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Wide range of chaplaincy skills key to Southwestern training

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A man is in the hospital for at least two weeks, and he’ll spend it alone. A woman has tried to reason with her husband to stop gambling. He won’t, and she intends to take the children and leave as soon as she gets home from work. An 18-year-old soldier watches a conflict quickly escalate to war. He faces frontline combat and doesn’t want to die. An inmate accepts Christ and asks, “Now what?”
Where can people like these turn? Who will minister to them?
Meet the chaplain — a representative of the local church who has special entry into places the church cannot go.
Chaplains frequent hospitals, military bases, factories or prisons, and today their ministry is spreading to theme parks, fire stations, car and horse race tracks, flea markets, college campuses — anywhere people are. Chaplains welcome new life into the world, counsel people through life-changing decisions and sit at deathbeds as life ebbs away.
“It is the assignment of all Christians to win people to Christ,” said Steve Lyon, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor of pastoral ministry. “A chaplain is invited to do that in places where the church is not.”
A new degree program at Southwestern is widening the possibilities for chaplain ministry training at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary. With specialized chaplain courses combined with professors experienced in chaplaincy, a student can earn a master of divinity in chaplain ministry and be prepared for whatever specialized chaplaincy work God’s call requires. Doctorates in chaplaincy also can be pursued.
Chaplains are in increasing demand to be not only educated but competent, credentialed and accountable. A master of divinity or its equivalent and several hundred hours of practical experience are required before becoming officially endorsed. Endorsement certifies to an employer that a chaplain has met denominational requirements to provide ministry in a specialized setting.
Southwestern offers practical experience both in supervised mentorships and in units of Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE trains students in crisis intervention and pastoral care through pastoral practice, written case studies, verbatims, and seminar participation. This hands-on approach allows students to observe complicated life situations from a variety of viewpoints, then act using faith-based decisions.
“We want to produce the best-prepared student,” said Lyon. “We don’t encourage shortcuts. We recommend students take biblical languages and earn the most profound, thorough, theological education possible.
“People in trouble don’t need a counselor or a good friend or the Red Cross,” he continued. “They need a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“A chaplain is a general practitioner prepared to do all the things a pastor does — preach, teach, and shepherd,” said Jim Spivey, Southwestern associate professor of church history and a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserves.
The M.Div. in chaplain ministry allows students to specialize in several areas of chaplaincy ministry including military, correctional, hospice/home health, industrial/corporate/business and institutional.
Students will learn from a faculty that includes:
— Doug Dickens, associate professor of pastoral ministry, a certified CPE supervisor, a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a fellow of the Association of Professional Chaplains. He has been instrumental in establishing the first chaplaincy/CPE training in Russia.
— Lyon, who has expertise in systems theory (working within personal, family and institutional structures) and does training in conflict management. He counts his CPE experience as one of the most impacting experiences of his life.
— Spivey, the highest-ranking chaplain in the Reserves and third-highest in the Army, who served as a chaplain in Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990.
— C.W. Brister, longtime professor and theoretician of pastoral care, who brings years of global experience working with missionaries, particularly in crisis situations.
— John Allen, an adjunct teacher of missions and director of Southwestern’s mentorship programs. He develops mentoring material and personally trains mentors, especially beneficial for new chaplaincy students without CPE training.
— Dan Truitt, an adjunct professor of corporate chaplaincy and director of training for Marketplace Ministries, an evangelical service organization that provides trained chaplains for corporations.
In addition to a well-rounded theological education, a chaplain “ought to have a clear sense of identity in him or herself and in Christ as a called minister of the gospel,” Lyon said.
“The best tool besides Christ working in us and God’s leading is our own person,” agreed Joseph Hama, a doctoral student. “Unless we know our own being, we cannot minister effectively.
“If we don’t know our wounds, we’ll only perpetuate hurt,” he said.
After dealing with their wounds, Hama said, ministers can help others find healing.
“At the heart of ministry is Christ’s coming. He came into our misery to be with us in our lostness. We cannot find a better picture of pastoral care,” Hama said.
Often chaplain candidates have been touched by some form of chaplaincy. Some have a professional background outside the church and desire to return to it equipped for ministry. Others find that chaplaincy provides the vehicle to enter the unchurched world for the first time.
“Women serve in all areas of chaplain work with our support and blessings,” Lyon added. “Often tired of being assaulted and just wanting to minister, they are wonderful yokefellows of Christ and of their male colleagues just like Euodia and Syntyche [in the Bible]. There are some places where men simply don’t have the same entry and some things that men cannot do.”
Though she doesn’t have a wide ministry background, Linda Schuppe has 18 years of employment with the same company, experiencing corporate life even while a Southwestern student. Schuppe found that her first CPE unit in a hospital was a “wonderful fit for my gifts and talents. I wanted to understand my pastoral identity. I reached my goal plus some.”
Military chaplaincy, a longstanding ministry, “puts you down there with the troops,” said Spivey. “You’re a minister to soldiers.”
Military Chaplain Fellowship is a Southwestern student organization that provides chaplain candidates and those curious about military chaplaincy a place to network, keep abreast of chaplaincy trends and find resources.
Medical chaplaincy means entering people’s crises, said Hama, who hopes to teach and utilize the pastoral ministry methods he is learning at Southwestern in his native southern Africa, particularly Zimbabwe.
“God truly has no hands, no mouth but yours,” he said. “Once you get background in crisis ministry, nothing that happens in a church can faze you.”
Southwestern has CPE centers in six area hospitals and health-care facilities.
Corporate, business and industrial chaplains make job site, home and hospital visits, conduct weddings and funerals, and share Christ on the job with those who request a chaplain’s witness.
“We can bring the gospel by becoming a part of a company’s employment benefits, and employees are open to receive us,” said Truitt. “As we earn the right to share Christ and people respond, we plug them into a congregation and so become a bridge to the local church.”
Southwestern students have opportunity to become connected with Marketplace Ministries, which serves businesses in 154 cities in 34 states.
With more than 25 percent of the Texas state population in the criminal justice system, Southwestern’s Inmate Discipler Fellowship is training students to be correctional or restorative justice chaplains. This involves ministry not only to inmates but also to crime victims, criminal justice professionals and their immediate families, said Mark Hollis, IDF director.
In Texas, 30,000 volunteers are managed by 300 paid and volunteer chaplains. Thus, trained chaplains, in addition to preaching and pastoral-care ministries, must also delegate, equip and mobilize a growing volunteer chaplaincy force. IDF provides resources, mentorships and training in these areas.
As the world changes rapidly, new kinds of chaplaincy will appear, Dickens reflected. Whether dealing with unexpected tragedy or with the slow but steady aging of baby boomers, trained and specialized chaplains are needed.
“Chaplaincy is here, and it’s going to have more attention in the 21st century than ever before,” Dickens said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to train them now.”

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  • Cindy Kerr