Editor: After a recent article discussing bivocational pastoring options, a regular reader, Scott Wells from Ohio, sent this to me.
This was prompted by responses to the recent post “Is the small, single full-time clergy staff church a luxury churches can no longer afford?” I am what I would call a reverse bi-vocational. In addition to serving as a full-time pastor, I also serve part-time as a chaplain in the National Guard. I would like to make a case for why it can be a win-win for smaller churches and their pastors.
An NG chaplain will miss a minimum of two Sundays per year because of military service. In a rare twelve-month period I missed seven. Typical National Guard Soldiers serve twelve weekends a year plus two weeks for annual training (typically in the summer). That adds up to 14 Sundays per year. But in my state (Indiana), our Adjutant General (commander of all national guard forces) recognizes the value of chaplains and issue a directive stating that chaplains who serve churches be allowed to serve a day of the week other than Sunday. I typically do a Fri-Sat. Over four years at my church, I’ve probably averaged missing 4 Sundays annually.
But there are other considerations, such as military schools. The initial school is the longest: three months. Most other schools are two-weeks. And there is always the possibility of a mobilization that will take you overseas for twelve months. In 2008, I would estimate you had a 40-45% chance of it. Today it’s considerably less. Nevertheless, you, your family, and your church must be always be prepared that you may get word that in eight months you’ll be in Kuwait for a year. All of that can be tough on a family and a church.
But there are some great benefits as well. I get my health & life insurance ($400k + spouse coverage) through the military at a very affordable cost, plus dental insurance at an average cost. A pastor friend of mine’s church pays over $17k annually for that for him, whereas I pay less than $4k for it all. Last year the church started reimbursing me for that cost. Also, I have a good retirement awaiting me through the military (retirement requires 20 years of service; you begin receiving it at 60 years of age).
The pay is not bad either. A First Lieutenant (a chaplain comes in as a 1Lt or a Captain, depending on experience) will gross over $500 for a 2-day drill and around $2k for two weeks of annual training. The extra income has made the difference in my wife being able to not work outside the home and be more involved in church life. Additional financial incentives are offered when the military reaches critical shortages of personnel, e.g., bonuses, GI Bill, student loan repayment money. I made it through a private college and SBC seminary paying nothing but sweat equity in the uniform.
Weeks when I have drill are super-busy. But I doubt they are any busier than what my truly bi-vocational brothers out there experience weekly. I have the utmost respect for you—I don’t know how you do it.
NG Soldiers are tested annually to ensure they maintain a certain level of fitness and the appropriate weight to sex/height/age ratio. That accountability has been a long-term blessing to me over the years.
Theologically you need to be rock-solid on core gospel truths and gracious on the things that aren’t. Chaplains can’t be required to do something that violates their conscience, but neither is military chaplaincy a good fit for those with hyper-sensitive consciences. I could provide personal examples, but I don’t want to make this unnecessarily lengthy.
Chaplaincy is not synonymous with pastoring a church. NAMB, the endorsing agent for SBC chaplains, considers chaplains missionaries, and rightly so. There is a reasonable expectation that the members of your church are regenerate. Not so with your fellow Soldiers.
Uncle Sam and Jesus are looking for a few good men. Good, solid, evangelical chaplains have a place in the military and are needed. If you think you have what it takes, if you can sweat and bleed with soldiers and love them despite their foul language and coarse behavior, if you can be thick-skinned and tender-hearted, you might have just discovered the part-time job that could change your life. I would love to try to answer any questions you might have. I am currently at my two-week annual training and may be unable to reply immediately, but will certainly do so as soon as possible.
Scott Wells is pastor of FBC West Carrollton, OH. He is a graduate of William Jennings Bryan College and SBTS. He has served in various roles in the military since 1987. He’s an OK pastor, but his wife is an amazing pastor’s wife.