An examination of the contemporary challenges to the pastoral authority of a Christian chaplain who ministers in a secular medical institution with implications for holistic care

Thumbnail Image




Acolatse, Esther

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats




Lori Anne Brown

Duke Divinity School, 2015

Primary Advisor: Esther Acolatse

Assistant Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and World Christianity

Secondary Advisor: Dean Sujin Pak

Assistant Research Professor of the History of Christianity; Associate Dean for Academic Programs

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the challenges that Christian chaplains experience to their authority in secular medical institutions and to explore possible recommendations that can help alleviate them. More specifically, by means of a questionnaire this examination intends to explore if these challenges are both or either personal or institutionally related. Therefore, this examination should be a resource that encourages the Christian chaplain to be an informed interlocutor pertaining to the issues of what his or her God-given authority means. Lastly, this thesis will demonstrate why it is essential for chaplains to know, understand, accept, and embrace the God-given authority bestowed upon them to minister effectively and competently in secular medical institutions.

Key Terms

For the purpose of this study, seven terms require annotation. First, the term “Christian chaplains” refers to individuals who have been baptized, profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, who ascribe to the orthodoxy and orthopraxis of the Christian faith, and who minister in secular medical institutions. Second, the term “secular medical institution” denotes a public, non-religious institution that provides medical care for people. Thirdly, the term “living human document,” which was coined by Anton Boisen, refers to those to whom Christian chaplains minister. This group includes patients, their families and friends, and the chaplain’s colleagues. Fourth, the term “voices of suffering” refers to the patients who share their narratives while seeking pastoral care. Fifth, the term “bearing witness” refers to the belief that as Christians we are called to develop the skills to bear witness in both word and deed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sixth, the term “narratives” refers to the personal stories that patients share. The seventh term “holistic care” is a concept in medical practice that upholds and respects all aspects of a person’s needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

I employed three methods in this thesis. The first method was exploratory research to review and study literature to support my argument. The second was to use a method of analogy. In this method, the anecdotal evidence was aggregated in correlation with personal related experiences to help Christian chaplains to learn how to minister effectively in the challenging contexts of the secular medical institution. Moreover, this was done in order to examine how the Christian chaplain can learn to walk competently and effectively with authority between the worlds of religion and medicine. Third, I used a confidential questionnaire to gather additional information from seven Christian chaplains who have ministered or are currently ministering in this context to support the argument of this thesis, as well as to offer recommendations that can help alleviate some of the challenges they experience regarding their authority.

The basic conclusion drawn from the examination and methods employed is that Christian chaplains do experience various types of challenges to their authority than can impact their ministry. However, the conclusion demonstrates that as a result to their commitment to the call of chaplaincy, chaplains recognize that irrespective of the challenges they experience to their authority they are called to compassionately and effectively serve the sick and suffering. Moreover, as a result of their commitment to the call of health care chaplaincy, the chaplains have provided their insight that indicates why some of these challenges exist. Lastly, as a result of the questionnaire the participants provide some practical recommendations that can be implemented into CPE programs, which could possibly help alleviate some of types of the challenges they encounter to their pastoral authority.


Doctor of Ministry




Brown, Lori Anne (2015). An examination of the contemporary challenges to the pastoral authority of a Christian chaplain who ministers in a secular medical institution with implications for holistic care. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.