Chaplain's Column: Get Rid of the Trash

April 3, 2008
Many churches do it. Good corporations do it. Heck, even progressive law enforcement agencies do it. So why don't we do the same thing with our chaplains?

Many churches do it. Good corporations do it. Heck, even progressive law enforcement agencies do it. So why don't we do the same thing with our chaplains? The it to which I refer is evaluating a person's strengths and opportunities for growth and utilize those in developing the best place to plug them into the chaplaincy ministry.

Numerous churches offer programs whereby they assess spiritual gifts of the attendees and plug them into various ministries based upon the results. Excellent administrators are always thinking about how to best utilize all of the talents of the organization and offer promotions and early retirements accordingly.

As I began to put this into a perspective regarding chaplaincy, I thought of some of the apprehensions I have heard from officers over the years toward chaplains and respective related programs. While there are countless excellent chaplaincy programs and words of praise and encouragement for same from the law enforcement community, here are just a few of the apprehensive messages:

  • They just show up when bad stuff happens and assume acceptance.
  • They come in and out like the wind.
  • They don't know what it's like on the street day-in and day-out.
  • They don't have the "oomph" to get out in the squad car.
So I wonder if maybe we aren't missing something in our evaluation of potential chaplains. Rightly, we emphasize the need for regular interaction and building of rapport and relationship with officers and other employees at the agency. However, I wonder if as our chaplains' corps grow, we don't continue looking at areas of specialization or giftedness.

For example, some chaplains I know are more the wallflower type who are amazing counselors and listeners in 1-on-1 situations. In the group setting, they might seem disengaged or uninterested. Some chaplains I know are especially comfortable and able in the areas surrounding crises - critical incidents, death notifications, and the like. Such chaplains can easily become the target of accusations listed above. I know other chaplains who are very outgoing and may be gifted in establishing rapport and "shooting the breeze" with others - just finding out about another person's life. Still other chaplains have more flexibility in their schedules and can spend several hours per week on the beat or at the station with officers. Just like everywhere else, there are all kinds of chaplains.

Why not engage chaplains where they are? Although I am in total agreement with the idea that the ongoing relationships - vis a vis ride-alongs and regular visits - are the crux of a quality chaplaincy program, I wonder if we might be throwing the baby out with the bath water by simply saying, "If you can't spend eight hours per week at the station, move along."

Why don't we use the strengths of our program to enhance what has traditionally been seen as the weaknesses of our program? Why not work and talk together about how these different areas of strength bind together to help officer, brass, staff, and families more fully? Why not allow the chaplains that have excellent rapport introduce a lesser-known fellow chaplain (who is especially gifted for crisis ministry) during a crisis as someone that he trusts and that, therefore, can be trusted by the officers? We can build more bridges.

Mind you, I am not at all condoning changing our major paradigm for chaplaincy. I still believe that the everyday relational aspect of any ministry is paramount. I just wonder if we lose some great people, and more importantly, excellent and needed opportunities for ministry, by casting some aside.

It seems to be a natural part of life and the understanding that Paul had about different types of graces and gifts for ministry. How can we better work together?

When we get to the end of the day, if we are not willing to ask ourselves what we are prepared to do to better serve our people - no matter who they are - maybe we need to ask ourselves something different - should I be ministering somewhere else?

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