Church in a Laundromat: The parallels of church planting and chaplaincy

Converge chaplaincy

by Chaplain 1st Lt. Peter Owens

During my first inactive duty training weekend as a chaplain in the Michigan Army National Guard, I was determined to hold a traditional worship service. My first challenge came in trying to schedule a time and facility for this service. No easy task. I had to share buildings and training time with competing interests. I scheduled a time and a building for my service to be held after evening chow, usually a good time for soldiers to attend. I had my plan, my sermon and my bulletins. I was ready for action. My assistant posted the time and location on the chow hall doors, and we advertised by word of mouth. Right after chow I went to my reserved building to set up for service, only to find there was a leadership meeting in the exact spot, at the exact time as my service. I also was expected to be at the meeting with our new brigade commander. I was outranked, overruled and over-scheduled.

Standing outside the building, where I could no longer hold service, I was at a loss of what do. I had two competing interests and there was not enough of me to go around. As I stood there, feeling about as useful as a pair of night vision goggles during the day, two soldiers walked up. One soldier had a rifle, one did not. They told me they were looking for the chaplain. The one without the rifle was sent by his platoon leader to see the chaplain for counseling. The other soldier, with the rifle, was his battle buddy, since the soldier without a rifle could not to be left alone. I pulled him aside. We sat on a guard railing beside the road and I asked him, “What’s going on?”  He told me, “I’m struggling with homicidal and suicidal idealization.”

So there I was, expected to be at a leadership meeting in a few minutes and to hold my first service as an Army chaplain at the same time. Now I was counseling a soldier, who was struggling with homicidal and suicidal thoughts.

Pulled in three directions

I was unsure what to do as I counseled that soldier about very serious issues, with two other pending events on my mind. Flexibility was key and being willing to change locations saved the day. I counseled and prayed with the soldier and made sure he was safe and had follow-up counseling. Then I rushed to my leadership meeting, while my assistant set up the service in a Laundromat across the street. My executive officer released me from the meeting early, and I rushed to my service in the Laundromat. It was not how I planned it, but it was a successful service and a learning experience for a new chaplain.

I’ve also become part of the leadership at Christ Community Church, a Converge church plant in Dearborn, Michigan. I’m struck by some similarities between church planting and chaplaincy, seemingly, very different ministries. Both require flexibility in their approaches and mobility in their applications.

In church planting, as in my chaplaincy, we can get into situations in which we have competing expectations. When do we start Sunday morning services? Where will we meet? How do we pay for a building? What does Converge expect us to do? What does our church planter expect? How will we do ministry and what will it look like? Sometimes we are unsure of our next move.

We need to be flexible in ministry and be willing to be mobile. Christ Community Church has met at homes, parks, apartment recreational rooms and currently we meet at a retirement home. Chaplaincy and church planting are not always what we might expect. We must be flexible in our expectations and willing to change what our ministry looks like to be effective. Neither the Army chaplaincy or church planting is done in a little white church building with a steeple and a bell. Sometimes you have services in a concrete Laundromat or at a picnic table in a city park. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and you have to juggle competing responsibilities and interests. Chaplaincy and church planting are not always neat and organized, but if we are flexible and mobile, we can do ministry anywhere.

Ch. 1st Lt. Peter Owns serves in the 1-125 Infantry Battalion for the Michigan Army National Guard, and as an elder in training at Christ Community Church in Dearborn, Michigan.

    Point - Summer 2018

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