One of the fundamental differences between ministering in a church and chaplaincy is location. We root the pastor in their church or particular place of worship and may conduct visitations to parishioners, but essentially offers pastoral consolation in a specific area. The chaplain, however, is a field worker who ministers in a public or private setting, such as the military, hospital, or corporate environment. The criteria of the chaplain vs. the pastor are detailed below.

      Unlike the local pastor, the chaplain works as part of a team in the military or police setting. To gain trust and build close bonds with the body of individuals to which they minister. The chaplain experiences the same trials and challenges their people’s group must endure, gaining trust through the continuing perception as a team member. In the civil or military occupation, the chaplain lives the example of their faith to offer spiritual inspiration to the believer and the churched. Local pastors minister to their flock at church and provide local soul care.

Shared Traits

      Bohman notes, “For salt to be effective, it must get out of its container and into the world of hurting, dying, suffering, sinning people.”[1] By demonstrating the character of a Christian that lives the gospel, the chaplain has the unique opportunity to offer their testimony to Christ and witness where appropriate. Unlike the local pastor, the chaplain handles normalization and education on spiritual perspectives to persons of all faiths, even those with no specific religion.

The pastor and the chaplain share the traits found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 in that their character should be well established and of an individual standing in their struggle against sin. By being of one spouse and having control of their family and affairs, both occupations show humility and submission to Scripture. Chaplain work requires the spiritual gift of one-on-one counsel and ministry, but Scripture does not specify this quality as necessary.

The Biblical Perspective

The quotes from 1 Timothy and Titus provide many relevant criteria for the pastor, elder, or chaplain but are not all-inclusive. Positions of authority in the church require a person to be deeply spiritual with the ability to see the unspoken needs of their flock. Thiselton says, “Many of these characteristics, although fewer, are expected of the deacon. It clearly is not a formal list, for Paul was not married.”[2]

The criteria for elders, pastors, and chaplains are not defined at length in Scripture, but the occupations require unique practice skills. The pastor must educate and lead his flock while the chaplain provides a presence and consoling influence on those in crisis because of circumstance or trauma.


Bohlman, Brian Laurence and Brian L. Bohman. For God and Country: Considering the Call to Military Chaplaincy (Revised Edition). West Columbia, SC: Chaplain Resource Center, 2015.

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015.

[1] Anthony C. Thiselton, Ministry, The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015).

[2] Brian Laurence Bohlman and Brian L. Bohman, For God and Country: Considering the Call to Military Chaplaincy (Revised Edition) (West Columbia, SC: Chaplain Resource Center, 2015), 37.

see also: After Evangelicalism