If you sense God calling you to minister outside the local church then the chaplaincy might be for you.
Chaplaincy is a uniquely challenging, yet rewarding ministry. Chaplains are spiritual care providers, ordained and laity, that work in a variety of institutional settings. They serve people of all faiths or no faiths, reminding them of God’s presence while respecting individual autonomy. To become a professional chaplain, an individual needs theological education, specialized training, ecclesiastical endorsement, and professional certification. Let’s briefly explore these requirements as you consider your call to the chaplaincy ministry.
Professional chaplains are required to have earned a graduate-level theological degree of 72 hours or more from an accredited institution. In most schools, this degree is known as a Master of Divinity. Other schools may have a MA in Chaplaincy Studies or something similar. While exceptions exist, many employers want their professional chaplains to have some type of graduate theological degree. Chaplains do not need a degree with a chaplaincy specialization to qualify educationally.
In addition to theological education, chaplains receive specialized training to function as a chaplain. Some chaplains, such as hospital chaplains, receive specialized training through Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This interfaith program brings theological students and ministers of all faiths into supervised encounters with people in crisis. Ideally, a chaplain will have four units of CPE, which is one year of training. Military chaplains receive their specialized training at their branch’s chaplain officer basic course, which is about three months.
Chaplains also need an endorsement from their faith group. An endorsement is not the same as an ordination. Ordination is the affirmation of a local church that a person demonstrates a call to the ministry and the authorization of that local church to engage in ministry. An endorsement is an affirmation that a person is a minister in good standing with their faith group and authorized to represent said faith group in the employing institution. NAMB’s Chaplains’ Commission endorses SBC chaplains on behalf of cooperating churches.
Lastly, chaplains receive a professional certification. Chaplains working in healthcare institutions receive certification through one of several professional chaplain organizations, such as the Association of Professional Chaplains. Chaplains who have received certification are referred to as board-certified chaplains.
Military chaplains are not required to receive board certification, but they are “credentialed” to serve as military chaplains when they graduate from their service’s chaplain school.
The chaplaincy is a wonderful ministry field for those called to minister to those outside the walls of the church’s building. The education, training, endorsement, and certification equips the chaplain to provide a unique ministry to those who can’t or won’t come to church. If God is calling you to minister outside the church, he may be calling you to the chaplaincy. Answer the Call.
Larry Johnson, (M.Div. ’15) and current Ph.D. student, is the Vice President, Chaplaincy Services for Baptist Community Ministries in New Orleans. His ministry service includes 19 years with the U. S. Army Chaplain Corps, six years as pastor, and service as a hospital chaplain and a police chaplain.