Church and Home
To Serve God and Country
By Kerry Steedley
Did you know the Chaplain Corps
is older than our nation?
The American military chaplaincy dates to July 29, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized a chaplain for each regiment of the Continental Army. I pray for young Free Will Baptist preachers to consider the call to serve in this holy, honorable, and historic profession. Dr. David Crowe, executive director of North American Ministries, says: “Having pastored and served for 15 years in the Alabama and Tennessee National Guard, I know and appreciate the role and responsibility of chaplains.” It is his vision, his passion, and his desire to increase the number of FWB chaplains.
The Question: What is a chaplain?
A chaplain is a pastor in uniform. He serves in one of the branches of the Armed Forces under the endorsement of North American Ministries. He is a missionary to the military, which is a great, strategic mission field. A chaplain is uniquely privileged to experience the double blessing of serving simultaneously as a soldier of the cross of Christ and as a soldier of his country.
Hundreds of thousands of men and women serve in today’s all-volunteer force, and many choose to make the military a career. But for the chaplain, service in the military is a calling, not a career choice or a personal preference for a life vocation. What a pastor is to the local church and the civilian community, so is the chaplain to the base chapel and the military community. He is an ambassador of his Lord and Savior to the armed forces of the United States of America.
What are the requirements to become a chaplain?
An ordained Free Will Baptist pastor in good standing with a local Free Will Baptist church must have a minimum of two years of pastoral experience to apply for the chaplaincy. The first step in the process is to apply for denominational endorsement, granted by the executive director of North American Ministries. The applicant must be under age 40 at the time of commissioning. He must have completed a bachelor’s degree and the equivalent of a Master of Divinity degree. He must pass a physical exam and complete a security clearance.
Topping the list of qualifications is the necessity for the applicant to confess a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and to clearly articulate his calling to serve as a military chaplain.
The Quandary: To whom is a chaplain accountable?
The chaplain is on loan from the National Association of Free Will Baptists to the Department of Defense. He will always be first and foremost accountable to his endorser. A chaplain will serve in a military chain of command under the authority of an officer senior in rank to the chaplain’s rank. While this may seem to be “serving two or three masters,” it is not. The chaplain simply has a commander at the top of his chain of command and a supervisory chaplain in his technical chain.
All three—the senior commander, the supervisory chaplain, and the chaplain—are all on the same team. A call to be a chaplain is a call to serve under the authority of the leaders appointed over him, but it is supremely a call to salute the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Commander-in-Chief. The chaplain wears a unit patch and his rank on his uniform, but more importantly, he wears the cross on his uniform as a symbol of his faith.
The chaplain does not have to compromise to serve in a multi-faith environment. This is a false perception for some. May God in His grace quicken our minds to dismiss this doubt and to quiet this qualm. In fact, one motto of the chaplaincy is cooperation without compromise. He does not have to “go along to get ahead and thus avoid having to get out.” Rather, he is expected to remain true to his Christian faith and to the doctrine and traditions of Free Will Baptists. No government regulation, contrary to what some think, prohibits or prevents chaplains from preaching the gospel faithfully, teaching the truth of God’s Word, and counseling from a biblical perspective.
The Queue: Is the door open today for military ministry?
Yes, indeed! All branches of the military currently recruit and retain chaplains for active duty—the National Guard, the U.S. Army Reserve, and the chaplain candidate program for seminary students. The Army, Air Force, and the Navy all have chaplain position vacancies. The Navy provides chaplains for the Marines and the Coast Guard.
I encourage Free Will Baptist young men to consider the call to become chaplains. Yes, you will have to stand in line. Heroes, like the first and, for a period of time, only FWB chaplain, Gerald Mangham, have stood in this line. The good news is that the line is moving. More good news is that the line begins at the offices of North American Ministries.
Years ago, prospective Free Will Baptist chaplains had to seek endorsement from the NAE, the National Association of Evangelicals. Then, Home Missions became our own endorsing agency. Even more good news is that the military no longer has denominational quotas. In the past, the number of chaplain slots was dependent on denominational membership, and Free Will Baptists were limited to a small number of chaplains. Today, every man who qualifies and meets the requirements has an opportunity to become a Free Will Baptist military chaplain.
Sometimes, the process of being in the queue is “hurry up and wait,” but it is worth the wait. Talk to one of our current chaplains or one of our retired chaplains and hear their stories of a challenging but richly rewarding ministry. Contact North American Ministries for more information by accessing www.fwbnam.com or by calling toll free 877-767-7674.
When the national convention meets each July, as soon as the exhibit area opens, I walk up to the North American Ministries booth and ask where I can sign up again to be a military chaplain. It’s a calling I have no desire to quit. If I could, I’d get in line again to be a chaplain. My prayer is for more Free Will Baptist young men called to the chaplaincy, lined up and waiting to be commissioned to serve God and country.
About the writer: Kerry Steedley is a retired Free Will Baptist Army chaplain. He currently serves as director of chaplain support for North American Ministries. Learn more www.fwbnam.com.