Ministries That Go Hand in Hand
Church Planting/Pastoring and Chaplaincy
I often receive questions about the number of jobs I have: church planter, pastor, and National Guard chaplain. People ask, “How do you do all those jobs?” Truthfully, these “jobs” intersect and overlap in ways that really do not make them burdensome, but rather simply part of the calling of being a church planter/pastor and chaplain.
In my college days, I felt a strong desire to join the military. I went to the ROTC recruiter at my college and told him of my desire to join. When I said that I eventually wanted to be a chaplain, he told me to wait until seminary and then join the chaplain candidate program.
When I reached seminary, I then felt the call to church plant as well. At the same time I still had my calling to be a National Guard chaplain. It would not be until years later that I understood how these two callings really are part of the same calling…to be a chaplain to the community, whatever the context may be.
For the past 15 years I have balanced a calling to be a church planter/pastor, National Guard chaplain, professor, husband, and father. Sometimes I do feel like I am simply spinning plates in the air, trying to keep everything going. At the same time, I have learned in a decade of ministry how one ministry position informs another. In fact, I would say that the greatest influence in my success as a church planter/pastor has come from being a chaplain and my greatest influence in being a chaplain has been being a church planter/pastor.
Below I share 5 ways that the ministries are really part of the same calling…reaching a particular community and learning to contextualize the Gospel to reach that community.
- View the community as your “parish.” In the National Guard, I am assigned to a certain unit. I have a unique responsibility to provide for the spiritual care of the soldiers in that particular unit. Certainly I minister to any soldier, but I more specifically care for the ones in my unit. It is my “parish,” regardless of the number of soldiers in my parish who actually attend any of my worship services. In the same way, church planters/pastors need to see their communities as their “parish.” I regularly get out and walk around my section of the city in which I am planting a church. I know the people working at the coffee shops. I joined the local neighborhood association and try to provide a spiritual presence at the meetings and events. My community becomes my “parish,” regardless if the people attend my church or not.
- Meet people where they are, not where you want them to be. When ministering to soldiers, I put on my uniform and go where they go. One of the central callings of the chaplaincy is to meet people in their context. Whether one puts on a military uniform or a hospital nametag, we are meeting people where they are. In church planting, I am doing the same with people in my community. I may be meeting them in a coffee shop, dog park, or concert hall. The point is that I am not waiting for them to come to MY context (the church), but rather going where they are. At the same time, I hope they will eventually enter into our church community, whether that be a worship service, Bible study, or social gathering. But first, I must meet them where they are.
- Learn to have a “ministry of presence.” In the chaplaincy, we have a saying that describes our ministry as a “ministry of presence.” In other words, our mere presence can be a ministry in a variety of situations as we provide calmness, counsel, or simply an encouraging word in a difficult situation. Church planter/pastors need to have a “ministry of presence” in their communities just like chaplains. Chaplains are present in the good times by being seen, building relationships, and having friendly conversations. Then, if and when a crises comes for an individual or group (and they will), the chaplain already has established relationships with the people. Church planter/pastors need to also be seen in their communities. When a crisis comes in a community or to an individual’s life, the church planter/pastor already has relationships through which they can minister in the area.
- Everything rises and falls on leadership. I remember John Maxwell stating in one of his leadership conferences, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” Being in both the civilian and military ministry, this same principle is true. While leadership dynamics are different in every context, leadership makes a difference in both the military and church settings. I have become a student of leaders in both the church and the military, learning from both successes and failures. For example, a church planter/pastor should never see themselves as a “general” in command and their church as their unit. That would make for some complicated leadership issues! But the point is that there is one common leadership principle in whatever context and leadership roles we find ourselves in…we have to learn to work with and lead people.
- View discipleship as your primary priority. Whether we are in the military context (or any other chaplaincy context), or the local church, we should have discipleship as our primary priority. Jesus called us to make disciples in his Great Commission, not just church attenders or chapel goers. In the chaplaincy, my goal is not to just to have more soldiers attend my chapel services. In my local church, my goal is not just to have more attenders. My primary goal in all my ministry should be to seek more followers of Christ. This means that I sometimes simply have relationships with people who are seeking spiritual answers but may never attend a chapel or church. It may also mean that I disciple an individual over coffee for a short time, and then they move. But in all the contexts, hopefully, my relationships are driving people to have a closer encounter with Jesus and growing in their relationship.
John Wesley viewed the world as “his parish.” By that he meant wherever he lived or traveled, He was ministering for God. I believe chaplains and church planter/pastors can have the same view for their ministries. Wherever God leads is where we serve.