Connections: Alvin F. Worthley
Feb. 9, 2014
New Roles for Chaplains
Assemblies of God Chaplaincy has been a department of AG U.S. Missions since 1973, and Alvin F. Worthley has served as director of Chaplaincy Ministries since 2003. Under Worthley’s leadership, the number of endorsed chaplains has increased to 610 from 372, and 13 new areas of chaplaincy ministry have been developed, including cattle ranching, domestic violence, human trafficking, and stock car racing. Worthley recently sat down with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
evangel: You have overseen a great expansion in the number of chaplains as well as the scope of what constitutes chaplaincy. Why are chaplains needed in areas of society not considered before?
ALVIN F. WORTHLEY: I like to look at the religious landscape in America. Look at the statistics on dropouts, the people who no longer go to church. Where do they go when they need a clergyperson? Chaplains meet them at their point of need. For that reason alone, I think we need quite a few more chaplains in various areas where people have a tendency to congregate.
evangel: What are examples?
WORTHLEY: Nathan and Sarah Moore are ministering among the rock-climbing community, and Ricky and Amy Van Pay are involved in triathlons. They go to people who have checked out of society on weekends. Such people need the church to come to them if they are going to be reached. The best avenue and the accepted avenue is chaplaincy.
When clergy meet people right where they are — in business, in the military, in hospitals, in prisons — they often find people ready to talk about spirituality. It’s a great opportunity to represent Christ.
evangel: You are an advocate of laypeople being involved in ministry. How can the average Christian help?
WORTHLEY: Laypeople are getting involved in many ways. For instance, auto unions have allowed chaplains to come on board as long as they are part of their work force, and those chaplains are really making a difference. The layperson who knows his or her faith can meet people who are afraid of clergy. That kind of interaction is being incarnational.
evangel: Let’s focus on an area that is a passion of yours — helping the ex-inmate transition back to society. What should churchgoers do to help?
WORTHLEY: A church needs to look at the whole issue. A church can’t just say, “We’re going to invite ex-offenders in and let them be a part of our church.” No. 1, the inmates are afraid of local churches; they are afraid of what people are going to say about them. No. 2, ex-offenders shouldn’t be put up front as “trophies of Christianity.” They should be allowed to assimilate into the local congregation without fanfare. They should have people come alongside them, speaking into their lives and explaining what’s going on in church. Churches need to have mentors or coaches to help them in the process.
evangel: What can the Scriptures mean to someone behind bars?
WORTHLEY: A new, personal Bible inmates can keep for their own is very important. The type of language used is important as well. A lot of inmates need a limited-vocabulary Bible. For many inmates in segregation, the Bible is the only literature they can have in their cell. They can come to faith in Christ because of reading the Bible.
evangel: AG chaplains are some of the best qualified in the nation. Tell us about the training they go through.
WORTHLEY: We have strong standards for obtaining denominational endorsement. Most of the chaplaincy programs in prison systems are asking for people with a Master of Divinity degree. They should know apologetics. They need to know doctrine — and other people’s doctrine. They need to know how to exegete Scripture.
There are opportunities for clinical pastoral education, which takes them out of the classroom to look at real people with real issues in the same way the medical field does. In addition to the educational requirements, it’s important to learn about life and how to function in society. A good chaplain is going to have to be able to read people.