36 Questions We Think You Should Be Asking About Military Chaplaincy

If you’re thinking about a career as a military chaplain, you may have many questions about how to become a chaplain or what it’s like to be a chaplain in the US military. This list of questions and answers includes questions we’ve been asked by people like yourself and questions we think you should be asking as you consider military chaplaincy in your future.

You may also be interested in our 4C Master of Divinity Scholarship for Military Chaplain Candidates. This scholarship has provided a path for many chaplain candidates to attend Evangelical Seminary at very little to no expense to themselves. Email Dr. Bruce Farrell, Chaplain (Col. Ret) for more information about this scholarship opportunity.

Please click on any of the questions below to read our full answers:

1. What is a military Chaplain Candidate?

A Chaplain Candidate is a student in seminary who is eligible to be selected by a board of the Army, Navy, or Air Force to be a commissioned officer who serves the spiritual lives of military members. They adhere to the requirements of the Army National Guard, or the Army, Navy, or Air Force Reserve Chaplain Candidate programs.

2. Are Chaplain Candidates considered to be in the Military Reserves or Active Duty?

The Military Reserves, whether the Army Guard, or the Army, Navy, or Air Force Reserves are a force of part-time troops trained to be ready to support our nation in times of war or disaster. Chaplain Candidates are only in the Reserves– there are none on Active Duty. The Air National Guard does not have a Chaplain Candidate program but uses the Air Force Reserves Chaplain Candidate program.

3. Can Chaplain Candidates go to war?

No, Chaplain Candidates are considered to be on educational delay and not yet qualified as a Chaplain. They are in non-deployable positions. Chaplains, however, go where troops go. They are deployed wherever US military personnel are stationed around the world– including combat zones.

4. What is it like to be a Chaplain Candidate?

While a Chaplain Candidate you are primarily a student in seminary. That said, you may be required to attend one drill weekend each month and a two week Annual Training each year. Chaplain Candidates are normally attached to a Battalion Chaplain, and some of those BC may have special requirements. In some instances, Chaplain Candidates can choose to go to military educational school in lieu of or in addition to Annual Training.

5. What is an Ecclesiastical (Denominational) Endorser?

Because of constitutional limits, the United States Government cannot endorse religion, so it must rely on other bodies to recommend qualified candidates and chaplains. Denominations or parachurch groups serve this role. These groups qualify through an appropriate process, granting themselves the right to be called Ecclesiastical Endorsers. Non-denominational communities have often not pursued this qualification, but feel free to contact our Chaplain Program Director for guidance on endorsement when part of a non-denominational communities.

6. How should I choose my Ecclesiastical (Denominational) Endorser?

Very carefully, it is akin to a marriage. It can be changed over your career, but it is not recommended that you do this often. Many factors should be weighed such as your membership in a church, your theological convictions, etc. It is important to get advice from an outside organization when making this decision. Our Chaplain Program Director is happy to help answer any questions you may have about this process.

7. Do I have to attend seminary to become a Chaplain in the military?

Attending seminary is required by all branches of the military to become a Chaplain.

8. Does it make a difference what seminary I choose to attend?

The Selection Board is charged with choosing the best qualified Chaplain Candidates by the respective Army, Navy and Air Force Chief of Chaplains. One of the most important criterias used is the quality of theological education. The Association of Theological Schools is widely considered to be the highest standard of accreditation. The ATS accredits seminaries of all faith groups, including Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.

9. Do Chaplain Candidates automatically become chaplains?

No, just like there are selection boards that decide who is granted a commission to become a Chaplain Candidate, so there are boards that meet to choose Chaplains. You must re-apply to these boards at the completion of seminary and the authorization of your chosen Ecclesiastical Endorser.

10. How long can I be a Chaplain Candidate?

This depends on the limits of the Chaplain Candidate program set by the Chief of Chaplains for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Generally this would be from 3-5 years.

11. How long am I committed to service once I take the oath and become a Chaplain Candidate?

Like all other officers there will be a contract that specifies the length of service that you are committed to once you take your oath. Generally, this will be in the 5-year range. This time includes the time in the Chaplain Candidate program.

12. Are there scholarships available for military chaplain candidates?

Yes, and it takes various forms through Federal, State, and denominational funding. At Evangelical Seminary, we guide you through the process and use these resources to make up your package for a full scholarship.

13. What is the difference between the Army Guard Chaplain Candidate program and that of the Reserves?

Little on the whole, but you are managed by the local state versus a central officer in the Army Reserves.

14. Why doesn’t the Air National Guard have a Chaplain Candidate program?

At this point, the Air National Guard uses the Air Force Reserve Chaplain Candidate program to cover their Chaplain needs.

15. Will I get paid as a Chaplain Candidate?

Different programs will vary– generally in the Army Guard and Reserves you will be paid for weekend drill and schooling in the military. Pay for the year for a Second Lieutenant can range from $8,000-$10,000 for one weekend a month and two weeks of annual training. Other financial benefits come from being able to purchase health insurance at a greatly subsidized rate.

16. Why do I need a mentor to become a Chaplain Candidate?

Being a Chaplain Candidate can be a confusing process and you are likely to have many questions. The military can be like a foreign culture to those with no prior service. Senior Military Chaplains with experience in the Chaplain Candidate program can be extremely helpful to successfully navigate the process.

17. Should I choose the seminary with the greatest number of courses for preparing to serve in the military?

Not necessarily– most Chief of Chaplains want to train their Chaplains in military skills. They want Chaplain Candidates with faith and pastoral training and an otherwise clean slate to build on.

18. Can Chaplains and Chaplain Candidates transfer between the Navy, Army and Air Force?

Not really, this is very rare. Chaplains could be assigned to cover for other branches, but this is not likely to happen. It can happen, however, by formal application to accessioning boards.

19. Can Chaplains really preach the gospel in the military or are they forbidden?

Yes they can, and no they are not forbidden. Ministry in the military is not like that of a church and respect must be shown to all the troops no matter what their faith group.

20. What are the age requirements to be a military chaplain?

Basically, one must begin their service prior to forty-five years old. Prior service can extend this, see your recruiter for a more specific answer to your circumstances.

21. What is the big difference between the Active Duty and the Reserves for Chaplains?

It is an entirely different lifestyle. Take time to consider while you are in the Chaplain Candidate program which of the two you would like to apply for. You can go from Reserves (and Guard) to Active Duty. You can sometimes go from Active Duty to Reserves (or Guard).

22. What is a Chaplain in the US Military?

A Chaplain is a commissioned officer who wears the uniform and serves the spiritual and moral needs of his or her troops in a variety of ways including worship, counseling, and teaching.

23. What is the proper way to address a military (Army)

By tradition, a Chaplain is addressed as “Chaplain” regardless of his or her rank.

24. How do you become a military (Army) Chaplain Candidate?

Those interested can apply via a recruiter who assembles a packet of materials from diplomas to medical exam reports to documentation of endorsement by a religious body (DD 2088). Once the packet is completed it is sent to a board that meets routinely throughout the year. This board selects Chaplains and Chaplain Candidates according to the criteria that is given to it by the respective Chiefs of Chaplains of the Army, Navy, or Air Force.

25. How much money does a military (Army) Chaplain make?

This depends on the rank, longevity of service and whether the chaplain is full-time or part-time (a reservist). Many in ministry would consider the pay generous. Housing allowance is part of the package and is based on the cost of living in a given location.

26. Does the military (Army) need more Chaplains?

Yes, there is a persistent need for Chaplains. The Army has the greatest need as it has by far the largest Chaplain Corps. Different areas of the nation have different levels of need for Chaplains who serve in the part-time (Reserve) mode.

27. How long does it take to become a Chaplain in the military (Army)?

Generally it takes six to twelve months to assemble a packet. The Active duty typically requires two years of pastoral experience after seminary in order to apply to become a full-time, Active Duty Chaplain.

28. What rank is a Chaplain in the military (Army)?

Chaplains start at the rank of First Lieutenant and go up to the rank of Major General. Chaplain Candidates are normally appointed at the rank of Second Lieutenant.

29. How many Chaplains are there in the military?

There are about five thousand Chaplains between Active Duty and the Reserves in all branches of the US military.

30. Where do military Chaplains serve?

Active Duty (full-time) Chaplains serve where they are assigned on bases or posts in the US and around the world– they go where the troops go. Reserve (or National Guard) Chaplains serve out of a local Armory (also called a Readiness Center or Training Center) where their assigned unit is located.

31. What denomination does a Military Chaplain have to be?

The US military is looking for Chaplains across a wide range of denominations. Currently, there are over 200 denominations represented by Ecclesiastical Endorsers with standing to endorse Chaplain Candidates. In addition, there are “umbrella” organizations for those who come from non-denominational churches. Most major faiths and denominations have chaplains serving in the military.

32. Does the Marine Corps have Chaplains?

The USMC does not have its own chaplains, but does use chaplains from the Navy to serve their troops.

33. How do I get started in becoming a Chaplain in military?

Start by searching online to find the nearest officer recruiter for the branch of the military you would like to serve in. Tell them you are interested in becoming a Chaplain and they will begin processing your application. For more information about completing your Master of Divinity requirement at Evangelical Seminary and to learn about scholarship opportunities that would available to you, please email Dr. Bruce Farrell, Chaplain (Col. Ret).

34. Can a Military Chaplain pray in Jesus’ name?

Yes, in most settings a Military Chaplain can pray in Jesus’s name. In a Christian worship service or in a counseling session it can absolutely be appropriate. On occasions when Chaplains are asked to pray in command settings where attendance is required, some creative discretion can be wise. This is where training at a good seminary can make a difference in giving you the ability to discern wisely.

35. What is a Chaplain Assistant?

All branches of the military provide Chaplain Assistants (Religious Program Specialists) to work with their Chaplains. As Chaplains are non-combatants, the Chaplain Assistant serves as the bodyguard for the Chaplain as well as having other assigned duties.

36. Where do military Chaplains go to school for Chaplain Training?

Chaplain Candidates pursue theological training at an accredited seminary of their choice (the “gold standard” of accreditation being the ATS), but, in addition, the military has its own schools to train chaplains in their military roles as chaplains. A major military chaplain school is at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. The schooling is about three months long and can usually be done in phases. Our school, Evangelical Seminary, offers an ATS-accredited Master of Divinity degree as well as scholarships for Chaplain Candidates to cover the theological portion of your training.

Additional resources you might enjoy:

Request Information
Apply today for admission to Evangelical Seminary