What is a Chaplain?

As participants in Missio Dei, the sending of God, Chaplains go where the people are, much like Jesus did as He traveled ministering  along the seashore,  in the mountains, throughout the cities and in the small outlying communities.

Chaplains are ministers that have chosen to minister to the people of God outside of the traditional church setting, usually the workplace or a specific secular community where people spend  most of their lives.

Many times they serve a population of people who are unable to receive traditional church provided ministry due to time, physical, and travel requirements.  Chaplains tend to minister to groups of people from many different religious beliefs, faiths and people who do not have a religious preference or faith at all.

Chaplains share many of the same skill sets and competencies with Pastors and Missionaries. They all have received and responded to a special  call of God. Their applications of ministry are administered in similar way, through teaching, providing pastoral care, witnessing to their own faith and being advocates for the people of God.

Chaplains serve in many capacities including:

  • Pastoral Care
  • Pastoral Counseling
  • Ceremonial Duties Such as Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms and Invocations
  • Trauma Response
  • Grief Care and Counseling
  • Leading Services and Devotionals
  • Spiritual, Mental, Social, and Physical Well-Being of the Community They Serve

Areas of Chaplaincy

Public Safety Chaplains serve first responders working at Police Departments and Fire Departments in communities across the United States. These chaplains serve those in public service as well as those effected by instances of loss, trauma, and disasters.  Additionally, there are critical incident chaplains who may not serve full time in public safety, but are trained to respond when a large scale event occurs.

Travel Industry Chaplaincy is one of the more unexpected, unique forms of chaplaincy ministry. You’ll often find these chaplains serving in airport chapels, truck stop rest areas, and on cruise ships.   Often times these chaplains are serving a community of people who are not regularly home to establish relationships with a local church and pastor.

One of the most common industries for chaplaincy is amateur and professional sports.  Most all professional sporting leagues from motorsports to baseball and hockey, all have chaplains serving the team and their support networks. Chaplains can be found serving from collegiate and amateur sports to professional leagues like NASCAR, IndyCar, Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL) and more.These chaplains are often integrated well into the communities they serve and take on the role of a pastor and counselor for the athletes, coaches, officials, vendors, suppliers and even fans of a particular sport.

One of the first areas of formal chaplaincy was in government.  You will find chaplains serving in local, state, and federal government. Chaplains have had an official role in the US government since 1776.

There is a large group of chaplains serving in hospitals, hospice, and other palliative care settings across the United States. These chaplains often serve those employed in the healthcare field, as well as those in patient and family care.

A growing field in chaplaincy is the corporate chaplain.  These chaplains serve as full or part-time employees or contractors of for profit businesses.  Chaplains often allow the business to experience better employee job satisfaction and improved retention rates.  Responsibilities may include care and counseling, drug and alcohol referrals, and critical incidents impacting employees at work or at home.

Prison Chaplains and Jail Chaplains serve those at a critical time in their lives during incarceration.  Corrections Chaplains often conduct services and Bible studies for inmates and guards.  They are excellent listeners with the heart to see restoration in the lives of those they minister to.

Education chaplains are more common in Australia and other European nations.  In the United States, you will find education chaplains on the campuses of colleges and universities.  These chaplains serve to continue the spiritual development of those in their communities, and work to ensure positive social behaviors.

All five branches of the military have Chaplains serving.  Military chaplains are non-combatants and come from all types of faith groups serving within the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy.  These chaplains often take the role of a pastor by performing services, officiating ceremonies, providing counseling, and ensuring the overall health of each person they serve.

While it may seem odd at first, chaplains service those in the arts community makes perfect sense.  Chaplains may be on the set of a TV show, or behind the scenes of a national tour with a recording artist.  They serve these communities of people often isolated with the demands of their profession.

More commonly a church may have a chaplain to assist with pastoral care and community outreach.  They may oversee the crisis response planning and training for those in their church and community.