FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — For counseling professor John Babler, intertwining ministry as a fire department chaplain with academic training has been a natural part of life and work. Now, he also is a police academy graduate.
Babler, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty member, attended the North Central Texas Council of Governments Regional Police Academy during 22 weeks of a sabbatical last year. Upon graduation, he became a reserve police officer for the Fort Worth-area Forest Hill Police Department.
Babler already serves as chaplain for the community’s police and fire departments and will continue in his roles as professor at the seminary and director of its Walsh Counseling Center; part-time minister of missions at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth; and current vice president of the Texas Corps of Fire Chaplains.
The goal of sabbatical leave from the seminary, Babler explained, is to expand a faculty member’s ministry. Going through the academy as one of the cadets will make him more effective as a chaplain as he ministers to and encourages those working in law enforcement.
“It provides a level of credibility,” Babler said. “Obviously, as a seminary professor, my education and experience on the ministry side is there, and they don’t question that. I’ve been accepted very well because of that.
“Now, having been through the academy, I’ll have a credibility where they can’t say, ‘Well, you really don’t understand because you don’t know what it’s like,'” Babler said. “I don’t know what everything’s like,” he acknowledged, “but I’ve been through the academy. I know a lot of what they’ve gone through.
“To some degree, in some ways, it’s somewhat incarnational in the fact that I’m there and one of them.”
The experience also strengthens his classroom teaching and writing in addition to improving his counseling roles and work as a Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force response director.
Babler not only graduated from the academy with a deeper respect for law enforcement officers and civil servants, but he said the Lord also taught him humility and empathy.
“It is a humbling experience to recognize the number of challenges that people, especially in law enforcement, face,” Babler said.
A few weeks into his time at the academy, Babler began a Bible study with cadets in his class. At least 12 of the 22 cadets came at least once, and three came regularly, with Babler trusting that the Lord was allowing him to impact those in his class while studying with them.
Unlike previous sabbatical leaves Babler has taken, this time he opted to take half for his police academy quest and the other half to write a book about emergency services chaplaincy — a task his academy experience will help to shape and fuel.
“Part of my vision,” he noted, “is to help churches and Christians and pastors develop a vision for chaplaincy as ministry.”