Many professional spiritual care givers come through a training process similar or identical, to that of local church clergy. However, since the two roles are distinct, the chaplain’s competencies should be clearly noted. Chaplains and pastors are two distinct roles.

Fundamentally, the preparation for professional chaplaincy should be rigorous and include a solid foundation of academic, theological and personal spiritual maturity. To that end, the common qualifications urge appropriate undergraduate and graduate-level theological education from an institution duly accredited. Chaplains must have the basic education, self-awareness, and critical judgment skills to avoid causing harm—mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The Canadian Association for Spiritual Care/Association canadienne de soins spirituels (www.spiritualcare.ca) has its own scope of practice, standards of practice, and competencies, viewable at http://www.spiritualcare.ca/profession/. However, other local seniors’ facilities and hospitals have their own competency lists. This brief document gives an overview of the competencies needed for “evangelical chaplains” who serve in diverse settings.

  • In general, chaplains and spiritual care givers grasp the theories of spiritual care, psychology, theology, social science, ethics, group dynamics, and basic research. Chaplains must be able to demonstrate a basic working knowledge of these theories and apply these theories specifically to spiritual care. Their grasp of biblical and theological issues focuses upon the application of such topics to the world of adults in general and senior adults in particular.
  • Evangelical chaplains recognize that faith has impacted their own spiritual practices; and while these personal convictions are not compromised in their daily duties, the chaplain does requires a sensitivity to the setting in which they serve. For example, some non-Western traditions and religions, such as Islam or Buddhism, have a rigorous, practice-based pathway of formation and development of the spiritual leader. Another example found in senior communities includes those from Jehovah Witness or Mormon traditions, each with distinct religious needs. Of course, one of the largest groups of residents will be those from a Catholic tradition; and thus the chaplain will ensure the rites of the Catholic residents are met.
  • The specific competency of “ongoing research and research literacy” is an example of how the competencies continue to develop as the chaplain matures. Chaplains need to know how to read and assess current research.The value and effectiveness of spiritual care must be demonstrated through ongoing research and reading so chaplains can show how their practice contributes to the well-being of care recipients.
  • Others competencies specific to chaplaincy include the chaplain’s ability to self-reflect, including on professional strengths and limits; and, understand how practice is affected by my feelings, attitudes, values. The chaplain is not simply a friendly visitor to the care recipient but has the knowledge, expertise, and experience needed to address the spiritual needs of the care recipient. The chaplain, like all the other team members, remains a professional.
  • Another competency requires chaplains to demonstrate that they affirm and operate within the framework of their profession’s common code of ethics, which always respects the religious and cultural beliefs of the care recipient. This is a central distinguishing feature of professional chaplaincy, often separating a clinically trained chaplain from a clergy. Operating within the framework of the code of ethics also is essential for the chaplain to be an advocate for the care recipient’s needs. Without respect for what matters to the care recipient, the chaplain cannot provide care.
  • Other competencies within the scope of practice for chaplains include the mature ability to engage in relationships, provide effective support, manage crises, and facilitate group process. In short, chaplains have exceptional people skills. They have learned how to listen well and intentionally.
  • As an integrated member of the care team, the chaplain is responsible for assessing the spiritual needs of the care recipient and formulating a plan of care with interventions, goals, and anticipated outcomes. Although some of the chaplain’s functions may overlap with other disciplines, the spiritual assessment and plan of care is the chaplain’s area of expertise and must be articulated and coordinated into the recipient’s plan of care. This is a competency the chaplain must master with an economy of words and great clarity. Legal documentation demonstrates accountability to the care recipient and to the organization. This function also distinguishes the work of a professional chaplain as distinct from a community clergy person, who may provide a religious support for the care recipient.
  • Evangelical chaplains function from a distinctive perspective, as do all chaplains. With the inherent convictions of this group, such chaplains gently walk alongside residents on their spiritual journey, prodding, asking questions, offering input when asked and listening to the promptings of God during their daily routine.
  • The chaplain serves the wider organization—the healthcare system through integration of spiritual care into the life and service of the employees. The chaplain can and should contribute to staff support for those who experience moral distress. To accomplish this, competencies address integration of spiritual care, maintaining interdisciplinary relationships, and functioning within the institutional culture, including using business practices to manage their department.
  • Evangelical chaplains are often called to either plan or oversee church services and bible studies; therefore they learn the fine art of speaking to senior adults about biblical themes and issues. They know how senior adults learn and seek to present spiritual concepts in accessible and applicable ways.
  • Professional chaplains appropriately use technology to enhance delivery of care and advance the work of the profession. Chaplains must use a variety of technologies appropriate for their professional context, including smartphones, software, and e-mail, to facilitate and provide chaplaincy care in today’s world. They stay alert to new devices that can assist residents with such matters as music listening, Skyping with family members and emailing friends.
  • Business Acumen Professional chaplains value and utilize business principles and practices and compliance with regulatory requirements appropriate to the chaplain’s role in the organization. This may be as simple as understanding and supporting the overall mission and values of the organization and contributing to their realization. For chaplains in leadership roles, their responsibilities may involve more complex knowledge and skills, including budgeting, compliance, talent acquisition and management, and strategic planning.

Written by Rev. David Van Essen