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Honest Ministry

The other day I was with several pastors talking about fire chaplaincy and firefighters, and one of the pastors asked me, “How are we [as churches] screwing up with our first responders?”

I thought that was an honest and excellent question.

But before I could answer, someone else piped up and started talking about the Sundays some churches set aside to honor first responders. As we discussed these events, the pastors finally admitted they really use them as an evangelistic tool in order to reach first responders who don’t attend their church. While I’m all for reaching our first responders for Christ, we all came to agree that there was something disingenuous about what they were doing.

First responders see and hear a lot. They see the consequences of the fall of mankind and they see people lying to their faces about what has happened. And yes, people will lie directly to the chaplain too. Not only does that make first responders a little cynical, but it also makes them not trusting. They don’t usually take things on face value from people they don’t know. So, when a church invites them to visit them so they can “honor” them as first responders, most of them already know (or think they know) that there is an angle or agenda behind it, such as evangelism. Then the church is left wondering why more first responders don’t show up.

My suggestion to these pastors was this. Show love to first responders without the expectation that they will ever darken the door of your church. Don’t expect them to come to you; go to them.

Thank them for their service, then find out what meets their needs. Go and talk with the chief. Make a meal for them before their drill night…no strings attached. Become a resource in the community when there is a house fire, tragedy, or natural disaster. Offer to supply food, water, or clothing as a community partner. When they do a smoke alarm blitz (checking and installing smoke alarms), offer to help as a community partner. And maybe best of all, encourage one of your people to join the department as a chaplain.

As I said, I really think reaching out to first responders is a good thing, otherwise I wouldn’t be a chaplain. And I do believe there are times to invite them into our community. But let’s be honest about what we are doing. Let’s honestly love these people. And if we want to honor them, then do so without any expectation except a heartfelt “thank you.”

Chaplain Chris M. Wade

Vice President

South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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