Not Just Chaplains
As the chaplaincy tries to fill several hundred vacant positions, parachurch missions to the military are supplementing chaplains' activities with programs, materials, and missionaries. Worldwide, Christian organizations on and off U.S. military bases are running youth groups for military kids and welcoming off-duty soldiers into their homes, leading seminars and classes on Christian life, supplying chaplains with literature for soon-to-be-deployed troops, and providing many other services that overextended chaplains cannot.
More than 675,000 soldiers and their families live in the U.S. and abroad. The Army chaplaincy is "the largest young adult ministry in the world," said former Army Chief of Chaplains Gaylord T. Gunhus. With so many military family members involved, chaplains such as Lt. Col. Randall Dolinger can end up pastoring 1,500 to 2,000 people. "There's more ministry that needs to be done than chaplains can do," said Dolinger, a spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains Office in Arlington, Va.
Military missions operate with far fewer personnel than the chaplaincy, but organizations such as Campus Crusade still have a broad impact. They disseminate information about the gospel and Christian living through chaplains, train leaders among the troops, and maintain websites designed for soldiers, in addition to sending missionaries to bases.
If some military ministry leaders say they have not experienced the chaplain shortage as a crisis, it may be because the number of chaplains is larger than in the 1990s.
War, however, has strained chaplains and ministries even as they grow. Military Missions Network president Gary Sanders says the greatest need for ministry may be at homemultiple deployments, extended tours (now at 18 months), and a high rate of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder among veterans put tremendous pressure on military families. Civilian ministries can't operate in combat zones but can have direct contact with troops and their families on bases.
Jeff Campbell feels that ministry as a civilian allows him to specialize and to get more face time with the military kids he ministers to than he would as a chaplain. "Any time there's a shortage, I end up having more opportunities to have meaningful ministries," Campbell said. He is director of Malachi Ministries, the youth ministry branch of Cadence International. Cadence International is a Christian military contractor that encompasses Malachi Ministries and hospitality ministries for soldiers on leave. As the chaplaincy looks for ways to expand its reach, Campbell said, anybody who wants to work with the military can run programs at the chaplain's invitation. "It becomes a great value for the government."
Dolinger explains how chaplains start a relationship with parachurch ministries. "Lots of people offer [services], and we use whatever comes our way," he said. However, "it's not equal time to all groups regardless of quality. We give them space commensurate with the impact they're having." Troops, whether in combat zones or at home, generally do not have much free time to spend in organized religious activities, he said.
The five largest parachurch military ministries are Campus Crusade's Military Ministry, Officers' Christian Fellowship, Cadence International, Association for Christian Conferences Teaching and Service (ACCTS), and the Navigators.
Sanders says that many people who work for these organizations have a military background themselves. "There's a lot of passion and a great burden out there among parachurch workers to reach their fellow servicemen and women with the gospel." Even to the initiated, the military is much like a foreign mission field, according to Sanders. "God, I believe, called me to be a crosscultural missionary to the military people group," he quipped.