How War Changes Pastoral Identity

The path toward self-discovery can lead to the realization of who you are and whose you are. Every single person, no matter what sphere of work they belong to, face some kind of identity crisis, and pastors are no exception.

Feelings of inadequacy and isolation may haunt one during the distressing times of war. The horrific sights of war may get the strongest of personalities to falter and crumble. War can be gruesome and can have harrowing, atrocious and nauseating memories. Maintaining a peaceful attitude during and even after those grim times can be nothing less than a challenge. Interviews reveal that the intense feeling of guilt faced by chaplains is primarily because of the death of soldiers. Chaplains tend to feel powerless when their prayers weren’t answered and lives are still lost in the war.

First Mark of Changed Pastoral Identity

The first mark of well-developed pastoral identity is when mature chaplains see themselves in a position where their feelings of powerlessness are resolved, as they cease to see themselves as someone who can fix everything. In order to retain their identity, Chaplains need to realize that it is their work to retain faith in Christ and carry forward in life. That we humans are mere mortals and Chaplains are the instrument of God. Ergo, Chaplains need to remind themselves that their identity lies not in their occupation but in Christ for whom they labor.

Second Mark of ChangedPastoral Identity

The second mark of positive change in identity is brought about by a diminished sense of pride and an increased sense of humility. A.W. Tozer in his book “Pursuit of God” described that putting down the burden of pretense and pride were the only relief. This marks a contrast as immature Chaplains seem to have the notion that they are super-humans, god-like and need to be treated as superior to all. In terms of humility, a certain Chaplain had explained this idea as restoration of faith. As described in the Book of Genesis (3:1-19) humankind’s fall from grace was because of the greed to be godlike. A true sense of humility can be achieved during the pre-fall period. When all power is lost and powerlessness sets in, it makes one humble and calm. That is the time when one can feel a connection with the Lord, the Savior. It enables one to feel secure and face each day as it comes with utmost modesty.

Third Mark of Changed Pastoral Identity

Chaplains highly value their contributions in the sphere of soldier care. This is the third mark of changed Chaplains. In this, they share the experiences of what they do. For instance, changed Chaplains have suggested during interviews that something as simple as listening can be really helpful for the soldiers. The feelings of powerlessness and identity crisis strikes, the Chaplain explains, when they hear about the suffering and misery of the soldiers and want to help them but they can’t, all they can do is listen. Immature Chaplains are highly burdened by the emotional turmoil and cannot find any meaning of their purpose as listeners of those in pain. In contrast to that, changed Chaplains understand the utility of being present as God’s incarnate representative. They understand that God is omnipresent and the only comfort they can provide to the soldiers in the face of anguish is through listening patiently and providing reassurance. A tranquil presence in the midst of morbidness can be a positive change for the soldiers. And changed Chaplains believe in that.

Fourth Mark of Changed Pastoral Identity

The fourth mark of changed pastoral identity lies in the awareness of finiteness. The changed Chaplains know that they aren’t responsible for the actions of the soldiers and therefore are disconnected with the guilt. There are two sides to this – active and passive. The active component is when Chaplains’ intentionally refuse taking up responsibility for the issues of soldiers. The passive component is when Chaplains are starkly aware of the need to accept their own finiteness. Listening to the soldiers may cause emotional trauma to the Chaplains. The heavy burden of guilt on their shoulders might wear them down to a limit where they begin to take personal responsibility for the actions of the soldiers. The need to intentionally or starkly refuse to accept the guilt of the soldiers is a direct retainment of pastoral identity.

Ultimate Mark of a Changed Chaplain

The ultimate mark of a changed chaplain is when they realize the strength they possess in their powerlessness. Many believers live by the idea that God’s strength lies in the weakness of humans. Changed Chaplains have shown acceptance toward that idea and abide by the powers of the Divine. Helplessness arises when you do not rely on the Lord to take care of things and make everything okay. The loss of identity is due to the lack of faith in the eternal savior. The power toward truth is through belief in oneself and on the Lord.

War truly has a massive impact on the lives of all it touches. It causes emotional, physical, financial and material damage that can be irreversible. In the midst of all the misery, all one can do is hold on to one’s faith, and believe. Loss of identity during these horrific times may be unavoidable but it is surely not unbeatable.


  1. Chaplain Jaques–Great to hear from you again… And to read some deep thoughts. This is very much a concern for me as I have observed too many Chaplains not finish well. Truthfully, I’m tired and didn’t comprehend everything you wrote just now… I will reread it tomorrow when I have more of my faculties. What else are you doing besides writing? How is your family? —

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