At Northshore Community Church, Kirkland, Washington, pastor Jonathan Alexander has a healthy congregation that is planting churches, sending missionaries and engaging in the local community at a high level. But he’s leaving it all. Why?
To serve as a chaplain in the United States Navy.
Originally from Texas, Jonathan graduated from Texas A&M in 1993 and was commissioned in the Army as an active duty infantry officer. He and his wife Paige were newly married, and after a few years began to feel the pull into ministry. Jonathan went to Dallas Theological Seminary, thinking he would serve as an Army Chaplain.
“God just steered us in a different way. I was in the local church for the past 17 years,” Jonathan said. “But this summer (2016), we took a 10-week sabbatical and spent time in Germany with my brother-in-law, who is an Army Lieutenant Colonel. I felt passion again for our military.”
Jonathan wasn’t able to shake this new dream God had given him. He spoke with a retired Navy Chaplain and started pursuing this new role in October 2016. Converge endorses chaplains, and as a self-described “Converge guy,” he knew it was the right step. Jonathan describes himself as a person who needs a new adventure every two to three years, so taking on this new role didn’t come as a surprise to those who know him well.
“I go into a team or an organization and I realign it, building teams and strategy,” he said. “When I began to think of long-term pastors who stay for 30-plus years, I knew that wasn’t me, and I had to be honest with myself.”
In the Navy, Jonathan has been commissioned as a lieutenant. The way he explains it, Navy Chaplains have two collars on their uniform. On one collar is his lieutenant rank insignia. As a Navy Staff Officer, he advises commanders to help assess the spiritual, moral and emotional wellbeing of sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen under their care, as well as ensuring the free exercise of religion for all personnel in his unit. That means he will have men and women of all faiths and religions including Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and agnostics.
On the other collar is a cross that he will wear proudly. As a Christian Chaplain, his job is to provide ministry and spiritual support to those of his own faith group, while sharing the uniqueness of the Christian faith with those who are interested in discovering more.
“If I’m with a Marine battalion, and we are deployed to Iraq, I’m in the field with them,” Jonathan said. “I’m praying with them and for them. Chaplains call it a ministry of presence, just being there and providing religious services – whether it’s communion or a worship service in the middle of Afghanistan. Chaplains deploy with their units.”
The Alexanders will move every two to three years with this new role. Jonathan’s wife, Paige, is excited to minister to military families back at base. Due to Jonathan’s prior military service, he says they know the ride they are in for. So what about the church they are leaving?
Northshore Community Church has experienced an incredible season. Jonathan took over the pastorate from Jan Hettinga a decade ago. They’ve experienced people coming to Jesus, baptisms and planted two churches.
One of his goals was to get the church more engaged in local missions. They started a community serve day, when 2000 people go out and serve their local school districts. Jonathan says this idea has spread to about 15 cities in the Seattle area.
“That’s been my favorite thing these past 10 years,” Jonathan said. “It was a challenge and inspiring to engage our local community for the sake of the gospel. Local and global missions and church planting are who we are as a church.”
Jonathan will spend three months in training on the East Coast, and then he and his family will be stationed at Coast Guard Base National Capital Region in Washington, D.C., supporting chaplains who serve over 48,000 active and reserve Coast Guard personnel. He says being a chaplain is more than serving the military. It’s being separated from family, on constant alert with the sea services and experiencing constant stress alongside those assigned to his care.
“The importance of chaplaincy is the same as sending missionaries into predominately non-Christian contexts and bringing the power of the gospel to them,” he said. “I want Converge pastors and families to know you don’t need prior military service background to be drawn to this. If you like varied ministries every two to three years, love a challenge and have a pastoral calling, just think about it.”