The Final Essay for the Universal Life Church Seminary Master of Chaplaincy Studies Course
This course has inspired me to understand the real challenges that are involved in the ministry of a chaplain. I welcome the opportunity that has been placed in front of me. After completing the course and placing the immutability of God’s counsel before me I can manage to push forward on the straight and narrow road to the call of the ministry of a chaplain. I have discovered Jesus to be the greatest psychologist and counselor who ever lived-someone who profoundly understood people like you and me and someone who filled lives with meaning, genuine love, and fulfillment. Jesus was indeed the ultimate expert in human relations.
The course has helped me to acknowledge some effective skills of relating to others. The skills have become my motivation, my study, and my strategy. The fundamental part involves how we come across to people-how we listen, how we care, and what impact we make on their lives as a consequence of their being around us. It is relating to others, those we rub shoulders with in everyday life in such a way that they clearly sense the love and power flowing from our lives to theirs. It also follows that whatever fills our inner self cannot help but seep out consciously or unconsciously, surrounding us with an atmosphere that affects whoever we encounter.
I hope that I will accomplish the ability to show more sympathy, compassion, empathy, fellowship, and effective listening skills. To be sympathetic reminds people of being weak or condescending. Showing genuine sympathy is indicative of being strong and secure not weak and passive. To sympathize is to feel with someone; to empathize is to walk in someone’s shoes; to show compassion is to suffer with someone. Unfortunately, many misunderstand the significance of sympathy. They think that to sympathize with others is to feel sorry for them, to lower oneself to their level, or to approach them with a sense of superiority and condescension. Compassion is sharing the suffering with the victims, and being passionately moved to help them out of their difficulty. Then empathy is putting yourself in the place of another person so that you may understand his or her feelings and thoughts. A major reason why so many people struggle with mental and emotional problems is because of their unmet need for love. Love is the key to the entire therapeutic program of the modern psychiatric hospital.
Naturally, we must recognize that some burdens should be taken to Christ alone, others only to family members and close friends, and some not revealed at all. Someone observed that we need to listen twice as much as we talk, because the Lord created us with two ears and just one mouth. Unfortunately with many of us, we not only listen less than we talk, but real listening is almost nonexistent. I know, because I still have to remind myself to attentively listen. As I visit the nursing homes and independent living facilities it was impressed on my mind the tremendous value of listening. I let the elderly share freely about their own burdens, challenges, and aspirations. Frequently, I spent hours hearing what was on their hearts, affirming, and praying with them. The ministry of listening can profoundly express love and be life-changing. To be secure, serene, and attentive, focusing with our hearts and minds on what other persons are saying, is not always easy. Too often we are distracted while they are talking to us. What we primarily need to concentrate on is this: Christ’s love really coming through in our lives, and that we genuinely care about others.
In this ministry of chaplaincy, we all need someone to whom we are accountable and who will correct us when necessary. As a result of taking this course it has helped me to understand that our greatest assets are of far more value than what money can buy. When you mention the word asset, most people immediately think of material possessions. A happy, faithful, loving marriage partner; loyal and obedient children; and helpful friends are some of the priceless assets, which bring joy to life. There is one asset often overlooked and even shunned by some-wise counsel. We are encouraged in Scriptures to “listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in you latter days”. (Proverbs 19:20) Godly counsel is one of life’s most valuable assets. To be “a loner” in one’s personal, family, or business life is to court failure. We need each other. That is the way God made us, and He did it for our own protection. He gave us different gifts, not only to equip us personally, but also that we may help one another. Godly counsel is a wall of protection. “A man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5)
As chaplains, attributes go far deeper than just one’s reputation. To put it in human terms, your reputation is what people think and say about you. Your attributes, however, are who you are. Attributes are qualities, traits, and characteristics that explain what you think, how you act, and how you respond. A chaplain has to be sensitive to meet people at the level of their needs. He must first minister to their felt needs, and then proceed to minister to their real needs. Meeting people felt needs as those needs that are apparent, immediate, and short-range. Real needs are those needs that are hidden, deep, and long-range. We live in a complex world full of people going through terrible ordeals and difficulties. Sometimes they are so confused that they just do not know what their real needs are. As they grope for answers, they require our patient and sympathetic guidance. Of course, we must pay attention . Let us suppose that we are conducting a dietary program for the prevention of heart disease. If we truly love the individuals who attend it, would we be merely interested in improving their nutrition so that they might not die of a heart attack? Certainly we would go deeper and not ignore the far more serious problem of spiritual and eternal death because of a corrupt heart. Genuine love directs us to see the perceived needs, yet it also propels us to discern the deep-rooted needs of the soul. And when we show genuine interest in people’s visible needs (felt), they often-to their own surprise-reveal their invisible needs (real). Then we must continue to pray without ceasing.
The ministry of the chaplain as a minister of the faith must prepare himself to be spiritually , mentally, physically, emotionally , and philosophically healthy. We need to make a decisive dedication by the mercies of God, to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and well pleasing to God, which is an intelligent and reasonable service in prayer and counseling. In order to do this we must manage our time so that we have a healthy life style by eating wholesome foods, exercising, and getting the proper rest. Drink plenty of water. Also, do not conform ourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. Your assignment is not your decision but your discovery.
Rev. Michael Featherstone