Called to the Chaplaincy?

August 3, 2010.

I noticed an area of great need while I was serving in the military, especially when I was in Iraq: good chaplains.  From what I saw, there was (and still is) a shortage of them.

I have been out of the military and home from Iraq for six years, but it was about three years ago when I stopped saying "somebody really ought to do something about that," and started saying, "maybe I ought to do something about it."  Up to that point, I had never seen myself as a minister, pastor or in professional ministry (before the war I wanted to be a rich lawyer), but the chaplaincy was something I could see myself doing.  I wanted to have a dirty boots ministry, that is, I wanted to be in the mud with the combat guys most in need.  

Investigating the requirements, I found that as a chaplain candidate I would need to earn an M.Div at an accredited seminary, get an ecclesiastical endorsement from an official endorser (recognized and approved by the US Government), gain ministry experience, go through the various military officer and chaplain schools, and eventually be selected as a chaplain through a board selection process.  I looked into my seminary options and chose Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, although at the time I didn't consider myself baptist.

My next step was the ecclesiastical endorsement.  My local church was not heavily connected with their denomination, to the extent that I had attended there for 2 years and had no idea with who they were affiliated (this is not uncommon in Utah).  With the help of my pastor, I started working through what would potentially be a six year process to obtain a full endorsement from this denomination.  However, as I was working though the material they sold me and reading the books they recommended, I ran into some theological issues.  No-Go's might be a better word.  Taking these to my pastor was informative but didn't help me rectify my problems.  Informing the endorser, he had me talk with people in upper leadership throughout the denomination in an attempt to convince me of their doctrinal positions.  In the end, I came to realize that there was no way I could sign the required doctrinal statement.  I also figured that with these difficult theological differences, it might be best for my family to seek out a local church of a different denomination, or no denomination.

Finding a new church community in Salt Lake City is hard.  It's even harder when that church must also be associated with an organization approved to endorse military chaplains.  After a while. I gave up trying to find a church community that could serve as an endorser and sought out a low-support, doctrinally weak, on-line endorser.  Passing their assessment and paying their fees, I was endorsed.  This freed up one one requirement, I we could fellowship with any group of believers.  (It was in this time that Lisa and I hung out with some church planters from Portland.)  But now, six years later, we've settled in a great church close to our home called Holladay Baptist Church.

Now it was time to apply for re-entry into the military.  This nearly year-long process became grueling given the mountain of paperwork and my post-war counseling.  Through the process of appeals I was eventually allowed to go through the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) where potential soldiers are screened.  At an out of fighting-shape 34, this screening was no picnic, but I managed to pass.  However, after finishing at MEPS, I learned that the rest of my paperwork was "stale" and we'd have to start over.  I was already starting to see that I was old by Army standards and would not likely be able to hang with the young bucks I wanted to serve.  And three years of fighting through the challenges felt like I had my foot jammed in a closed door.

Through many other things which may be a topic of another discussion, I decided it was time to give up this effort.  However, over the course of the three years, I started seeing myself as a pastor or professor or a servant in just about any professional or volunteer ministry.  I love seminary and am learning so much.  We've found an amazing church community.  I feel deeply grounded in my theology.  And it might be that I was never called to serve as an Army chaplain.  But that's okay because the process has greatly developed and shaped my thinking about God, myself, my family, ministry, and calling.  And now it seems that something else might be on the horizon. We'll see.

There's still a need for good chaplains in the military.  I am praying that I can still serve veterans in some capacity and I'm also hoping to see a flood of young guys go to seminary and become the kind of chaplains that can minister in the mud where they are needed most. As for me, I'm simply waiting on the Lord (or at least trying to).

*Both photos are in the public domain.