Even though the office of military chaplain dates back to the Revolutionary War and prior, most people do not know what the chaplain actually does beyond worship services and pastoral counseling. Furthermore, there are disadvantages this type of minister faces that are foreign to the civilian cleric.
1. A chaplain is first a minister, as already stated. However, the chaplain does not have the freedom to make home visits because the family home is likely many miles away. If the family has any religious inclination, they already have their own clergy. Others may see the military minister as an intrusion into the family functions or the trooper’s work. In some cases, that work might be classified as secret.
2. A chaplain has rank but no authority. Lower ranking military personnel salute this officer like any others when outside (not inside as erroneously done in the movies). An officer of other career fields can order the troop but not a chaplain. Actually, a high-ranking sergeant might tell the chaplain what to do under some circumstances.
3. Each branch of service has different, and perhaps conflicting, functions from the other branches. For instance, the style of work done by an Air Force chaplain is a community model. Other branches may serve best as a one on one ministry without formal worship services.
4. The range of support by the commander can vary tremendously. In some cases, the commander does not believe in God or the work of a chaplain. The commander may see the chaplain as interference or a necessary “evil” among the military personnel.
The chaplain is responsible to the endorsing agency, the military, and is the means by which the commander fulfills religious functions. The chaplain has much to do and often with little resources. It is not easy and is a challenging job that this type of officer must address including a unique list of professional disadvantages.