18: Chapel Programs

IN THIS CHAPTER

Chapel programs vary widely among military installations and among the branches of the military, but chapels are generally a place where religious conversations are welcomed and where Christians can serve to make the gospel of Jesus Christ visible. They are great places to grow in appreciation for people from different spiritual, denominational, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. This chapter explores ways to be a representative of Christ wherever you are assigned, ways to support the Command Religious Program (or similar), and how to nest that participation within local church membership.

GO WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE

If you view the military society as the people among whom you will live as salt and light, then consider where the meeting places of that society are. Paul usually entered the synagogues of a city, and in this way he began local community outreach by meeting where God’s Word was being taught (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4, 19).

Think about where missionaries and aid worker live, shop, and teach within the community they desire to impact. They typically would not live away from the very people they go to help. It would be awkward to tell a native people that you have arrived to help and serve them, but that for reasons of financial growth opportunity, or for family educational needs, or for better access to shopping areas, you plan to live outside their village. Any attempt to assure them that you really want to know them better will probably ring hollow.

To become a friend and a servant to the military community means that you should consider putting your interests aside and dwelling among those you serve. Open your life to the scrutiny of others in the hope that they will allow you to be part of their lives. Developing trust begins with physical presence.

Similarly, OCF’s vision (the military community positively impacted through Christ-like leaders) invites leaders to be Christ-like servants within the military society. To become trusted, you will need to live where military people live. In some of these locations, the community will have a robust chapel program, so if you are committed to OCF’s mission (Christ-like service at the intersection of faith, family, and profession), we ask you to pray about how to connect with the chapel body. This should probably not be exclusive of local church participation, since your local church membership may be where you are spiritually nourished and sent out. (See “Local Church Membership” chapter.)

Military members can become volunteers in the command religious program by being trained as religious lay leaders who meet the needs of the Christian faith group when chaplains are not available to provide for your free exercise of religion.

GOOD RELATIONSHIPS MATTER

Developing good relationships with the chaplain(s) and chapel staff will expand opportunities to benefit the entire military community—adults and children. Since an OCF leader does not organize a local OCF fellowship as a Non-Federal Entity (NFE) that requests base access, collects funds, or seeks exclusive facility access, you are not required to sign NFE agreements with the installation on behalf of OCF. In most cases, OCF members will fall into the category of a participant in chapel activities, or they become a chapel volunteer whom the local chaplains will train, certify, and equip in that role.

Chapel programs vary among service branches and locations, so learn what the local chaplains provide, what they desire help with, and how to pray for them. Contact the OCF staff if you need help interpreting chaplaincy programming or instructions.

Not every chapel program should be supported, and there may be programs you have to step away from because your presence as a Christ follower will be perceived as supporting activities contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. There may be specific assignments when you are not able to teach and disciple your own children within the context of a poor chapel program, and in these instances, you might step away from visible support of the chapel. Love everyone, be known for holding fast to the truth God has revealed in the Scripture, and be a healthy participant who brings the good news of life through faith in God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

By supporting the chaplaincy, you have the opportunity to see and touch parts of the military community you might not otherwise meet. Chapel participation develops a serving posture, enhances outreach, and permits evangelism.

Like other laborers sent from established church bodies, chaplains may provide chapel services where TDY/TAD personnel worship, either because it is the only option or because there is no transportation off the installation. Make yourself available to meet TDY/TAD and newly arrived personnel. Chapel programs provide a refuge for everyone—the healthy and vibrant as well as isolated, marginalized, lonely, and hurting members of the military community. You know that hurting people serve with you, yet few of us wear our pain visible on the outside. Pray for the ability to live as a warm and loving presence among all people.

There is so much diversity within chapel programs that you will probably be changed for the rest of your life as you learn to appreciate men and women from many different church and spiritual backgrounds. Being in the chapel is one way you can be salt and light, reaching out to the military community with the love of Christ just as He has loved you (Luke 7:47).

BE A SERVANT, NOT SIMPLY THE SERVED

The normal posture of a believer in Christ is not, “How can I be served?” but rather “How can I serve?” Serving takes energy. We will usually be short on time, and we may face opposition when it becomes known that we hold Biblical standards of truth, but we must still care about the souls and lives of those God has placed around us. For example, if there is no children’s/youth program, then maybe the OCF members can band together to start a program with their own children. Not every opportunity needs to be addressed, but having a willing heart is the beginning of impacting lives.

You will likely experience chapel activities that are not Biblically sound, but do not let that scare you off. You can participate as a Christian who brings good doctrine with you. Poor teaching frequently exists because of immaturity or ignorance, not because of malicious intent. If you are in Christ, then the good news of God’s work through Jesus Christ goes with you wherever you go. Invite the people you meet to come into your home for a meal and fellowship. Embrace the chapel community whenever it is in your power to reach out in love.

Be discerning about Biblical truth, and pay attention to whether the correct gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached (Galatians 1:6-9). This discernment will inform your decision as to whether to bring unbelievers to the chapel or to volunteer. 

If you are finding ways to serve within a chapel community that doesn’t have much solid Christian instruction, then alert your church to the situation, and ask them to help you in your own walk. Local church oversight can enable chapel community involvement while simultaneously guarding your family’s spiritual growth and obedience.

Chapel programs are not meant to replace the visible church. Local churches provide the gathering of Christ’s body with essentials like the teaching of Scripture, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the discipline of its members. Chapel programs may provide some of these things for particular moments of time, but one thing chaplains do not have authority to do is to discipline chapel participants toward repentance and reconciliation.  

Rather, military chapel programs help prepare chaplains for deployed ministry, they provide family outreach and connectivity, and they enable English-speaking services in overseas locations. Some programs focus on resilience and outreach, but the nature and character of the services change every couple of years as chaplains come and go. In some places, weekly worship services have been discontinued to reprioritize the use of chaplain time and energy.

Nonetheless, military chapel settings provide an opportunity for us to enjoy the diversity and beauty of spiritual traditions and worships styles that are different from our “normal” style.