Chaplaincy and Discipleship

22 September 2023

Gary Hopkins, Ministry Development Officer for chaplaincy

I recently had the privilege of working with several colleagues to host a meeting about chaplaincy and discipleship. What I didn’t expect was the incredible interest in this topic and the number of chaplains that joined us with a desire to explore how the boundaries of chaplaincy meet with our theological understandings of discipleship. It’s not the first time we’ve had great interest in a topic. We saw similar interest in conversations about evangelism, which are captured in videos on our website.

There seems to be a desire to explore and reflect theologically on what our calling means in chaplaincy contexts, which includes conversations about evangelism and discipleship. We speak of a God for all and a desire to help more people discover the love of God, and this resonates with chaplains and their hopes that lives will be transformed as they incarnationally live out God’s love in their context.

But there is also the recognition that chaplains are often guests ‘sent by the church’ in spaces belonging to other people, and central to the vocation of chaplaincy is respecting the boundaries, perspectives and beliefs of other people’s lives. A chaplain is there to serve the other and not impose their own perspective. The way that chaplains live out this vocation has led to chaplaincy having increased respect and appreciation in many places.

Holding these together creates a complexity in chaplaincy. How does a chaplain live out their role in a way that witnesses to God’s love and affirms others as being God’s beloved, while also respecting their boundaries and beliefs? This has been part of recent conversations at events, reflecting on how we hold these together.

Importantly, we never land at final answers with these reflections, because it’s so reliant on context, the type of chaplaincy and the relationships. But there is something important in reflecting together on how these theological themes intersect in our ministries.

One of the ways we’ve been doing this is exploring how a Methodist Way of Life might work in chaplaincy contexts. How might the commitments open up conversations about values and the ways we live? For example, how might people with different beliefs or worldviews find common ground when thinking about challenging injustice or serving others? How might these practices open up deeper conversations about how our worldview and beliefs influence what we do and how we live?

It’s great to think that a Methodist Way of Life might grow into something that can be used in a number of places. We’re only just beginning that conversation with chaplains, but there was some excitement about how the commitments could be used in different and creative ways in a variety of contexts appropriately.

A Methodist Way of Life is continuing to develop as a tool for reflection about discipleship and we opened up the question with chaplains about whether it might be useful in their contexts. This led to deeper conversations about the role of chaplains in different places and how they might be part of people’s journeys as they reflect on life and what it means to them.

As we think about theological themes such as evangelism and discipleship and what they mean in different contexts and the different experiences that people have, the ministries of chaplains need to be part of such conversations. Chaplains bring incredible insights about what God is up to in the world and what it’s like for people in different places – often outside institutional church life.

We’re excited to keep the conversation going and are planning some further events with chaplains to reflect on how chaplains navigate their ministry in ways that bring together the different aspects of living out their own discipleship in a multifaceted world. Watch this space!