Chaplains are ministers of the gospel called by God to minister to people outside the walls of the church in the environment of a particular institution or organization. Chaplains are trained to provide counseling and pastoral services to those needing spiritual or emotional support. A chaplain must clearly understand that the context of chaplaincy is beyond the ministry environment of a local church setting and very often in a diverse or pluralistic setting. Chaplains are normally employees or volunteers of an institution who provide ministry to everyone served by that institution. Many institutions provide services to people who are affiliated or claim association with a wide variety of faith groups. The chaplain is expected to perform or advise religious ministry to all, regardless of their faith group, as well as those of the chaplain’s particular faith group. Most institutions expect the chaplain to facilitate the free exercise of religion within their organization. Chaplains serve under a variety of arrangements with the organizations that invite the chaplain into the organization. Employment may be on a full-time basis with numerous employment benefits attached to the compensation for service. Employment also may be on a part-time or volunteer basis.
Chaplains oversee a full spectrum of ministry which includes, preaching, leading worship services, leading workshops, providing counseling, managing religious education, supervising ministry personnel, training, orchestrating memorial services, and leading special events. Chaplains are called to respond effectively and promptly to requests for support and pastoral care. They may work as part of a multi-faith team. Chaplains must have the capacity to engage and work with people from a range of ethnic, social, and faith backgrounds. They undertake administrative tasks, and manage projects. They must keep accurate records, and write reports. They must be able to work within an environment governed by standards of conduct and behavior. Many chaplains in larger organizations work as part of a full chaplaincy team that covers a range of faiths. A chaplain must learn how the institution they serve organizes itself and conducts its business.
All chaplains endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention must demonstrate the call, competence, and character required to serve as a chaplain. This involves demonstrating a call to this ministry and showing a personal commitment to Christian ministry. Chaplains are expected to live their personal and professional lives with the highest practice of integrity. This is verified through a background check that includes credit, criminal, and sexual offenses. They must be affiliated with a Southern Baptist Convention church for a minimum of one year, a member in good standing for a minimum of six months, and provide a pastoral reference from their pastor. They must hold theological beliefs currently adopted by the SBC as represented in the “Baptist Faith and Message 2000.” Vocational chaplains must have an accredited Master of Divinity degree and be licensed, commissioned, or ordained by a Southern Baptist church or church of like faith recognized by the applicant’s current church. Many vocational chaplaincy positions require two to four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), and board certification. Volunteer chaplains are expected to be engaged in chaplain-specific training. All chaplains must meet the requirements of the employing agency (for example military chaplains must be a citizen of the United States, pass the National Agency Check for a security clearance, pass the Armed Forces physical exam, and pass the physical fitness test for the specific branch of the military they are attempting to join). All chaplains must be approved for endorsement by the Chaplains Commission of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Chaplains are normally employees or volunteers of an institution providing ministry to their clients, employees, and families. Chaplaincy affords men and women unique opportunities for ministry. Chaplains are in the people-care business. When people provide care to others, they provide it unto God. Considering that every person in the world matters to God, everyone should matter to us and be treated with love, compassion, dignity and respect. Those served include all persons who seek the chaplain’s services, including those who have no religious preference or belief. The focus is not simply on those who respond to the chaplain’s presence, but to everyone within the chaplain’s sphere of ministry. Every chaplain is expected to support the free exercise of religion toward all within their assigned institution. This contextual focus provides chaplains with endless opportunities to be witnesses of the gospel to every person, whether they express a personal faith preference or have none
Chaplaincy occurs in a wide variety of specialized settings. Presently, the Southern Baptist Convention endorses chaplains to the following categories: community services, corporate, correctional, disaster relief, healthcare, military, and public safety. Community service chaplains provide Christian ministry outside the walls of the church but under the supervision of the local church, often in collaboration with volunteer agencies, in support of individuals, families, businesses, corporations, schools, and groups in the local community. Corporate chaplains often provide ministry at industrial settings, manufacturing sites, business offices, corporate headquarters, and community settings. The chaplains may be hired by a particular corporation or business to work as an employee of that organization or on a contractual basis. Correctional chaplains provide ministry for incarcerated adults and juveniles in prisons and jails at all levels of the government (federal, state, county, and city) and with private corrections companies. Disaster relief chaplains provide volunteer chaplaincy services within disaster relief ministries. Healthcare chaplains can serve in hospital settings, as well as with hospice organizations, mental health facilities, special needs programs, nursing homes, and with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Military chaplains can serve in the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force on Active Duty, in the Reserve, or state National Guard. They can also serve as a volunteer chaplain in the Civil Air Patrol, Air Force auxiliary and Auxiliary Support of the Coast Guard, and through the state militias of state defense forces of various states. Public safety chaplains support law enforcement and fire departments at all levels of government (federal, state, county, and city).
Chaplains are trained in and develop pastoral and counseling skills. These skills could be transferred into any other volunteer or vocational ministry role. Those chaplains who have received training and licensure in professional counseling, or marriage and family therapy while serving as a chaplain can also subsequently serve in positions in those fields. With experience and time a chaplain can move into supervisory roles and the leadership training they receive in supervising ministry personnel is transferrable into any vocational or calling.