What’s the difference between a pastor and a chaplain?

Serving people is a high calling. This passion inside you is not for the faint of heart. It takes sacrifice, determination, and commitment. It’s easy to push it away, fearing you aren’t good enough. You don’t have what it takes. But you can’t ignore it. It is there for a profound reason.

Caring for the hurting, bringing healing to the broken, and offering hope to the helpless reflects the example of Jesus himself. That yearning you feel to serve is a calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus to this world.

Did you know there is more than one way to fulfill this calling? Most people know one path: Become a pastor. Yet, the thought of becoming a pastor is overwhelming. You can’t see yourself fitting that mold, and getting a seminary degree doesn’t match your interests or calling. But you still want to serve and minister in a way that impacts your community.

You don’t have to give up this passion because being a pastor is not suitable for you. Chaplaincy can help you serve the way you feel called to serve. People often think that being a chaplain means being a pastor first. Our Chaplaincy program has credentialed hundreds of people who are not pastors and have not gone through seminary. These Chaplains are living out their passions to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, and you can too.

“Many people want to be in ministry. But they don’t know how to do that other than being a pastor. Chaplaincy is the answer to that. When I learned about becoming a chaplain, it clicked! It was everything I wanted to do, but I just didn’t have the word for it.”

Both pastors and chaplains play vital roles in fulfilling God’s design for his church and mission. They support and complement one another. Pastors and chaplains have a few similarities, but they also have significant differences. I.F.O.C.’s training and credentialing are different and complementary to pastors and ministers.

We’ll answer some of the most common questions about pastors and chaplains.

Can I be a chaplain if I’m not a pastor?

Yes! Chaplains are everyday people who minister in their workplace, neighborhood, community, church, and family. I.F.O.C chaplain training is open to anyone who wants to be equipped to serve.

Do I have to go to seminary to become a chaplain?

No! Seminary can be a long, expensive journey. It’s not for everyone. But you don’t want to face the pressing challenges of the world ill-equipped. Our training provides you with the tangible skills you need to make a real difference to the people around you in less time and with a smaller investment.

What is similar between a pastor and a chaplain?

Pastors and chaplains are both licensed ministers, and they are both able to be ordained for Christian ministry. Pastors and chaplains both have a love for people.

What’s the difference between a pastor and a chaplain?

The main difference between the two is the people they serve. Pastors usually work with people in a church, and chaplains typically work with people outside the church, experiencing trauma, grief, and struggle.

Pastors are on the front lines of their congregants’ lives, while chaplains are on the front lines in their communities.

A pastor’s ministry is often believer-facing. They are called to disciplining, shepherding, and raising up believers in their congregation. A chaplain’s ministry is often outward-facing. They are called to reach people outside the church with practical help.

We’ve all seen it – trauma can harden hearts. A chaplain’s ministry softens hearts so that one day someone, maybe the Chaplain, perhaps someone else, can deliver a message of hope that they may be open to hearing.

Chaplains have access to people pastors don’t because chaplains can get into places pastors often can’t. Their purpose of meeting needs and their intentional training and resources legitimizes their presence in secular spaces. Chaplains also find that they are better able to talk with someone who would never step foot in a church or talk to a pastor because of a negative stigma they have with faith.

Often pastors become chaplains in order to gain access to a different group of people than those in their congregation.

“As a former pastor that went through I.F.O.C. training to become a chaplain, I never knew my heart was actually to be a chaplain all along. My heart is for people outside the walls of the church. While some people have a calling to shepherd and develop the church, others have a calling to go beyond the walls to find the lost and love them into the kingdom.”

“After my I.F.O.C. training, I know I can help people that I never had access to inside the church.” – I.F.O.C. Chaplain

How does the work of a chaplain complement the work of pastoral ministry?

Pastors and chaplains have different roles, but they are joined by the same heart for God and people, and they work toward the same purpose. Pastors do fantastic work, but pastors can’t reach everyone! Chaplains extend the love of Christ out into the community and bring the church beyond the four walls to the people that need it most.

Chaplains benefit from the shepherding and care of pastors as members of local churches. Then, they take the ministry to the outside world with the encouragement and blessing of their pastor. Chaplaincy is the vehicle to do what pastors ask them to do – love people with the love of Jesus!

Chaplains may also function as ministry partners to the pastoral team to shoulder some of the burden of caring for the congregation. Our Church Chaplain Program addresses this need and not only brings care to the body but also reduces the chance of pastoral burnout.

How do I know if I should become a chaplain?

Pastors and chaplains share a few similarities and many differences. So which one is right for you? Check out this list to know if chaplaincy is the best fit for you.

  • You want to serve your community the way your pastor encourages you to, but you haven’t found a way to do that.
  • You want to impact someone’s life, but traditional ministry paths don’t fit your personality, passions, or interests.
  • You want to serve in ministry, but traditional ministry paths are currently closed to you.
  • You want to carry the message of Jesus outside the church in a practical way.
  • You think there has got to be something more than evangelism strategies of all words and no deeds.
  • You want to help someone facing some of their toughest challenges, and you want to know what to say that helps and not hurts.
  • You want to have access to people that may never speak to a pastor.
  • You want to live out being Jesus in front of people in situations where you may not be allowed to talk about Jesus.
  • You want to show Christ through your actions.

Can Chaplains serve as a care team for a church?

Yes! It’s no secret that the ministry life of a pastor can be exhausting. Burnout among pastors is a growing issue. That’s why we’ve created a program specifically for churches looking to certify Church Chaplains through I.F.O.C.

To discover the Church Chaplain Program, click below.

Church Chaplaincy Call to Action Graphic.