do not offer solutions. Those solutions must deal realistically with the mentality of laymen. In other words your 10 points describe the expectations of most laymen. A Pastor is responding to the laymen's expectations, thus the laymen are discipling the Pastor rather than the Pastor discipling the laymen. You need to tell us how a Pastor changes that lay mentality with the least possible grief for the Pastor and for the laymen.

Pastor Herbert W. Roshell

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Amen! Good word!

Jeff Thomson

commented on Oct 6, 2015

One solution is to have the pastor go into the community and serve as a chaplain for unchurched peoples. That will demonstrate what lay people should be doing.

commented on Oct 7, 2015

Pastor Rainer, I have enjoyed reading your writings, but on the issue you've raised, I don't quite agree with your points. I serve as a school chaplain and there's a great deal of outreach/evangelism work involved in this ministry-more than I was ever involved in during my ministry at a local church/Parish. If the definition of a chaplain I have is right, then you cannot separate chaplaincy from pastoral ministry. I dare say, we need more chaplains as they go down to where the need is greatest. Isn't that what pastors are meant to do?

Bob Faulkner

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Shepherding sheep involves more than feeding them. Their entire life is his passion, not just a Sunday feeding. I think more of a commendation is forthcoming, rather than a rebuke of pastors who deeply care for their people. True love in a church is an evangelism program in itself, once the word gets out. And it always does.

commented on Oct 6, 2015

While I can appreciate the point of this article, it does put the ministry of chaplains in bad light. One would think the chaplains are given to mediocrity when they read this article. Also, the article seem to paint chaplains as mindless people who don't care about boundaries, no passion for work, and no strategic skill sets.

E L Zacharias

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Those are interesting points that you raise, Thom. Others have described this as "maintenance" v. "missional" ministry. It is good that we pastors examine our ministry to see where we are on the spectrum; in that way, each of us could see what type of ministry we have and determine where we want (or need) to be. On the other hand, we should recall that we are "pastors," that is, "shepherds" who tend the flock of God. Sometimes that means doing maintenance as "a chaplain." As mentioned, while it is wise to take counsel from elders and deacons, the pastor should not be led by them or any noisy party but chart a course according to what needs to be done. Remember that while Moses did lead the people through the desert, there were times when they camped and took care of business.

Pastor Herbert W. Roshell

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Excellent respond. Right on point.

Moses Brown

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Thom, it sounds as if you never been a Chaplain! I also serve as a Chaplain, and your picture is nothing like the description of a real Chaplain.

Roy Hagemyer

commented on Oct 6, 2015

I think Thom did identify the main issue and that is a lack of outward evangelism. I have seen this before, where the pastor is consumed with his congregation and does little if anything to reach the lost in our world. As a pastor we need to to both, feed the sheep and find the lost. Many times the pastor wants to do it all, and is not willing to ask for help. When you become a pastor, you should be aware of the pitfalls of the task at hand, if can get overwhelming very fast if you allow it to. Both directions are a slippery slope, feed the sheep or find the lost, you can over do either. Ask God and He will lead where to go, and don't forget to ask for help.

Ronnie Dale Simpson

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Point well taken, to every problem there is a solution. Prayer is one.

Ronnie Dale Simpson

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Point well taken, to every problem there is a solution. Seeking wisdom is one.

Ronnie Dale Simpson

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Dr. Diego F. Cruz G.

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Dear Pastor Rainer. I am a Teacher (an ordained minister) and also i am a Chaplain. I have been in a Pastor position also. While i support the main idea of encouraging ministers to go out of the office and extend the vision, delegating the task of visitation, comfort, etc. to others in Church. Have to disagree also, since you are misunderstanding (if not diminishing) the Chaplains ministry. A chaplain its a minister trained to help the people in 3 main areas: spiritual, emotional and physical. Sure, some chaplains work 8 hours daily in a specific environment, but most of all are in places where pastors are not allow. Your point of view comes form USA and there a card saying "Rev, Pastor, etc" open a door. In Latin America, a card saying "Chaplain" open the doors. Pastors cannot be chaplains and chaplains sometimes can be pastors. In a disaster area, like Guatemala recently, chaplains have been there since the beginning, pastors have only officiated funerals (and make plans, and cast vision). In the end a Chaplain is there to share love, word, compassion, to find means to help widows, orphans, elders ?Is not that what a pastor should do?. I train Law Enforcement Chaplains and they are Police Officers that carry on daily their duty and also do chaplain ministry (their income? less than $500 a month). They pray, teach, share vision, find ways to provide help to widows, and do not collect offerings or tithes. with all due respect, please correct the message, because its good but not accurate.

Jeff Thomson

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Not to mention the millenials that Rainer writes about are more open to talk with someone with the title 'chaplain' then 'pastor'. Serving as a corporate chaplain (former pastor) I am amazed at the gospel conversations that I have now versus when I served as a pastor.

Dr. Diego F. Cruz G.

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Amen! I can count more conversions and decisions for Christ in the past 6 years (close to 5000) than in the other 2o years of ministry. God is good!

Brian Orme

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Dr. Diego, thanks for your input! The heart of this article is about outreach, but I do think he unintentionally slighted chaplains in the process. We're taking your feedback into our editorial direction and really appreciate you being a part of the SermonCentral community!

Norman Prather

commented on Oct 6, 2015

I hope you begin to realize your cut and paste method of response is both annoying and insulting. One the more important matter of chaplaincy vs pastor: I once held the author's viewpoint, until I became a chaplain. I suggest he give more thought to his choice of terms and more depth to his writing.

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Normally I've always liked your work Thom, however you've really missed the mark on this one. As a Chaplain I can safely say I do most of my work with non-Christians and the unreached and having hung out with Chaplains and Pastors most of my life, I can safely say the frustration with most Pastors is trying to get their flock to connect with those outside their walls. Please take another look at this. I have included our website: www.rtccanada.com

Brian Orme

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Shawn, thanks for your input! The heart of this article is about outreach, but I do think he unintentionally slighted chaplains in the process. We're taking your feedback into our editorial direction and really appreciate you being a part of the SermonCentral community!

Moses Brown

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Thom, it sounds as if you never been a Chaplain! I also serve as a Chaplain, and your picture is nothing like the description of a real Chaplain.

Brian Orme

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Moses, thanks for your input! The heart of this article is about outreach, but I do think he unintentionally slighted chaplains in the process. We're taking your feedback into our editorial direction and really appreciate you being a part of the SermonCentral community!

commented on Oct 6, 2015

We have a chaplain-pastor who is only too keen to protect family time (6), and only to keen to take time off for study leave (7). He preaches 30 times a year, although I'm sure he is good at taking tea with church members and indeed visiting the sick, or at least the dying What should we do? Apart from any of that, he is an 'excellent' if expensive fellow

Jeff Thomson

commented on Oct 6, 2015

I serve as a corporate chaplain currently and having been pastor I must disagree strongly with your personal definition of the heart of a chaplain. I share the gospel more now and no longer hide behind a pulpit. I'm really surprised that that someone has respected as yourself hasn't taken the time to get to know a chaplain. Trust me we are out here and we are effectively reaching those the church, you supposedly are trying to change, are simply failing to.

Brian Orme

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Jeff, thanks for your input! The heart of this article is about outreach, but I do think he unintentionally slighted chaplains in the process. We're taking your feedback into our editorial direction and really appreciate you being a part of the SermonCentral community!

Helio Fabio Castro

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Congratulation !you right ! that means you must train church?s member to carry out tasks according to what is needed and what they are able to do,thus you could do more to improve not only as a pastor but also as the church?s head to do what God wants to !

John Gullick

commented on Oct 6, 2015

Good article. Interesting responses. I think they point out the need to redefine chaplaincy as well as ministry. Chaplains should be missional as well as Pastors so in some ways the lines should become blurred. In reality many chaplaincy positions have been regarded as little more than social work positions and of course I can understand hard working chaplains reacting to that. At the same time some Pastors have adopted chaplaincy model ministries and had some success. Good Article it promoted discussion and thought isn't that what good articles do?

Tony Bland

commented on Oct 6, 2015

I will have to read this later?my member is calling me again. I got to go see what he want?very good article?

Harry Love

commented on Oct 7, 2015

While I have a sense of Thom's premise for the article, I truly wonder how deeply involved in pastoral ministry he has been. Pastoral ministry is about being in the trenches with people in times of need and struggle. Today ministry requires you have your face to the issues like addiction, alcoholism, abuse, family disfunction, etc. The problem today is most younger ministers do not want to be involved to this depth of ministry and would rather make the ministry a "profession" and not a "calling." I suggest that before you write another article regarding "pastoral roles" and disparaging "chaplaincy" you take a little time and acquaint yourself with both.

Melinda Plumley

commented on Oct 7, 2015

As a professional chaplain, I am deeply saddened that this is your view of chaplains. Everything that you think "we don't do" -- we actually do on a daily basis. I have great joy in my ministry, I start new initiatives all the time, I don't dread the next phone call or e-mail because I know it is an opportunity for ministry, I take my vacations because I know how to set boundaries, and I engage with non-Christians constantly --- and sometimes the reason is to un-do the damage of narrow minded Christians who judge them and condemn them.

Hank Fields

commented on Oct 7, 2015

I have rarely commented on an article for good or bad but could not let this one go by. Having been a Senior Pastor for 15 years and currently both an Execute Pastor at my church and Senior Manager of the Spiritual Care Department of a local hospital, I can tell you that your comments and inferences about chaplains are uniformed and border on offensive. Do some homework.

David Wright

commented on Oct 7, 2015

I created a guest account just to comment on this one. I understand what you are trying to communicate as far as equipping the Body, but it is a poorly chosen comparison. I was a full time associate pastor for over ten years and am now an Army chaplain. As chaplains, much of what we do IS reach people who will never go to church. As entry level chaplaincy, I have 700 infantry soldiers under my care (plus family members!) If that's not shepherding, I don't know what is. As far as family time, when not deployed, the Army emphasizes family time more than my 3 churches ever did. In addition to federal holidays with extended weekends, every soldiers gets 30 days of paid leave per year. Is there a pastor out there who does anything close to that for his staff? Concerning our work, as chaplains we KNOW our ministry is valid and this article makes the author look very uninformed. I find numbers 8-10 particularly ridiculous and believe you owe chaplains of all kinds an apology. (To end on a positive note, I have greatly benefited from some of your other writings.)

H.e. Rev. Dr. Aqeel T. Ash-Shakoor, Cdka

commented on Oct 7, 2015

Good morning Pastor. I first wish to say your article was a good read as I view it from the pastor's perspective, however I am a Pastor as well as serve as a Chaplain at an Institution. I read your article and was wondering where your definitions of a Pastor and Chaplain were derived from. I began to read the comments of those chaplains that felt offended I could totally understandand why they were offended. I came into this position believing that due to the title Chaplain I would be doing the television version of a chaplain which is just visiting people during routine rounds. Surprisingly, I quickly came to realize that I conduct business the very same way as I pastor my church. Some of those things are bible study, preaching two or three services a week, marriages, counselings, administrative meetings, investigatiing and initiating various programs for personal and spiritual growth, discipleship training, etc. I'm striving to understand that you were maybe just speaking in general what you know of a chaplains' duties in certain enviornments. Chaplains in hospitals may not have to teach bible studies and preach services week to week however chaplains in institutions such as the one I'm employed tackle the equal duties as pstors if not more, because there is no finance committee, no trustees, no deacons, no deaconess, no pastor's aide, etc. to bring an end to this response, state that a chaplain and pastor are synonymous. The title pastor is even loosely used in today's time as it's given to reverends under a senior pastor who heads up a certain ministry and has been ordained by that paticular pastor. The thing is, that pastor and the ministry he oversees is still covered by the senior pastor for all needs not the pastor appointed to oversee the ministry. Also, to whomever made the comment about young ministers or preachers not involved with ministry processes, we find today that elder ministers and preachers are outdated and fear change to even provide growth to their congregations. I even heard and read elder pastors scrutinize those elder pastors for standing in the way of young vibrant ministers with new ideas. So, we must all be careful of stepping outside what the biblical definition of defining a pastor. God bless you and I pray that you return a rsponse to the collaborative thoughts on your definition and understanding what a chaplain and pastor are.

Annie Blacknall

commented on Oct 7, 2015

Before we be too harsh on the brother, I think that he is simply saying that the Chaplain are doing more pastorial work in the institutions that they are serving in than the pastors are doing in the churches. We must suffering loss because the pastors are no longer teaching to make disciples for evangelizing the lost souls in the world. Many churches have lost sight of the great commission and are replacing them with programs that are good for nothing other than glorifying ourselves. Yes, we have food banks, clothes closets, and may even offer miminal financial support for people in crisis, but how does that actually teach people about the love of God for lost humanity? How does that actually compell people to make Jesus their choices and to live life with a higher purpose in mind? Most of what is being taught in churches theses days is geared toward respect, honor and support for the pastor which I believe was the entire point of the article " the sheep are shepherding the shepherds".

commented on Oct 11, 2015

This is a funny counterpoint: When Chaplains are becoming like Pastors. http://chaplainsreport.com/2015/10/11/ten-signs-a-chaplain-is-becoming-a-pastor/#more-750

Glenn Sackett

commented on Oct 12, 2015

As a healthcare chaplain, I'm often amused by people's misunderstanding of the mystery of chaplaincy ministry. My thoughts on the 10 points are in (parentheses): 1. The pastor is not equipping others. (As a chaplain I regularly teach others how to assess spiritual needs and how to provide appropriate and needed spiritual care) 2. Pastoral care of members is increasing. As a consequence, the pastor has less time to lead the congregation to reach beyond its walls.(As a chaplain I spend no time caring for the needs of "members;" no one I care for belongs to my congregation, many to none at all.) 3. The pastor does not take time to connect with non-members and non-Christians. (As a chaplain I spend all my time connecting with non-members and much of it with non-Christians; I thoroughly enjoy rich spiritual conversations with people who are unaffiliated with any faith group and many who consider themselves "not religious.") 4. The pastor deals with members? complaints at an increasing rate. (As a chaplain I am far more likely to attend to people's true spiritual needs, and far less likely to deal with their complaints. When I do deal with their complaints, they are usually of a significant nature where someone has spiritually abused them, causing trauma and suffering, which I help them recover from.) 5. The pastor worries more about the next phone call, conversation, or email. (As a chaplain I understand the next phone call, pager call, email or Code Blue is not an "interruption;" it is "the work of ministry.") 6. 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. (Soon after becoming a chaplain I developed a serious intention to "Keep family first;" it wasn't always easy with 24 hour on-call responsibilities, but I maintained regular involvement in my family life.) 7. The pastor is reticent to take vacation time or days off. (As a chaplain I protect and use my vacation time, both for family togetherness and personal renewal; I know if I don't keep my body/mind/spirit vehicle rested and renewed, I won't be resilient enough to be ready for the next crisis, and therefor won't be effective.) 8. The pastor is reticent to take new initiatives. (As a chaplain I am both a change agent and a facilitator of change, helping others learn to thrive in change rather than to suffer in change. I also teach resilience to my care team so they can be sustainably involved in compassionate expression of the ministry of Christ.) 9. The pastor has no vision for the future. (As a chaplain I am continually reading, researching and innovating new ways to provide spiritual care and support more effectively, not just to meet people's 'felt needs' but to go beyond that, actually improving the outcome of their health crisis.) 10. The pastor has lost the joy of ministry. (As a chaplain I experience so much joy in ministry I wonder if it's fair that I should get paid for having so much fun! All my education and self-initiated life-long learning are utilized in novel new situations that keep me curious about life, about God's design for life and God's work to restore what's broken in the human experience. This produces a rich harvest of wonder, awe and joy as I see people grasp new spiritual possibilities and find ways to turn adversity into an opportunity for personal transformation.) (As you can see I believe "becoming a chaplain" is really developing a ministry like Christs, out on the front lines of life, not "maintaining a church," which is the fate of many pastors. I'll take "becoming a chaplain" any day, thank you, God!

Thomas H. Mills, M.div., Bcc

commented on Oct 13, 2015

My first response to this article is "OUCH!" I've been in ministry since 1982 as bi-vocational Pastor and now as Chaplain. I've been serving in the Chaplain role for 12 years now. The author obviously doesn't have a clue about the work of a Chaplain. The way this article reads is that if you can't be successful as a Pastor, you might be able to make it as a Chaplain. I've found the work of a Chaplain to be much more demanding and fruitful than I ever did working as a Pastor. My leadership skills are put to the test far more often in Chaplaincy than they were as a Pastor. My largest congregation as a Pastor was about 150 members. As Chaplain, the potential exists to provide ministry to over 35k clients! We are tasked to minister to their spiritual needs regardless of their religious system or lack thereof. I find the work of a Chaplain to be much more demanding and rewarding than I ever did as a Pastor. I think Thom would do well to educate himself on the roles and functions of a Chaplain before denigrating us as he's done in this article.

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