The Stuff They Can't Tell You


No one can prepare you for getting woke up in the middle of the night to go rush to the side of a man who is lying on a table in an aid station, crying and scared because he's just been shot. 

No one can prepare you for talking to a Soldier who just watched his buddy's leg get blown off. His uniform is still covered freshly in his friend's blood. He's staring at a wall in total shock.

No one can prepare you for being in a room with someone or many people who are hearing for the first time that someone they love has died.

No one can prepare you for being in a situation in which you are trying to stop someone from taking their own life.

I've experienced all of these things in my 11 1/2 years as an Army Chaplain. In fact, I experienced all the situations listed above in my first 2 years of being a Chaplain. I could go on and share many stories of facing things I never could quite imagine or dream up, but that isn't the point of this post.

Being in full-time Christian ministry is not something you can prepare for like you'd go about preparing yourself in other jobs.

Granted, there are many jobs that present challenges and problem sets that are nearly impossible to prepare or train for. However, the preparation for a job doing God's Kingdom work has to look completely different.

Being in ministry is being on the spiritual frontlines. Again, I recognize that Christians in all career fields are often working the spiritual frontlines and facing battles with unseen forces. However, ministry is a guarantee that you'll be in the thickest parts of the spiritual battle every day. 

I remember professors at Seminary telling us that ministry is not for wimps. After 18 years of being in ministry, I can tell you with no hesitation that these professors were spot on. Nothing in ministry has been easy. My 7 years of doing student ministry were a blast, but they were also extremely difficult and met with frequent challenges. 

When God called to do ministry outside the church bubble and have more of a focus on full-time mission work, I never dreamed chaplaincy would be an option. Any time I've thought I knew what God wanted for my life, I've only been able to conjure up a small fraction of what it actually becomes. When it comes to God, He blows our expectations out of the water. He does incredible work and uses us in ways much larger and broader than we could ever imagine. However, when it comes to doing His work, our expectations can also be blown away by how powerful and intense the spiritual battle is all around us.

12 years ago, I sat down with a Colonel Chaplain. He had a long resume of serving as an Army Chaplain and my meeting with him was a requirement. Everyone who is applying to enter into the Army as a Chaplain has to interview with a Colonel Chaplain. They call it your O-6 Interview. The idea is that these seasoned Chaplains will be able to gauge whether or not individuals are a good fit for this ministry.

During my interview, the Chaplain barely asked me any questions. In fact, he spent about 40 minutes just telling me stories of his experiences as an Army Chaplain. It was actually good for me to hear, because at that point, I really had no clue what a Chaplain did. I just knew God was calling me to it.

Looking back now, I know there was no way that any Chaplain could have prepared me for what I was about to get into. There's stuff that they can tell you, but ultimately there's more stuff they can't tell you. The reason they can't tell you is the same reason I can't imagine all of the possibilities that exist when it comes to the way God moves or how insane the problems will be in the midst of spiritual warfare.

When I went to the Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in 2012, one of my primary goals was to figure out what a Chaplain did every day. Little did I know that I would never get that answer, because the day of a Chaplain (like any pastor or minister) can look vastly different day in and day out. Spiritual warfare doesn't give you a guaranteed schedule or complete predictability. It's warfare. 


Surely there's a way we can train for this, right?

Well, there is definitely ways in which we can train. 

Paul encourages young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8, "for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."

The instruction given is to be trained in God's word and to steer clear of anything to the contrary. We can train ourselves for godliness, by the knowledge and application of God's revelation. Like a Soldier has to be in a certain physical shape to be ready for physical battle, a warrior for the Kingdom has to be in strong spiritual shape to wage war on the frontline of spiritual battle. However, this doesn't guarantee that we will know how to perfectly navigate every unique challenge, problem, and chaotic situation we enter into to.

So how do you minister to people when you have no clue what to say or you're facing a situation you've never faced? By the way, this happens almost every day in Army Chaplaincy and quite often in other ministry too!

Here are a few things I'd encourage anyone with who is going to be answering God's call into ministry:

1. Remember Who Called You: As a Chaplain, I wear a cross on my chest. It's a part of my Army uniform. It also serves as a constant reminder of why I'm doing what I'm doing. It's not for the paycheck. It's not to get promoted. God called me into this. There's no guarantee of how long He'll have me in it. A year before I left student ministry, I would have told you that I was doing student ministry for the rest of my life. Little did I know. It is God who gives us our commissioning papers. He charges us with an assignment. If you are faced with an impossible challenge, it is because God called you to be faced with an impossible challenge. God doesn't accidentally call you into something. He has a purpose. Your best bet is to remember that. Allow that truth to give you confidence, and then continually go to Him in prayer to admit your weakness and inability. God can easily make you capable.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9

2. Seek Wisdom from God Above All Else: This should go without saying, but its key to remind yourself of this truth. We often go to others for advice. Granted, God will use godly people to give us wisdom. It's a good practice to find godly and experienced people to help mentor you. However, don't neglect going to God above all. People can also lead us off track in a big way! Measure everything with scripture. God will give you wisdom if you ask. Pray for wisdom every single day, so that you can navigate challenging situations like Solomon!

3. Go Back to God's Purposes: If you aren't sure what you are supposed to be doing, go back to your training. This is assuming that you are training yourself in godliness. It should become muscle memory. Jesus fought off temptation from the enemy with scripture. We should internalize scripture so much that we use it as a weapon...A combat! The reality is that God has made it simple for us to know the basics of what we should be doing. Jesus gave His disciples a commission. Go and make disciples! This means sharing the gospel. This means teaching people how to live for Jesus. Jesus also summed up all the commandments by saying love God and love people. When in doubt....LOVE. You'll never go wrong. God's purposes are to make His name great, not ours. We should always be bringing people to Him (through His Son Jesus). If you are more concerned about bringing people to you (followers and likes), then you're off the purpose. God has called you. Go back to His purpose.

4. Suit Up for Spiritual Warfare: We all know the armor of God section in Ephesians 6. We know we should suit up for spiritual warfare. Don't take it for granted! Spiritual warfare is very real. You have NO SHOT by yourself. This isn't to criticize or slam you. None of us have a shot to defeat the enemy apart from God. If God is telling us to suit up, then we gotta suit up. Put on your armor every single day.

5. Take Care of Yourself: This isn't a call to be selfish and do what the world calls, "taking care of me." This is to encourage you to get rest, to recharge often spiritually, to spend time with your family, to break away from the chaos from time to time, to talk out struggles with a trusted friend and/or mentor, and to exercise! Taking care of yourself is being a good steward with the life God has given you so that you can be your best for Him. 

6. Remember That You are Not Entitled: In the Army this is a struggle. Many Chaplains feel entitled to accolades and promotions. It's a challenge to not get caught up in the competitive nature of the Army's leadership. It's a product of the mission field in which we serve. However, this can happen in other avenues of ministry as well. You are not entitled to fame, fortune, success, a large Instagram following, a book deal, a promotion, or even a pat on the back. The enemy loves to attack people in ministry this way. If the enemy can make us bitter for not having what we think we deserve, we become useless for the Kingdom. Jonah thought he was entitled to watch the Ninevites burn after he brought them a warning from God. He even found himself a spot to catch all the action and watch as his prophetic message was fulfilled. He was pretty angry when God decided to deal with the Ninevites in a different way. If you're not careful, you'll throw tantrums like Jonah every day in ministry. Instead of praying for wisdom, you're asking God why you have to deal with the challenges you face and you'll beg him to remove your obstacles. 

There's so much more I could try to encourage you with, but hopefully, this is a good start. Being called to full-time ministry is an honor. I love being able to lead people to Jesus as my full-time job! But, as Uncle Ben told Spider-man, "With great power, comes great responsibility," we must recognize that if God has called us, we have a responsibility and mission to continually do His work. An enemy that desperately wants to destroy us will bring the heat and make it hard every single day. Fortunately, we serve a God that is bigger and whose will cannot be thwarted. 

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