Chaplains Needed?

One of the ways I’ve tried to stay focused-without-travel has been to audit a class from my university (and taught by one of my professors from ye olden days).  The course has focused on approaches to pastoral ministry as found in a a selection of novels.  I’ve read 2 1/2 of them so far.  Book four is due next week.  Book 3 1/2 I will finish sometime before the year’s end.

Even though I’m not a pastor, I have a great sense of investment in pastoral ministry.  I find encouragement from those who write intelligently and passionately about the call of particular people to shepherd congregations.  Oddly enough, one of the best things I’ve read because of the class this summer is an old Mark Galli essay (old being 2011) about two approaches to the pastorate.  The essay was mentioned in one of the class lecture videos.  I was very glad to be introduced to it.  (Plus, I’ll get to Galli’s most recent book sometime soon in another post here).

In “Why We Need More ‘Chaplains’ and Fewer Leaders,” Galli asserts that the idea of a pastor-as-chaplain is seen as a kind of death-knell for a church, which is really unfortunate.  It’s the kind of “leader” you don’t want in a “growing” and “vibrant” church.

We find ourselves in an odd period of church history when many people have become so used to large, impersonal institutions that they want that in their church as well. Thus the attraction of megachurches, where people can blend in and not be seen if they want. Many thought leaders who ponder church life naturally end up championing massive institutions and denigrating (inadvertently, to be sure) the healing of hurting souls. And this in a community whose theology is supposedly grounded in the universal and cosmic love of God who gives attention to each of us as individuals.

Because if they (chaplains),  “were real ministers, they’d be growing a megachurch. Instead, they are only good enough to “bring healing to hurting souls.”

In Galli’s perspective, the “care of souls” of the chaplain is something that Jesus embodied brilliantly and should therefore be a real part of what pastoral ministry should encompass.

It’s interesting to note how much time and energy our Lord spent on “healing hurting souls” . . . When Matthew wanted to sum up what Jesus did over and over, time and again with people, this is the sort of thing he said: “He healed them.”

It’s also interesting to note the way Jesus framed how his disciples should think about their ministries: “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles like to be seen as “leaders,” “entrepreneurs,” “catalysts for growth,” and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ ” (Mark 10:42-45).

Okay, I paraphrased a bit. But I’m not convinced the paraphrase is false to the sense of Jesus’ words.

The paraphrase, I fear, is “spot on” for many, if in dreams if not reality.  But in Galli’s mind, the pastor-as-chaplain really is the better option.

To say that a pastor is first and foremost a chaplain—someone who is the Lord’s means of healing—is not to suggest that his or her role is primarily therapeutic. It includes therapy-like moments, for example, in helping parishioners deal with their ordinary fears and worries. But it is fundamentally about the healing of souls—helping men and women, boys and girls, to become right with God, and therefore, right with others.

If you subscribe to Christianity Today, you can read the rest of the article here.  Galli has more to say (including some references to Eugene Peterson’s pastoral work), and it’s all quite good.  And maybe, just maybe, there are some ways that it connects to some of the other things I’ve posted this week . . .

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