While the wider church struggles with disinterest and declining attendance, chaplaincy growing. Why is something amazing happening in chaplaincy? Could this amazing growth be a new revival or reformation in Australia?
Let me give you a personal example: during a conversation I had with a stranger I was asked what I do? (i.e. my vocation). When I said I was a pastor, let's just say the language used reflected a negative response. Now the contrast comes when I say I am a sports chaplain. People relax and open up.
So why is it that the traditional model of church has such a negative perception compared to the warmth of chaplaincy? Why is the church struggling to get its message heard but chaplaincy has people asking?
Priesthood and pastorhood of all believers
I believe an answer is found in two areas. Firstly, the changing face of our culture and the church. And secondly, the possible emerging of a new reformation in our culture, a "pastorhood of all believers."
Firstly, our culture is always changing. What we have seen over the past 50 years is the move away from a "Christian" society to a post-Christian society. The human heart remains the same. The need for a restored relationship with the Creator remains the same.
The good news of Jesus as the Savior remains the same. But our culture has changed. In a Christian culture the church building was a focal point in any community. It was the place to gather, socialize, and find belonging. In a post-Christian culture the church is on the fringe of the community. People gather at the coffee shops, socialize at the playgroups and find their belonging in the sporting clubs.
Why the church has allowed this is another question. The point is: once people would gather in the church (building). It was an attractional model of ministry. "Get people into the church building" was the mantra.
The difference with chaplaincy is it is not attractional but incarnational. That is, it doesn't wait for people to come into the walls of a church building but it takes the church (i.e. Jesus' people) into the community. A chaplain is really Jesus' man/woman going into the community.
Linking it with Jesus's own life and the life of the early church gives an illustration of why it works. Jesus, being the eternal God, became a human and dwelt with His people (John 1 verse 14). He saved us by becoming one of us (but without sin). He went out. The term used is incarnation.
An incarnational ministry is one that goes into the community. The early church had no buildings or Boards of Management. Everyone was on the evangelism/pastoral care team. They met in people's homes, the synagogues and in the market places (i.e. in the community). They focused on caring for others and sharing the news about Jesus (Acts 4).
Chaplaincy locks into this model. It goes into the community providing pastoral care. And in a world that is still broken and searching, a chaplain providing pastoral care works.
Secondly, the question I raise is, "Is chaplaincy the new reformation?" The greatest revival, after the Spirit's pouring out at Pentecost, has to be the 16th century Reformation. Names like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli all pointed to a major refocus on salvation by grace through Christ and revealed in the Bible alone.
This reformation changed Europe and the world we see today. One of the key concepts of this reformation was the Biblical concept that we can approach God directly through Jesus as our mediator. We did not need a priest to intercede for us because Jesus does this perfectly.
In fact we are a kingdom of priests that, as God's people, able to approach God. The concept is called the priesthood of all believers. This return to this Biblical concept reformed the church and transformed the way Christians live. They were not restricted by a priest in approaching God but could engage with the Creator directly.
While the Reformation released Christians via the priesthood of all believers doctrine, chaplaincy could be called the "pastorhood of all believers." I heard someone describe the work of chaplaincy as "stuff that Christians should do anyway." Chaplaincy works because every Christian is not only a priest but a pastor.
Maybe they are not a "Pastor" in the sense of being called to preach or lead a church, but we all are called to show pastoral care. Chaplaincy reminds us that, like Christ, Christians can go into their communities giving pastoral care to people in need.
They are shepherds to people showing Jesus' grace and mercy. They challenge people by shepherding them towards restoration to God through Jesus.
The explosion of chaplaincy in Australia demonstrates something amazing is happening. Could it be a new reformation? While not chaplaincy specific, check out the explanation of this paradigm shift: www.youtube.com
So what do you think? While the church struggles in many areas, chaplaincy booms. Chaplaincy links in to Jesus' idea to be incarnational in the community. It reminds Christians that they are not only priests but pastors shepherding people. The challenge is to consider how you can link into this new reformation. Some questions:
â€¢ How can you and your church be more incarnational?
â€¢ Could YOU be the next chaplain to your local skate park or netball club, or shopping mall, or aged care centre?
â€¢ Have you spoken to your church leadership about ways to serve? Serving with Red Frogs or supporting your local school chaplain?
â€¢ Is your church more attractional or incarnational in its focus? Do you talk about getting people to come to church more than telling people about sin and being rescued through Jesus?
â€¢ What is your attitude towards providing pastoral care of others? Do you see it as only the Minister's job or church leadership's role?
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html