Chaplains are Pastors

When I tell people that I have been a pastor for nearly 30 years, years, I sometimes receive a strange look and a question. “What? I thought you were an Army chaplain.”

Public law says very little about the duties of Army chaplains. The basic legal framework in Title 10 (Section 3547) is over a century old. It specifies only two functions: leading worship and burying the dead.

10USC3547 (a) Each chaplain shall, when practicable, hold appropriate religious services at least once on each Sunday for the command to which he is assigned, and shall perform appropriate religious burial services for members of the Army who die while in that command.

My church also has a definite understanding of what a pastor is and does. Pastors lead the congregation of God’s people in their corporate life and in their service of God. They proclaim God’s word and administer the sacraments. Within my ecclesiastical polity, pastors preach, lead worship, teach the scriptures, make disciples, perform pastoral counseling, marry, bury, visit within the church and community (especially those in need), baptize, celebrate communion, lead the church in mission, train and equip the saints for ministry, seek and counsel candidates for ordained ministry, oversee the temporal affairs of the congregation, encourage stewardship, maintain Christian unity, and lead the church in service to the world. That sounds like a chaplain to me!

Nearly 20 years ago, my church endorsed me for service with the Army. This came upon the recommendation of the appropriate authorities within my church order. Apart from the responsibilities that pertain solely to the administration of a local church, I have continued to perform the same pastoral functions that I did in nearly 10 years of parish ministry. I have other duties as well that vary with my particular assignment, but my first responsibility under both U.S. and church law is to be a pastor.