Having described in the previous essay how God directed me into police chaplaincy, I would like to follow with a personal philosophy of the chaplaincy. As God providentially opened the door for me to enter this ministry, so also my daily tasks as a chaplain are determined by God’s providence and opened doors. My work as a chaplain is more about bridge-building and availability than it is about personal spiritual ministry. That assertion may sound strange, but allow me to explain.
As a chaplain of the police department in my city, my chief personal goals are to develop recognition, reputation, and trust. First, I work at recognition, not in the exalted sense of prestige and reward but in the basic sense of exposure and familiarity. As I become more recognizable and familiar to the officers, I seek to build a reputation of sincere and gracious character. If I want to serve effectively, that exposure and familiarity must grow not only into acceptance but ultimately into trust.
In my service to the community at large, the goals of recognition, reputation, and trust mean that I must work amenably not only with the administration of my department but also with the other chaplains. Most of my fellow chaplains hold to theologies quite distinguishable from my own. Because there is no necessary ecclesiastical tie in the chaplaincy, I feel no tension in those differences. We all work together in personal friendship, general acceptance, and mutual cooperation in the work of chaplaincy. God, through various means, sovereignly places each of us on duty-rotations, and He providentially channels us to respond to various call-outs as He wills. It has been interesting to see how the responding chaplain to any given call-out is often tailored to the needs of the scenario. As I respond to the scene of any call-out, I treat it as a divine appointment. As such, I attempt to serve as a gracious and helpful presence by giving comfort, aid, information, and assistance, ministering sacrificially in any way that I can. Should there be, in God’s providence, the opportunity to carry out an extended period of ministry to a person or family, the door could open for more specific long-term spiritual counsel. I volunteer to serve. God opens the doors.
In my primary desire to become a spiritual resource to the officers themselves, I have labored hard to achieve and maintain a high level of recognition and reputation. I want the officers to know 1) that I am a chaplain, 2) that I am their department’s chaplain, 3) that I am an involved, knowledgeable, and caring chaplain, and, ultimately, 4) that I am a trustworthy chaplain. A chaplain must purposefully grow his or her recognition and reputation in order to establish, over time, a deep level of trust. Only then will an officer view a chaplain as a sincere and readily available resource to him or her personally. Only then might camaraderie, personal friendship, serious discussion, and spiritual counsel be possible. Genuine spiritual counsel will not happen either in a forced way or in a casual way. With law enforcement officers, as with most people, meaningful spiritual discussion will happen 1) when the officers themselves seek it, and 2) when they trust you enough to seek it from you. Arriving at that level of trust takes time.
So, how does a chaplain achieve recognition, reputation, and trust? As I began my chaplaincy, I knew that I would need to spend a lot of time rubbing shoulders with the officers in our department. I told the supervising Lieutenant at our first meeting that I suspected that genuine trust would be achieved only after about five years of purposeful bridge-building. My estimate turned out to be fairly accurate.
I first determined to learn, as best I could, the life and work of a law enforcement officer. I did countless ride-alongs and tried to pay attention to the lingo and labors of everyday patrol officers. I participated in scenario-training exercises. The department needed a “bad guy” at whom the officers might shoot (or not shoot) their simunition rounds. I was that bad guy multiple times. I read about the life and stresses of law enforcement officers. I attended annual meetings, awards presentations, officer and chaplain training sessions, etc. I volunteered to do office work, eventually gaining open access to the public safety building, giving me much more exposure to officers, staff, and everyday department life. I began to write a chaplain piece for the internal department newsletter. We started an “Officer of the Week” program among the chaplains so that the congregants of each chaplain could pray for the officers. My wife and I began hosting an all-day Christmas buffet in our home each year so that the officers could stop by to spend a few minutes away from work and a day when most people had the holiday off. The ways in which to spend time with officers is only limited by your imagination and your time commitment. I still do most of these things and many others, though age is catching up with me.
All of this activity was done for one major purpose: to build recognition and trust in order to become a respected resource for spiritual counsel to any officers or staff members who might seek it. The trust-building was my task. The open doors for spiritual ministry could only derive from the providence of God. I have been both amazed and blessed by the doors that have opened for genuine ministry. The story, however, is not at all about me. It is about God. The honorable men and women of law enforcement are God’s servants and they serve at their own peril. I feel strongly that He wants me, in return, to serve them. I honor them and I treasure the opportunity to know and to assist them. I am thankful for the opened doors.
This essay is by Roy Beacham, Professor of Old Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Captain of Thine Enlisted Host
Christopher Batty (1715–1797)
Captain of Thine enlisted host,
Display Thy glorious banner high;
The summons send from coast to coast,
And call a numerous army nigh.
A solemn jubilee proclaim
Proclaim the great Sabbatic day;
Assert the glories of Thy name;
Spoil Satan of his wished-for prey.
Bid, bid Thy heralds publish loud
The peaceful blessings of Thy reign;
And when they speak of sprinkled blood,
The mystery to the heart explain.
Chase the usurper from his throne,
Oh! chase him to his destined hell;
Stout-hearted sinners overcome;
And glorious in Thy temple dwell.
Fight for Thyself, O Jesus, fight,
The travail of Thy soul regain;
To each blind soul make darkness light,
To all let crooked paths be plain.