Become a Chaplain

A chaplain serves as a pastor sent by their home church to a unique culture and people group. The calling to serve those who serve our country is rich with opportunities to influence a group who literally impacts people and nations around the world. If you are interested in becoming a chaplain, the Evangelical Chaplains Commission can help you through the process.

There are two major things to understand when considering serving as a chaplain under the endorsement of the Evangelical Chaplains Commission:

You are a pastor sent out by your church body.

Like all pastors, you will be expected to perform ceremonies, offer counseling and various other responsibilities common to all who are commissioned as ministers. You carry unique privileges and responsibilities as a tangible reminder of the holy. As a result, we require that all of our chaplains and applicants be recommended to us by a church or denomination that is a member of the Evangelical Chaplains Commission.

You must be endorsed for service.

Chaplaincy is a unique and specialized vocational ministry in which credentialed religious ministry professionals (RMP) represent their religious organizations in various institutional settings. To serve as a chaplain in most institutional settings one must have ecclesiastical endorsement from his/her religious organization or faith group. An endorsement is an ongoing relationship that lasts the duration of a chaplain’s service and beyond. Our strict standards and detailed endorsement process enable us to provide quality chaplains for service in environments throughout our country and world.

Download the NAE Chaplaincy Ministry and Endorsement document, or find the relevant information below.

Endorsement

Chaplains for all federal agencies have authorized the Evangelical Chaplains Commission to endorse qualified RMPs as chaplains. Each has standards for chaplaincy that may include citizenship, educational requirements, specialized training, age limitations, National Agency Background Check (criminal and credit), fitness requirements and medical requirements. These agencies defer to religious organizations to establish ministerial requirements and ecclesiastical credentials.

Vocational chaplaincy is professional religious ministry implemented in pluralistic and intercultural institutional settings.Evangelical Chaplains Commission chaplains must be able to function cooperatively with other religious ministry professionals to all persons regardless of their faith identity or lack thereof. Our chaplains accept the responsibility to meet the religious needs of all individuals associated with their respective military unit, government agency or civilian institution, while maintaining the faith standards of the NAE.

The ecclesiastical standards for the Evangelical Chaplains Commission endorsement of men and women to chaplaincy include educational requirements, NAE church membership, credentialing and professional ministerial experience (PME). PME means an applicant has quality experience in performing or conducting those functions that are germane to the particular area of chaplaincy to which he/she is applying. This may include, but is not limited to, pastoral care, teaching, preaching, counseling, administrative leadership, ordinances/sacraments, baptisms, weddings, funerals/memorial services, and religious rites and rituals. Most entities employing chaplains expect the applicant to obtain PME after completing the M.Div. degree.

Chaplains typically encounter persons in all facets of life and seek to engage spiritual resources for meaning, healing, hope and wholeness. Thus, they need to have the skills and ability to:

  1. Conduct ministry for persons whose religious faith parallels that of the chaplain
  2. Make provision for meeting and facilitating the religious needs of those who are adherents of other faith traditions
  3. Offer pastoral care to all persons regardless of their faith, values or lifestyle
  4. Serve as a referral agent in situations where a chaplain is unable to meet a person’s religious needs directly seeking appropriate chaplaincy services for the individual

Calling and Credentialing

In addition to an individual sense of calling to chaplaincy, persons seeking endorsement must have affirmation of their call from their local church.

Evangelical Chaplains Commission endorsement validates that the applicant is professionally credentialed for chaplaincy ministry. As representatives of our movement, our chaplains need to be knowledgeable of our history and supportive of our doctrines, religious practices and spiritual values.

It is the policy of the Evangelical Chaplains Commission that ministerial credentialing is the responsibility and function of the local church in coordination with the respective districts.

The Evangelical Chaplains Commission recognizes ordination for endorsement to chaplaincy. Traditionally, ordination is the highest level of professional ministerial credentialing common to the majority of protestant and evangelical denominations and fellowships.

Endorsement Categories

The Evangelical Chaplains Commission endorses qualified men and women as chaplains to the following entities:

  1. The military branch services (Army, Air Force and Navy)
  2. Health care facilities in the Department of Veterans Affairs
  3. Industrial to include: Correctional facilities in the Bureau of Prisons (Department of Justice); Health care institutions and facilities (hospitals, hospices, palliative-care); Public service (Police, Fire, EMS, FBI), that require endorsement for employment as a chaplain. These institutions may also require that chaplains achieve Board Certification.
  4. Local, regional or state hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, senior citizen centers and health care centers, that do not require official certification or endorsement from the national office of a religious organization
  5. State police departments (local police, fire and emergency response departments and agencies)
  6. City, county and state jails and correctional facilities
  7. Corporate, industrial and business entities

Non-transferability of Endorsements

DOD, the VA and the BOP each have distinctive official endorsement forms. Therefore, an endorsement to one of these is valid only to that agency. Individuals seeking Evangelical Chaplains Commission endorsement for more than one of these entities must have a separate endorsement. Furthermore, chaplain applicants may need to satisfy additional experience and/or training in order to be endorsed to that agency.

Also, DOD, VA and BOP endorsements are not transferable to institutional and healthcare facilities.

Requirements for Endorsement

All chaplaincy categories

  1. Be a member in good standing in a NAE denomination or church and have affirmation by that church of the individual’s call to chaplaincy ministry
  2. Affirm agreement with NAE Statement of Faith
  3. Make application to the Evangelical Chaplains Commission office, and sign and submit all required documents
  4. Be appropriately credentialed (see the following categories for credentialing details)
  5. Have appropriate PME after seminary (see the following categories for specific PME requirements)
  6. Possess the ability to minister in a pluralistic setting
  7. Be willing to facilitate, coordinate and provide religious programs for individuals of all faith groups
  8. Receive a favorable National Agency Check (criminal and credit check)
  9. Satisfy the requirements that follow for the category to which you are applying

View additional requirements for particular chaplaincy

Military Chaplaincy (Active Duty)
  1. Be a U.S. citizen
  2. Have an undergraduate degree (120 semester units) from an accredited educational institution of higher learning recognized by DOD
  3. Have a graduate degree (normally M.Div.) of 96 semester hours (minimum of 72) in a degree granting program from an educational institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools
  4. Have two years PME after seminary
  5. Be credentialed by ordination
  6. Apply for chaplaincy at a local recruiting office
  7. Affirm in writing, acceptance of and willingness to adhere to the Code of Ethics-NCMAF adopted by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces and agreed to by the Military Departments’ Chiefs of Chaplains
  8. Be at the appropriate age for specific service branch and component
  9. Pass physical requirements and medical examination by the armed forces
Military Chaplaincy (Reserve/National Guard)

The requirements for Evangelical Chaplains Commission endorsement for the Reserves and National Guard chaplaincy are the same as those for active duty, except as noted below.

Have at least one year PME after seminary, unless the branch of service specifies a different time period of professional ministry experience.

Veterans Administration Chaplaincy
  1. Be a U.S. citizen
  2. Have an undergraduate degree of 120 semester hours from an accredited institution of higher learning accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education
  3. Have a M.Div. degree (normally 96 semester hours) or its equivalent educational qualifications in a degree granting program from an educational institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools
  4. Have two years PME after seminary in a NAE church
  5. Be credentialed by ordination
  6. Have at least two units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This normally includes 800 hours of supervised ministry in a formal training program.
Bureau of Prisons (Department of Justice) Chaplaincy
  1. Pass a pre-employment physical examination
  2. Have a bachelor’s degree
  3. Possess a M.Div. degree consisting of 90 hours of graduate study from an educational institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools
  4. Complete two years of pastoral/spiritual experience in a congregational or specialized ministry setting after formal graduate education. One year of CPE may satisfy up to one year of this requirement.
Healthcare Chaplaincy (Hospitals, Hospices and Palliative Care)
  1. Have a M.Div. degree or its equivalent in a seminary program for institutional chaplaincy
  2. Have at least one year PME after seminary having performed those functions normally associated with institutional chaplaincy
  3. Be credentialed by licensure at a minimum and preferably by ordination, commissioning or consecration (see the prior section on credentialing)
  4. Affirm acceptance of and willingness to adhere to the Code of Ethics-APC adopted by the Association of Professional Chaplains

Chaplain Candidate Program

Each branch of the military services (Army, Navy and Air Force) has a program for students enrolled in graduate theological education called the Chaplain Candidate program.

Chaplain candidate programs exist for the purpose of familiarizing seminary students with religious support activities and experiences in the military environment. These programs are a means of evaluating the candidate for a commission as a chaplain. Chaplain candidates serve as commissioned officers in the Reserve components of the Military Departments, but they are not chaplains nor authorized to serve as, or function in place of, chaplains.

This program is also a time of discovery for the seminarian. It affords participants the opportunity to experience on-the-job training in the various facets of chaplaincy under the supervision of chaplains. As a participant in the program, the candidate should be able to discern whether to pursue chaplaincy as a profession or career.

Chaplain candidates need to understand that acquiring and fulfilling the professional ministerial experience for endorsement usually follows the completion of one’s graduate educational requirements. Also, normally the next step is to access or supersede to the Reserves or National Guard and not directly to active duty.

Chaplain candidates need to understand that there is no obligation or guarantee on the part of the NAE and the military services to endorse, access or supersede them as a chaplain to the Reserve Component, National Guard or active duty.

The requirements for this program are:

  1. Be a U.S. citizen
  2. Have an undergraduate degree of 120 semester hours from an accredited institution of higher learning
  3. Be enrolled full-time in a graduate program of religious studies at an institution of higher education accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. Applicants for this program should have at least one year of seminary education remaining.
  4. Make application to the NAE. Sign and submit all required documents.
  5. Apply to the military branch of interest
  6. Pass the physical requirements and examination by the Armed Forces
  7. Affirm agreement with the NAE Statement of Faith
  8. Affirm acceptance of and willingness to adhere to the Code of Ethics-NCMAF adopted by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces and agreed to by the Military Departments’ Chiefs of Chaplains
  9. Receive a favorable National Agency Check (criminal and credit)
  10. Be able to complete educational, ecclesiastical and professional experience requirements for appointment as a chaplain prior to reaching the age limitation established by the Military Department to which the applicant is applying

Chaplains Dues

Although the Evangelical Chaplains Commission operates under the authority and is a part of the National Association of Evangelicals, it is not funded or staffed by the parent organization. The Evangelical Chaplains Commission elects its own officers and has its own budget. Operating funds are raised through dues assessed to the chaplains and their religious organizations. Each chaplain or candidate who is endorsed or approved by the Evangelical Chaplains Commission is required to pay annual dues in addition to those paid by their church. 

  • Chaplains who draw their endorsement from the Evangelical Chaplains Commission are assessed at 2.5 percent of their monthly base pay. These include military, Veterans Affairs, Institutional, civil air patrol, police, fire department, hospital and prison chaplains. Chaplains endorsed by the Evangelical Chaplains Commission are assessed at 2.5 percent of their monthly chaplain income. They are paid monthly through Electronic Funds Transfers (EFTs).
  • Chaplain Candidates and chaplains in Non-Paying Military Status pay annual dues at a rate of $50.