Confession of a chaplain: "I shouldn't be here"

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Maj.) Jeff Granger
  • 65th Air Base Wing Chapel
My secret is I shouldn't be here. I was disqualified from becoming a chaplain. Now that I have that off my chest, let me share with you why that is helpful to know. The Enlisted Force Structure, AFI 36-2618, says that Airmen must be spiritually ready to accomplish the mission.

Spiritual readiness is described as "the development of those personal qualities needed to help a person through times of stress, hardship, and tragedy." The definition is clear, but it begs the question, "What are 'those personal qualities,' and how do we develop them?" This is where my story serves as an illustration.

I was a line officer for 10 years. God called me to ministry very clearly in 1998. I separated from active duty in 1999 with the plan to return as a chaplain. As I was getting out, I met a promotion board for major. I received incorrect advice from the personnel office which told me that my date of separation (DOS) would be "masked" from the board. This was incorrect, and I was not selected for promotion because I had a DOS, and the Chaplain Corps said I was ineligible to return as a chaplain because I was passed over.

I was crushed by the news, but I had faith that ministering for God was more important than whether or not I was an Air Force chaplain. I completed seminary and began to seek placement in a church. However, I was in my late 30s by this time and while I had extensive vocational experience, I didn't have church experience. I made the short list for a number of church positions, but was never the one chosen because the desirable choice was either a younger pastor for youth ministry, or a more experienced one for adult ministry.

My discouragement is hard to describe, and I slowly declined into depression. My wife thought I might have to find secular employment, but I had faith that God intended to use me in ministry. This was an important time in my spiritual development, because I would not known how committed I am to be a pastor unless I went through these difficulties. It was just a matter of enduring until I found the right place.

I still had a passion to serve the military, so I returned to the Air Force chaplain recruiter. It turned out that the door to the Air Force opened back up. While in seminary, I had joined the Inactive Ready Reserves, and I was promoted to major. That promotion eliminated the non-selection from my record. This, and many other factors, all showed me that it is only by God's grace that I am an Air Force chaplain, because I shouldn't be here.

So, what personal qualities did I develop to enable me to be spiritual ready? Since I know that this is the place God wants me to serve, I am able to persevere despite facing frustrations and disappointments. When I face challenges, I know God will also work beyond my power to help solve them. In addition, God built my spiritual strength through the difficulties I endured before returning to active duty.

You may have a spiritual perspective different than mine. But in general, when we have a spiritual perspective, we have a perspective that there is more to life than immediate circumstances--there is a big picture that extends beyond what we can see. When we have this perspective, we can handle hardship and tragedy with strength that is beyond our own abilities.

My experience and my ongoing spiritual exercises have prepared me to be spiritually ready for the mission. Are you?