“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4.5).
I have been often asked the question: “Why do you try to walk that tightrope between civilian ministry and the chaplaincy? My answer is simple: I want to “fulfill my ministry” through evangelism.
I generally get a funny look with that answer because most people don’t think of chaplains as evangelists, or missionaries. But that is what we are.
An evangelist is usually an ordained minister who brings the Gospel to those who cannot come to the Church. Well, to whom do we go as chaplains? Inmates, the sick and the dying, institutions like the military, or even people in an airport. Chaplains are thus evangelists.
Since 1992, I have been a US Army Reserve chaplain. In that capacity, I have served our God and our country as a chaplain to brigades, to jag officers, to battalions of war fighters, as a special assistant to the Chief of Chaplains Office in the Pentagon, to other chaplains in a division, and now serve at the US Army Chaplain Center and School as a reserve instructor.
Chaplains do the work of an evangelist by bringing the Gospel to those who cannot come to the Church. We have been doing this for a long time. Richard Baxter, the famous Puritan preacher, was an army chaplain during the English Civil War. General George Washington founded the chaplain corps in America. The Rev. Sam Patterson, founder and first president of RTS, was a Navy chaplain in WWII. Many of our finest ministers have served both in military and institutional chaplaincies.
I can tell you: when you are bringing Christ to someone who is sick and looking for answers, you are fulfilling your ministry. When you are ministering to death row inmates, you are fulfilling your ministry. When you are preaching from a Humvee to a bunch of soldiers in a live fire field exercise, or giving Communion to a platoon about to head out on a night patrol, going door to door in an urban battlefield in search of terrorist, you are fulfilling your ministry.
One time I was on duty at Leavenworth, Kansas in the disciplinary barracks. I missed a day of work because I was ill. The next day, as I made my rounds, one of the inmates with whom I had been sharing the Gospel told me, “I missed you. Chaplain, it gives me hope just to know you will be there.”
“Being there.” This is why we founded this important ministry at RTS. To fulfill our ministry, we are raising up and sending out chaplains who will simply be there.
I want to tell you the truth: I became a chaplain because of a 17-year-old sailor boy who was lost and going to an eternity separated from God, an eternity of punishment. I became a chaplain to reach that confused young man. I also became a chaplain to reach an aging Naval officer who had lost his career through alcoholism. I wanted to reach that sailor boy, for I was that lost boy. I wanted to reach that alcoholic Naval officer because that was my daddy, who died and left me an orphan.
Jesus said, in John 14.18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14.18).
I want to reach those in the military, as a chaplain, with the inerrant Word of God, the teaching of the Reformed faith, which set my mind and heart free, and to fulfill the Great Commission.
Everyone called to be a chaplain is at heart an evangelist, who refuses to leave anyone as an orphan. Christ Himself has visited this one in his own desolation. Christ did not leave this one as an orphan. And so, he leaves his encounter with Christ and goes out seeking others who are like him – as he was. He can never be the same again and his heart breaks for others who do not know Jesus Christ and who cannot come to church. So, they bring church to them; in so doing, they bring Christ to them.
This is why I am a chaplain. This is why I founded the Chaplain Ministries Institute at RTS. This is why God may be calling you to come. And then to go and…
Reformed Theological Seminary will begin to offer a Master of Divinity with a Chaplain Emphasis beginning in Fall of 2011. Register now. Go to www.rts.edu/cmi