ATLANTA—During a panel discussion at the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) inaugural New Chaplain Orientation, four veteran chaplains described some of the criticism they received from other believers when they answered the call to chaplaincy. These chaplains recalled being told that they were leaving “real ministry.”
Steven Turner, however, told them that, as chaplains, they would often find themselves at the crossroads “where death meets life” and reminded them that, in those moments, “Jesus makes the difference.” Turner, who serves as the Director of Chaplaincy Services at the Georgia Department of Corrections, encouraged and challenged those present, many of whom were just starting out their ministry roles.
“As a chaplain, you will go a lot of places that pastors can’t go,” Brent Bond, NAMB’s Senior Director of Chaplaincy, told the group. Bond shared that during his time as a chaplain at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, hospital staff asked him to come to a room where a Wiccan high priest was dying. There, he was able to discuss spiritual matters and share Christ’s love.
Many people hear the word “chaplain” and immediately think of the military. Various other realms utilize chaplains, though. There are corporate and community chaplains, those who serve in the public safety and healthcare fields as well as those who minister in prisons and with Disaster Relief.
The orientation, which took place on Aug. 21-23, was attended by 54 chaplains. In the past, orientation was communicated at annual training events, through state Baptist convention partners or through college or seminary education. NAMB’s chaplaincy team shifted to hosting a seprate event to bring more cohesiveness to the content and build stronger bonds between chaplains. The event also allows NAMB leaders to communicate how much they value and appreciate Southern Baptist chaplains.
The majority of these chaplains face the challenge of maintaining a calling to faithful ministry in the midst of secular institutions. Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, NAMB’s Executive Director of Chaplaincy, took time to point out the various pitfalls that accompany such ministry.
Carver cautioned them, “Don’t fall prey to the professional urge that would overtake your spirit.” While a chaplain “should meet all the standards of professionalism,” such as turning in work on time and not being late for meetings, Carver reminded the chaplains that they were to focus primarily on their calling to serve and love both Jesus and people.
The cultural tug-of-war going on in the United States often brings immediate changes to the institutions where chaplains serve. Andrew Walker, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s director of policy studies, spoke to the chaplains about the challenges facing their ministry.
Despite serious challenges to religious liberty, he expressed a long-term optimism because God’s sovereignty and justice will never be overthrown.
In light of the discussion, Randy Edwards, NAMB’s chaplain coordinator for federal institutions, challenged the chaplains never to compromise on biblical truth in order to advance their career. After all, they were called to minister to hurting people and to share the gospel whenever the opportunity arises.
Each session ended with worship led by Alison Everill, of Waleska, Ga. Joey Anthony, lead pastor at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Colonial Heights, Va., delivered messages from Exodus 3, focusing on the call of Moses.
On the final day of orientation, NAMB president Kevin Ezell welcomed the chaplains to the NAMB family. “We want to thank you for your faithful service and let you know we are going to do whatever it takes to have your back,” he assured them.
Ezell also reminded the chaplains of their mission.
“You do what you do to provide help so others can see the hope in Christ. Our goal is to see lives changed through gospel conversations.”
As they serve on the front lines in some of the most difficult situations, NAMB leaders hoped the event would communicate to chaplains how much they are loved and appreciated.
Denny Gorena, Chairman of NAMB’s Chaplain Commission and pastor of Sagamore Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, expressed his gratitude for the event.
“I'm honored to serve as the Chaplains Commission Chairman and to know that we have endorsed the best of the best,” Gorena told Carver. “NAMB’s New Chaplains' Orientation gave me more confidence in the men and women we endorse to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to minister to those in need.”
NAMB serves as the endorsing entity for Southern Baptist chaplains. In all, more than 3,700 Southern Baptist chaplains serve in a variety of settings including the U.S. military, prisons, hospitals, police, fire and rescue and in private companies.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.