by CAPT Bill Weimer, CHC, USN
Members of Officers’ Christian Fellowship are charged to serve and minister in the military society. Chaplains are there to do the same. As a lay-indigenous ministry being conducted by lay military Christians inside the military society, OCF members and chaplains can be great coworkers in kingdom-building within our Armed Forces.
The purpose of this article is to summarize OCF’s position on working with military chaplains. It also gives you some practical ideas about how to work together for the glory of God and for the good of your military mission and ministry.
OCF encourages our members to participate in leading spiritual activities in military units, on bases and posts, and on military vessels in order to encourage believers and to present Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord throughout the military society. This includes outreach and service to all ranks as well as to civilian employees of the military services.
When the writing of this material began, we started out with a booklet by Colonel Paul Roush, USMC (Ret.). We soon realized we need an updated approach that will recognize and address the changes taking place in our more expeditionary military and in our chaplaincies.
One suggestion to answer the question “How can OCF members support chaplains?” was, “Ask a chaplain!” We believe there is wisdom and truth in that approach. So this document is authored by a Navy chaplain, Captain Bill Weimer. It is written from the perspective of a chaplain and an OCF member, but it also expresses the ministry philosophy of OCF.
It is axiomatic that OCF cannot accomplish its purpose and vision without a close relationship with military chaplains. As an organization, we do not mandate chapel attendance. But we expect OCF members to be involved in ministry at their military installation and within their greater circles of influence including expeditionary deployments, which is also the job description for most military chaplains.
Commenting about support for the military chaplaincy, former OCF Executive Director, LtGen Bruce L. Fister, USAF (Ret.), said, “We are not expected to do the chaplains’ jobs, but we must be sensitive to needs. For Christians, we can encourage and support. For those of non-Christian faiths, we should be respectful and make referrals to an appropriate chaplain. For non-Christians and those without a faith, we should be prepared to share the promises of eternal life through Jesus Christ.”
It is possible to support your chaplain while attending an off-base church. At the same time, it is also possible to attend a chapel every Sunday and do absolutely nothing to support your chaplain or the chapel ministry. We encourage you, as a participant in OCF, to consider carefully and prayerfully how you can be an active member of the chapel congregation at your base, post, camp, or ship.
Also consider how you can support your unit chaplain’s ministry such as Bible studies or fellowship activities on the flight-line, in the ward room, or in the barracks. There are a few considerations that might cause you to worship and be involved somewhere other than the chapel. But we would hope, as you seek to be used by the Lord spiritually, as well as professionally, that you will become involved in the chapel program and become a true coworker with your chaplain.
Wherever you choose to worship, we challenge you to support your chaplains and the ministries of the chapel staff at your installation. Here are a few suggestions about how you and other OCF members might do that. Pray that the Lord be with you, bless and use you in your areas of influence, and grant you rapport and mutual encouragement with your unit chaplain(s).
OCF and Military Chaplains
Chapel attendance and involvement tripled but then declined! This military religious program was located on a medium-sized installation in the United States. It had reasonable attendance over the years. When a chaplain who had an outgoing personality and was a fine preacher came to this installation, chapel participation grew from 100 to almost 300.
But by the third year of this chaplain’s ministry, program participation dropped 30 percent.
What caused these changes? The chaplain reflected over his three-year assignment, and then said, “During my first two years here several OCF leaders and members became an integral part of the chapel programs. Our ministry prospered and expanded. In the third year, many newly reported OCFers decided to attend local churches… and our programs started to decline. Sometimes that happens, but I sure appreciate having OCF members and families assisting me in chapel ministries!”
What can be the relationship between OCF members and military chaplains as both seek to serve God and our nation? How can OCF members and chaplains support each other as faithful Kingdom-builders and a unified ministry team to serve and witness among military personnel and families?
The Ministry of OCF
The military environment is a mission field. The Department of Defense, like all government agencies, is a secular organization–not a spiritual or Christian one.
In 1943 during World War II God raised up Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF) to edify Christian officers and evangelize Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen. With Christians in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces united by our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we have one specific purpose:
OCF’s purpose is to glorify God by uniting Christian officers for biblical fellowship and outreach, equipping and encouraging them to minister effectively in the military society. 1
Fellowship and outreach, equipping and encouraging are keys to ministry in any setting. In military environments, a critical organization within the institution for Christian fellowship and outreach is the chaplaincy and the Religious Support Team (RST) at the chapel or within a military unit.
The vision of OCF is to be a dynamic community of Christian military leaders, integrating faith and profession, serving with a passion for God and a calling to the military. We encourage OCF members to participate in leading spiritual activities in military units, on bases and posts, and on military vessels to encourage believers and to present Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord throughout the military society. This includes outreach and service to all ranks as well as to civilian employees working with the military services.
OCF has eight spiritual pillars which express the characteristics of our Christian organization and ministries. One of these pillars is Supporting the Chaplaincy. We seek to support and encourage Chaplains. Local or ship-based chapel activities offer prime venues for Christ-centered outreach and service to a military community. OCF acknowledges the commander’s responsibility to grant chaplains the authority to carry out the Command Religious Programs on any military installation. Thus, we support chapel-sponsored installation and workplace ministry activities through prayer, encouragement and participation. By cooperating with and assisting chaplains and lay leaders, we seek to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the entire military society.”2
OCF members can be tremendous assets within a military unit, within its mission and within its official religious programs under a chaplain–whether ashore or afloat, whether in CONUS or overseas. As a Christian and a leader, the Lord can and will use you within the military structure as a spiritual teammate and kingdom coworker with your chaplain(s).
The Ministry of a Chaplain
Why Do We Have Military Chaplains?
One Chaplains Corps in past years used the Motto: Minister to your own, facilitate others, and care for all.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. Since members of the military do not always have access to their faith group’s place of worship or their clergy, the government authorizes ministers to serve in the U.S. military. Chaplains support, encourage, and stimulate faith and spirituality in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Military Religious Program
A military religious program is a commander’s means to provide for the spiritual and religious needs of members and their families. The purpose is to ensure that all have opportunity for the “free exercise of religion” as mandated by the U. S. Constitution. Military chaplains are those officers commissioned to plan, coordinate, and lead toward that goal. Chaplains have assistants; together they form “Religious Support Teams” (“Religious Support in Joint Operations” Joint Publication 1-05).
A chaplain’s tasks and responsibilities include advisory leadership, religious ministries and accommodation, outreach, pastoral care, training and education, and supervision and management.
Commanders are vested with the responsibility for and authority over all religious activities on the base. Military chaplains are the commanders’ representatives and staff officers designated to provide spiritual opportunities for military people and support for their religious needs. According to Romans 13, Christians are called to submit to and support that authority.
Ministry Volunteers Always Needed
Because military members and families transfer often, a chaplain always needs solid Christian men and women to provide chapel leadership for Sunday school classes, Bible studies, women’s ministries, community service projects, and other activities. This is true when military members deploy and especially for chapel programs serving military installations and family members. The military settings are often a mission and ministry field where the harvest is plenty but the workers are few… [and has not] the Lord of the harvest sent workers [us] into His harvest field? 3
Your Ministry as an Officer
Encouragement to Other Christians
A Chief of Staff on a headquarters staff was talking to a chaplain. He said, “As you know, I have not attended worship services very often. Frankly, chaplain, I would tell you that more and more senior officers do not attend military chapels or indicate a religious faith. How important do you think it is, that I attend chapel?” “Sir,” answered the chaplain, “I think there would be two reasons for you and your family to participate in a chapel program. First, hopefully, it would help you grow in your faith. Second, it would be a witness and great encouragement to your personnel.”
Of course we should not go to worship services for show or to be seen by others. On the other hand, when Christian officers regularly attend chapel worship services–periodically reading Scripture lessons, assisting with liturgy, helping with music, or offering prayer–it models a faith that leaders have and shows a desire to grow in Jesus Christ, just like other believers. That is a great example to the men and women with whom we serve, work, and lead.
Encouragement to Your Chaplains
Like the Apostle Paul, 4and Christians in secular settings, chaplains can sometimes feel alone or have only a few close Christian friends. With whom do chaplains chat, pray, fellowship, or share honestly? Who comes to visit and pray with these clergy? As OCF leaders, you can be that friend, colleague, shipmate, supporter, and encourager for your Chaplain–just as Barnabas was to the Apostle Paul in his ministry. 5
As Scripture says, a good friend (i.e., true co-laborer) sticks closer than a brother 6 –and Chaplains need these too!
Expeditionary Deployment Ministries and Support
Our mission in the U.S. Armed Forces is to be trained and ready to deploy at any time to carry out our nation’s commitments. Now, more often and more extensively, service members are deployed around the world in regularly scheduled operations, unexpected contingencies, combat operations, etc.
As military officers and Christians, we seek the Lord’s presence, power, and peace that we might be effective leaders for our people. With the expeditionary nature of the Armed Forces today, there are many spiritual challenges and opportunities for God to work in and through His people in our military units. Combat and hostile environments quickly test the bedrock of our faith and belief systems. Do we really believe and trust that even though we go through the valley of the shadow of death, You [Lord] are with us? 7We also minister to those who may become casualties, wounded, missing, or killed. Deployed men and women miss their loved ones, and are eager to return home–yet we can be unexpectedly extended on our deployments! We can have times of doubt, fear, loneliness, concern, and even depression. But like the Men of Issachar amid David’s army in the Old Testament, God would have us become leaders who understand the times and know what to do!8
There are local congregations who do not understand and some that may even oppose certain military operations. Many of their members can’t appreciate the hardship of deployment separation, especially those in combat or harm’s way. But within a chapel family, OCF members can assist their chaplains to provide spiritual strength, support, fellowship and pastoral care to spouses and children of those deployed far from home–especially those in “harm’s way”!
Like church pastors, chaplains face special ministry challenges–and many unique to the military settings. From unit rotations to combat situations, whether overseas at isolated bases to months aboard a ship at sea, chaplains–like other Christians–need other believers, not only as coworkers in the organization’s religious ministries, but also as friends in Christ. Often chaplains do not have such friendships or close fellowship, as they are always seen as the “spiritual provider” or the “caregiver.” Yet they too need to receive spiritual ministry and refreshment.
Getting to Know Your Chaplain
We encourage all OCF members to meet the chaplain(s) on their installation or ship. If there is not one, consider visiting the chaplain who is assigned coverage for that unit. It is absolutely essential, and proper protocol, that the OCF Area Coordinator or Local Representative calls on the Installation Chaplain, regardless of the chaplain’s faith group. Such introductory meetings can accomplish several goals:
- Enable the OCF leader or member to meet the chaplain and to learn the scope and needs of the installation’s religious program.
- Develop rapport, openness, and mutual respect.
- Provide the chaplain with “Heartbeat of OCF” and a recent copy of COMMAND magazine.
- Explain that OCF’s mission is to minister to the entire military society under the commander’s authority and chaplain’s leadership.
- Invite the chaplain to join OCF or visit some OCF activities.
- Ask (a) what support OCF might provide for the military religious programs and (b) how you, as an OCF member or area leader, might assist the chaplain–and be willing to do so.
- Seek the chaplain’s support for OCF and related activities through his or her publicity, facilities, materials, and personal participation if possible. Include him or her in the planning or review of new activities and incorporate the chaplain’s counsel, where appropriate.
- Pray for the chaplain and his or her needs.
It is generally not good to dump ideas or requests on your chaplain(s) and especially not on their assistants–always work through the chaplains! The chaplain has a small staff and limited resources. So you can be a wonderful spiritual co-worker, coming alongside and helping with unit ministries.
If you do bring ministry ideas and suggestions, be ready, as a Christian leader (or as an OCF group), to present a plan for implementation and your involvement.
If the installation chaplain regularly meets with the leaders of Christian ministries as a group, make sure you are part of that group. If such a group does not exist, consider offering to help the chaplain organize it.
If You Are A Commander
If you are a commander, be sure your own chaplain is a visible, vital member of your command. Ensure your chaplain attends staff meetings, training, social events, and other functions, to become an integral member of your staff and the unit. Acknowledge and encourage your chaplain publicly. Lead and train your chaplain about how best to help you get the pulse of your personnel and reading on the command climate.
Chaplains, like any service member or staff officer, need guidance and encouragement about being effective chaplains and staff officers. They should also be one of your most significant advisors on spiritual, religious, moral, morale, personnel, and even cultural issues. They are a confidential resource with whom you, and any member of the organization, can speak and discuss sensitive issues. Sometimes, they may even become a personal friend. As a commanding officer, you (and your staff) can help in the professional development, experience, and effectiveness of your chaplain(s)!
Partnering with Chaplains
Pastors in the United States have huge challenges and often they have serious personal needs. They are expected to minister to everyone in every situation all the time, yet few people take the time to care for or minister to them. Within many military organizations OCF members outnumber chaplains. Consider developing an “Adopt-A-Chaplain” match-up, so that one or more OCF members might befriend each chaplain assigned to your unit or installation:
- Get to know the chaplain, and family, providing personal friendship and encouragement.
- Pray constantly for that chaplain.
- Communicate and interact regularly with the chaplain.
- Show the chaplain that you do appreciate him or her, and the command ministries–and provide resources and tangible support.
- Offer the gift of hospitality such as inviting them to lunch.
- Invite them to your unit where you can introduce them to people.
- Find ways to honor publicly his or her special talents and accomplishments.
OCF Local Fellowship Support
Consider some specific ways your OCF area fellowship can encourage and show support to your chaplains. For example,
- Offer leadership and service for major chapel events such as prayer breakfasts, speaker events, concerts, and special worship.
- Welcome a new chaplain to the assignment.
- Be aware of significant events in your chaplain’s life–anniversary, illnesses, orders, promotion or pass-over.
- Hold a “Chaplain Appreciation” event. Invite all chaplains (of all faith groups) to participate. The “Adopt-A-Chaplain OCF member” can personally give the invitation. Make it a “no-cost” event for the chaplains, and possibly their spouses.
- Participate as you are led by the Lord in chapel tithes, offerings, and special gifts to help support installation religious programs and spiritual activities.
- Understand the chaplain’s vision, missions, and needs so that you can properly submit your OCF ministry to his or her legitimate command authority.
- Remember that chaplains, like pastors, cannot personally meet all the needs represented in the chapel or in your fellowship. OCF members can be of tremendous assistance to the chaplain personally, as well as for his ministry responsibilities. Chaplains depend on fellow Christians to assist in their Christian ministry to the military society.
Differences and Commonalities
There are many differences of theology and practice within Christianity, such as creation, eschatology, infant or believers baptism, etc. As we seek the Spirit’s leading us into Truth, there may always be different biblical interpretations or applications, at least on secondary issues, but rarely on the core of the gospel message in Jesus Christ.
The few essential, fundamental, and historic doctrines of the Christian faith are rarely debated (within the church) and on these denominations differ little. Unity does not mean uniformity, nor should diversity equal divisiveness–especially among Christians! We must look for, emphasize, and build upon key concepts that unite, not divide us, if we believers in Christ are going to have the most effective oneness and spiritual witness as His body.
A Chapel Program: To Leave or To Stay?
When you arrive at a new command and location, a key spiritual consideration is where to worship.
- Consider worshipping in the chapel.
– If the chaplain is a strong preacher and teacher of the Word, that is wonderful.
– If not, it does not necessarily exclude that chapel for worship, especially if the chaplain would support you and others in biblical ministry. Perhaps you are God’s chosen vessel for the proclamation of the Word by teaching Sunday school classes, Bible studies, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
– You may wish to augment your chapel experience with mid-week or Sunday evening off-base church participation.
- Submit your personal desires to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You may find that He will lead you in a direction that seems difficult but will eventually reap a rich reward in both personal growth and Christian service–and help military men and women grow in Jesus Christ.
- If you are led to worship in the local church, identify with that pastor where you might assist in ministry to military people and families. Keep communication open with your chaplain so that you are available for military ministry needs. You might even encourage your church to support an installation chaplain.
If a chaplain preaches a concept or doctrine clearly contrary to the OCF member’s understanding of Scripture, then an OCF member may or may not be led of the Lord to worship somewhere else. If you try a chapel several months and then prayerfully decide to leave, you should meet with the chaplain to discuss your concerns before you leave. You may have misunderstood the chaplain, and/or the chaplain may need to hear your ideas.
If a chaplain holds a non-essential belief different from yours, that should not prevent us from being brothers or sisters in Christ and coworkers in ministry. If we separated ourselves from each other on every difference we would become a church unto, and only for ourselves. If you believe that the Lord has assigned you to your duty station and might lead you to its chapel and its chaplain(s), then start with worship at the chapel and participate in some of its activities. Set up an appointment to meet with your chaplain. Share your excitement to be at your military assignment, your commitment to support the chaplain, your openness to assist chapel ministries, and your desire–even that day–to pray with/for your chaplain and the programs.
A chaplain, even if not of the same biblical conviction, can be used as God’s instrument to expand His kingdom in the military.9 Our Lord often calls us to cooperate not only with the like-minded but also with others whose motivations, interests, and biblical views may differ somewhat from ours–all without compromising our own personal call and convictions.
Children’s Spiritual Education
Christian couples with children have a God-given responsibility to raise their children toward faith in Jesus Christ and in the knowledge of the Lord. Some parents worry that in chapel settings their children will not get correct spiritual teaching. Yes, we must guard and educate our daughters and sons against immoral or wrong ideas, perspectives, and behaviors.
Yet, as Christian parents, we work, pray, and show an example to our children about knowing and following Jesus Christ while we simultaneously live, work, and serve in a non-Christian world. So if we in OCF lead Sunday school classes or youth programs, and encourage other strong Christians to do so too, we can be the ones to provide spiritual instruction examples for our children and those of other military parents. Make spiritual ministry to your children a priority. If it is not at the chapel, help it become that way–one officer established a children’s church for the contemporary worship service.
Your Growth in Christ
Whether we are married or single, we must nurture our faith, growth, and walk with Jesus Christ. To do this, we must have good opportunities for worship, teaching, Bible discussion, prayer, fellowship, witness, and service. Yet a chapel may not have all of these elements, or some may not be strong. As we mature spiritually, we see that there are no perfect church congregations or Christian groups because we Christians are not perfect people–just forgiven, saved by, and growing in grace through Jesus Christ.
Growing in Christ Jesus is just that, and there comes a time or occasion when we are no longer the new convert or the spiritual neophyte. Rather the Lord places us in situations where we, still learning and maturing, must become a spiritual leader for or with a group of Christians–just like young single Timothy or the couple Priscilla and Aquila did in the early days of the Church. Like them, ministries are turned over to us from previous Christian leaders and mentors. In different situations God might work in and through us as military leaders in our command, with our chaplain, and within a military chapel program.
New Testament Instruction
Unity in Christ is a constant, clear New Testament teaching and exhortation. Paul reminds us: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one Body and one Spirit… one hope to which you were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all10 In Hebrews, we are admonished, Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another 11 To reflect this oneness and unity in Jesus Christ, across denominational and some theological differences, is a unique witness to non-Christians and to all the men and women in our command.
More importantly, unity is Jesus’ command and prayer. He said, I pray that they might be one, as we are one.12 This is how our Lord prayed for His disciples and followers, including us. With so many churches, denominations, para-church organizations, and groups within Christianity, there are differences of theology and practice. But we know there is only One who makes us “in Christo” (i.e., Christian) and in Whom we are one as the Body of Christ–God and the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ.
Conclusion and Challenge
In a secular environment like the military, where Christ is not the foundation, spiritual issues are not the focus. However, whether they admit it or not, God has placed a spiritual craving in the heart of all of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen and their families. These needs are the focus, the priority and the concern for the chaplain and should be for all of us as Christians in the military. Many times believers are not in the majority and so we must be united for fellowship and outreach, for equipping and encouraging. Though not in full agreement on every or all theological points, we are unified in the person of Jesus Christ our one and only Savior and Lord. Thus, OCF members can join in military ministries.
The chaplain functions in a pluralist environment and is obligated to support those of all faiths as they seek religious support, even though a chaplain may not agree personally or theologically with those of other faith groups. However, under the Constitution, as a military chaplain he or she is obligated to support them. One chaplain corps in recent years used the motto, “Cooperation Without Compromise.” That is what chaplains do and it is what we in OCF can do within a chapel congregation and religious program.
How Can I Help My Chaplains? Ask Them!
Military ministries and chapels actually show the unity of the Body better than separate denominational churches! Military units are made up of different racial and ethnic members who are united in common missions. So too, military chapels and Christian religious programs can–and should–reveal different Christians united in diverse ministries through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As OCF members we can help chaplains, and they can help us. Volunteer to teach a Sunday school class for children or teenagers or adults. Offer to lead a small group Bible study. Be willing to assist with the chapel youth ministry. Offer to plan a retreat and arrange for the speaker. Assist with worship services.
How can you help your chaplains? Ask them!
May God’s Word and the Holy Spirit speak to and sustain all Christians today–especially believers who have left their civilian homes and even their homeland to become members of the U.S. Armed Forces in military units deployed around the world–just as the Lord God spoke to the Israelites in Babylonian exile: settle down… increase in number… seek the peace and prosperity of the city [assignment] in which I have placed you. Pray to the Lord for it–for as it prospers, so shall you too prosper. 13
1 OCF Constitution, Article II
2 OCF Constitution, Article IV
3 Matthew 9:37-38
4 2 Timothy 4:9-16
5 Acts 9:20-28
6 Proverbs 18:24
7 Psalm 23:4
8 1 Chronicles 12:32
9 Luke 9:49-50
10 Ephesians 4:3-4
11 Hebrews 10:24-25
12 John 17:21
13 Jeremiah 29:5, 7
Copyright 2004 – All rights reserved. Published by Officers’ Christian Fellowship of the U.S.A., 3784 S. Inca St., Englewood, CO 80110-3405.