Rev. Daniel Haas is currently serving as a chaplain in hospice, hospital, and Army Reserve. Rev. Haas loves numbers, manages his own blog, and helps churches with their social media, website, and communications needs.
My paternal grandfather served on the wrong side of World War II. The Wehrmacht picked him up from his vegetable farm, put a rifle in his hand and sent him to the Russian front. Pretty quickly he was injured and sent back home. For the rest of his life, he had a dent in his cheek where a shrapnel wound used to be. My dad – who has never seen war – displays that same dent in his own cheek when he is stressed. The same goes for me. This battle wound has been passed down through three generations. Eventually, I joined the military and became a chaplain in the United States Army Reserve. And I am not the only one with historically inherited battle scars: In every UCC congregation I have ever served, every family had one military connection or another. I believe military chaplains are uniquely positioned to serve the church and empathize with its people. Just like military service is not for everybody so military chaplains are not the right fit for every church, but they do have some competencies and characteristics that gel with the needs of some of our churches.
Here are my top 10 ways of how your church can benefit from having a military chaplain as a pastor:
- Show up at the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform, and with the right attitude:
When you learn that PT is before sunrise and you have to shave before you put on your workout clothes and you actually do that consistently for a few years you become reliable. Like Admiral McRaven said during his University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address: Making your bed every morning changes your life. Military folks learn discipline and will do the big things you need them to do because they were drilled to do the little things as well.
- Servant Leadership:
The UCC is unique in that pastors do not run churches. They serve them. Military chaplains do not provide religious support in their own right either. What they do is to plan and execute the commander’s religious support plan. Chaplains do not have command authority. They serve and servant leadership is a core value.
- Permanent Change of Station:
The average length of tenure for pastors is about 8 ½ years. After that, it is time for what the military calls PCS – permanent change of station. Now here is the hard part: Local church pastors are supposed to be “pillars of the community” but they only stay for a short amount of time. Military chaplains change units about every 3 years. They learn how to “hit the ground running” and connect effectively from day one.
- Permanent Change of Station – Again:
Military folks understand that it is okay for church members to move in and out. Regular hail and farewell celebrations show that an organization is vibrant. The book of worship also recognizes that transitions are important with welcome and farewell liturgies. Military chaplains appreciate that is okay to be a member of the congregation for a couple of years and move on.
- Area of Operations:
A typical church website has a history page where they list where their forefathers (sic!) came from and how they settled here and set up shop. These are important pieces of information but in order to minister effectively in an area of operations, a military chaplain will assess your county based on the PMESII-PT rubric: Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure, Physical Environment, Time. Once we understand what is going on around us, we can begin to “shape the battlefield”.
- Make Mission:
Every church leader is driven by something. But military chaplains with their experience in servant leadership (2.) are uniquely qualified to be passionate about causes other people are passionate about. The church council acts as the commander, gives intent, and defines mission-critical tasks. The minister can then go to work and create a religious support plan for the mission.
- After Action Review:
Great leaders seek feedback. That is true in any setting. Business and education are built around numbers and grades. The church has a harder time with performance reviews or even comparing actual ministry to what they had envisioned. Military chaplains learned to look for “after-action reviews” (AAR) after every action. Most of the time those can be remarkably simple: Three things that went well and three things we can improve. Can you imagine all the lessons the church could learn if we asked that after every confirmation class or potluck?
- Physical fitness:
The military imposes body composition as well as fitness standards because military bodies have to possess good “survivability on the battlefield”. Your military-grade pastor will be able to inspire healthy lifestyles, fewer injuries, and greater wellness in the congregation. Mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body has been true through the ages.
The military has a propensity towards action. Military folks always gauge their Operational Tempo (OPTEMPO). “High speed – low drag” is the goal. A military chaplain in a pastoral role will not allow time, energy, or money to go to waste. If your church budget has a monthly deficit of $2,000 but you only have $50,000 in liquid reserves, you have less than two years to make a huge impact and not a second to waste. You cannot afford to be “low speed – high drag”.
- Member of a Team:
Like all UCC clergy, military chaplains are equipped to serve traditional Christianity. They drink from deep sources and rich traditions. Like our denomination, they serve in a spirit of connectedness. Through their interfaith experience, they have great inclination towards the ecumenical movement and denominational accountability.
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