Military Chaplaincy amidst Pastoral Shortages

“Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). It’s a good verse, right? Isaiah sets a prime example of what our attitude toward the Lord’s will should be—what our degree of willingness ought to look like when God nudges us in a direction according to His plan. We like to think we’d say the same thing to God as this spectacular prophet of yore when asked. But let’s be honest.  

We’re all pretty awful at doing that.

Here I Am

More often, our conversations with God go a little more like this: “Here I am! Send me—but not there.” 

Yep. Guilty.

Our human tendency is to hold ourselves at arm’s length from the unknown because we’re afraidwe struggle to relinquish that comforting sliver of control we think we have over our lives, believing we know what’s best. And never is a fearful response more ready to overtake us than when it seems Christianity is on the decline and the church is shrinking. Fewer people attend church now than in recent decades. The number of “nones” as a religious affiliation is escalating. Too many congregations have pastoral vacancies.

These are legitimately worrisome issues, but they should not be used to pit one ministry against another. For example, since my husband transitioned from full-time parish pastor to full-time Navy chaplain, I have become aware of several concerns regarding the pastor shortage in our church body, including the supposition that our pastors should not consider chaplaincy because of empty pulpits.

I found that opinion somewhat shocking. Again, the issue of our pastor shortage is a practical concern and is totally valid, but we should not dwell in fear of pastors serving in other avenues because of it.

Want to know why?

Because the church is never dying. The very gates of hell, to say nothing of pastor shortages, will not prevail against it (see Matthew 16:18).

Before we pray our various versions of “but not there”s, evaluating if we trust the statement above would serve us well. Do we believe that the Lord is ultimately in control of the church and will supply shepherds for it?

Isn’t chaplaincy, too, a valid divine call?

Aren’t the service members of each military branch in need of pastoral care as well? Is the mission field ripe for harvest there, or only in calls to physical church buildings that are close to family, in the ideal climate, or within the approximately ten out of fifty US states you’d be comfortable living in?


This is a challenging thought. There certainly exists a human aspect to life in the ministry that must consider a pastor’s actual limitations in concert with his passion and skill sets. Not every theologian can be a pastor. And not every pastor can be a chaplain. Chaplains are a niche within a niche—so if a pastor has the necessary capabilities and qualifications for this work, we should pray for him and give him (and his family) the support he needs for the Isaiah-ness to do it.

The same goes for pastor’s wives as well. Not every pastor’s wife can be a chaplain’s wife—but I bet more of us than not are up for the task. We can do hard things. If you’ve been a pastor’s wife (or even a seminarian’s wife!) for a while, you already know that’s true. Maybe you really can do it.

Never Empty

God’s Word never returns empty. “It shall accomplish that which I purpose,” He says, “and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Chaplains turn the Word loose on potentially thousands of people in the course of this vocationmany of whom may have no religious background, may have been traumatized by heresy, or may be desperately seeking comfort amid the difficult work of serving our country. It is a ministry of dire importance.  

There should be no whiff of stigma correlating to the pursuit of chaplaincy instead of life in the parish. Likely, many ways exist to address the issue of pastoral vacancies, but confining pastors to only one path of ministry is probably not the most effective solution. Let’s remove the fear of decline from our collective vocabulary as a church, trusting that the work of Christ—utilizing any variation of the pastoral office—is, and always will be, sufficient.

Here we are.

Scripture: ESV®.

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Written by

Kelly Nava

Kelly is a Navy chaplain’s wife and a mama of two. She holds a BA with a double major in English and theatre from Concordia University in Irvine, California (2006) and an MA in teaching: speech and theatre from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri (2008). Kelly is a freelance copyeditor, a sometimes-writer, an aficionado of life’s simple pleasures, and a self-professed universal stick in the vein of G. K. Chesterton’s writings.

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