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The following is excerpts from the 2005 Chaplain Training Seminar led by Randy Marshall.

The Identity of the Chaplain

Ministers in a unique context

Chaplains have been around for centuries – they primarily minister outside of the walls of the traditional church building.

The first official statement concerning the chaplaincy in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy where the priest not only intercedes with God but encourages the troops.

Deuteronomy 20:1-4

The chaplains who accompanied the armies of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans were expected to implore divine help in time of battle, make judgments against their enemies, and through ceremonies and prayers bolster morale.

Some of the terminology that we use in the chaplaincy is attributed to events occurring during the Fourth Century AD.  On his way home from a military campaign, Martin of Tours met a shivering beggar who pleaded for help.  Martin with his sword cut his cloak in two parts and gave one to the beggar.  He kept half and wore it as a cape.  That night in a dream he saw a vision of Christ wearing the half he had given away.  Martin later entered the service of the church.  The half cloak he kept became known as “cappa”.  The place where the cappa was kept was called the “cappella” which through the French word “Chappele” became our word “Chapel”  The priest in charge was called “chappellanus” which became “Chaplain” or “the keeper of the cloak”.

Chaplains have a rich legacy in the annals of Christian history.    One of the chains of the chaplain legacy is found in the American westward expansion during the 1800s.

Chapel Cars

After the completion of the transcontinental railroads in the 1889s untold numbers of towns were left along the tracks lost in a spiritual wasteland.  The availability of churches was scarce, the power of the saloon was strong.   The farther west the preachers rode the less evidence they found of Christianity.  The common saying was, “There is no law west of Kansas City, and west of Fort Scott, no God”

But the truth of God marched on. Some itinerant preachers would travel on foot to various towns carrying Bibles, tracts, and other reading materials – would carry these items strung by yokes across their shoulders.  Known as colporters – French word meaning those who carry from the neck.  One of these Baptist colporters, Boston Smith, while ministering in a small town in Minnesota noticed that the Northern Pacific Railroad left a passenger car on a side track every weekend.  The preacher asked railroad authorities if he could use the car for church on Sunday.

To everyone’s surprise, they agreed.

Paul Pearson, dean of the school of world missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote in a Baptist Press article, December 1990, “In every age and era as societies change throughout history, God raises up new forms of the church, but there must be pioneer spirits who hear God’s call, dream larger dreams–and step out in faith to answer that call.”

What does the phrase “there must be pioneer spirits who hear God’s call, dream larger dreams and step out in faith to answer that call” mean to you?

Ministers with a unique presence

2 Corinthians 2:14-17

Do you pass the “smell test?”

A chaplain’s presence is found in a myriad of institutions, agencies, and industries.  The chaplain can only minister if he has authority.  The chaplain is…

One who possesses a moral authority

The individual has clearly heard and accepted God’s calling

Isaiah 6:1-8

Hearing is in the context of worship.

Accepting the call involves receiving His grace and mercy.

Ministry in His name involves a positive response.

One who possesses an inherent authority

Inherent authority comes from the call of God and the affirmation of a body of believers.

Acts 13:1-3

Our moral authority is sustained  only through an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Ministry is an overflow of intimacy”

One who possesses a delegated authority

Delegated authority is the privilege of service given by an institution, agency, or industry.

The institution must see the need for chaplaincy in order for it to exist.

One who possesses granted authority

Granted authority is given by the person to whom you seek to minister.

Every person has a constitutional “right to privacy”.  This is true whether the person is incarcerated, at work, at home or hospitalized.

You may have the authority from God and the institution, but ultimately you must earn the right to minister to the individual.

How do you earn the right to be heard?  Be authentic!

Don’t try to be something you are not

People will listen to someone who is imperfect and admits it, but hardly listen to someone who is hypocritical.

Let them know that you have questions too, problems, aches, pains

That’s reality – live in that world

When you live authentically, you will speak authentically

Be authentic – be real, people will listen

Ministers with unique “abilities”


In order to be effective, you must be available

Know your personality.  There are two extremes to ministry.

On one extreme is the minister that loves to know and study God’s Word.  He has such a love for it that he stays in his office much of the time.  He can tell you the Biblical backgrounds of each passage with a correct exegesis in the original language.  He loves to spend time in The Book, but he rarely has time to spend with his flock.

On the other extreme is the minister who loves to be with his people.  He spends hours with them talking at the coffee shop, visiting them in the hospital, taking them out to eat, going to their ball games, etc…  He spends so much time with them that he rarely has time to open the Bible, much less any Biblical study.

The problem with the first minister is that he knows much and has much to say but has trouble communicating because he doesn’t know his people.  The problem with the second minister is that he knows his people, but when he gets them together, he has no message.

Most Ministers fall somewhere in between, but we lean one way or the other.

Which way do you lean?

Spend time with your people, but to be an effective minister, you must also spend time in the Word.

Make your schedule open for “Divine Appointments”


Chaplains can find themselves in a variety of situations in a short period of time.  Flexibility is essential.

Some are better at this than others.

Again, know your personality.

Gary Smalley’s “Personality Types” can help.


Any time we open ourselves to people, we become vulnerable

The temptation is to become calloused and closed, but when we do our effectiveness diminishes.

Safeguard yourself against the attacks of the devil


Remember, though we may have good intentions, ministry is not always well-received.

2 Corinthians 2:16

The chapel cars of the 1800s were oftentimes vandalized.  On one occasion, one of the chapel car ministers awakened and discovered the car had been pelted with eggs.  The minister’s wife walked outside, picked up the eggs that were not broken and scrambled them for breakfast.

Though you cannot control the response of others, you can control your own response.  Make a practice of turning eggs into omelets!


Chaplains are part of a team.  The team extends from your local area to chaplains across the world.  Talk together, pray together, encourage one another, challenge one another as you fulfill the work that God has set before you.

If married, remain accountable to your spouse.  Keep your covenant relationship strong!

“A strength unguarded is a double weakness”

Ministers with unique opportunities


Chaplain counseling can be both formal and informal

Counseling tips:

“Flower” power

Face the person

Lean forward

Open posture

Watch your distance

Eye contact

Relax and Listen

Practice “active listening”

How not to listen


Pretending Listening

Selective Listening

Surface Listening

Active listening is focused listening

Practice “reflective talking”

Allow the person to share without hearing “value judgments”


Avoid the temptation to “fix” the problem

Don’t give simple answers to complex questions

Encourage them to explore options

Stay focused on the counselee’s issues

Be aware of the legal issues in counseling.

“Confidentiality” is a legal right given to relationship between the counselor and counselee.  The counselor should be aware of the limitations of his/her particular state.

Ethical guidelines state:  “When the client’s condition indicates that there is clear and imminent danger to the client or others, the member must take reasonable personal action or inform responsible authorities.” (Gerald Corey, Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions) Most professional organizations take the position that information must be revealed when there is obvious danger to an individual or society.

InVision Chaplains