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WELS Chaplaincy Certification Program FAQs


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1. What is a chaplain?

Webster’s New World College Dictionary says, “…3. a clergyman, or sometimes a layman, appointed to perform religious functions in a public institution…” A chaplain, then, is distinguished from the parish pastor because his chaplaincy is performed in a public institution as he ministers to those in a hospital, nursing home, jail or prison, or to those in the military and their families. A parish pastor might also serve as a chaplain on a part-time basis at one of those facilities.


2. What is Chaplain Certification?

The WELS Chaplain Certification Program (CCP) is designed to raise professional standards, enhance individual performance of ministry, and demonstrate the knowledge essential for the practice of chaplaincy care.


3. What is the process toward obtaining WELS Chaplain Certification?

  • The candidate submits an application to the WELS Commission on Special Ministries with the appropriate application fee (presently $25).
  • The application is reviewed by the CCP’s Application Review Committee (ARC). Professional and personal references are contacted.
  • If all information is complete, the ARC recommends to the CCP that the applicant be accepted into the program.
  • After the CCP accepts the applicant, an advisor from the CCP is selected to work with the applicant.
    • The advisor and applicant meet (face-to-face, if possible) to set up a program of study and practice.
    • The advisor and applicant will review the applicant’s previous work and study experience and grant experiential learning credit where possible.
    • If necessary, the advisor will assist the applicant in identifying a clinical pastoral education (CPE) course that will fulfill an elective of the program.
    • The applicant will fulfill the WELS required courses (or CPE requirements) for certification.
    • Upon successful completion of the requirements, certification is granted by the WELS Commission on Special Ministries for an initial period of three years.


4. What courses are required for certification?

The WELS Chaplain Certification Program is presently offering four basic courses and two electives. The electives are offered for those who want to specialize in a particular area of chaplaincy.

  • Basic course one: THE9520 “Communicating Forgiveness” – A study of the scriptural meaning of forgiveness and the many ways this truth can be communicated vividly and meaningfully by God’s messengers.
  • Basic course two: THE9521 “A Scriptural Approach to Addiction Counseling” – A study of addictions, especially substance abuse and pornography, and the ways Christians try to help through Law/Gospel counseling and referral.
  • Basic course three: THE9522 “Your Chaplaincy and Ethical Issues” – A practicum in chaplaincy requiring a field site and discussion of chaplaincy issues and experiences.
  • Basic course four: THE9532 “Chaplaincy Seminar”- A weeklong, face-to-face seminar following the fieldwork course including group interaction and portfolio presentations to the Chaplain Certification Program Committee.
  • Elective one: THE9542 “Frontline Chaplaincy” - This elective is specially designed for those who would serve as chaplains to people on the frontline of the defense of our society, namely the military, the police and firefighters, and their families.
  • Elective two: THE9523 “Ministry to the Incarcerated and Their Families” - A study of service to the incarcerated and their families and the ways in which jail ministries can be established.
  • While ecclesiastical endorsement requires specific theological training, other religious training may be provided through studies and certification based on the type/level of chaplaincy that is desired or required by the calling body/hiring agency.

Note that other courses or experience might qualify for experiential learning credits for these courses. These courses are open to all – pastors, teachers, staff ministers, lay men, and lay women. One does not have to be accepted into the CCP to take the courses. The courses may also be a part of the individual’s personal continuing education program.


5. What other requirements are there to become a chaplain?

Agencies which utilize chaplains will have different religious requirements. Some chaplaincy work requires ecclesiastical endorsement.


6. What do I have to do to maintain my certification?

Continuing education units of credit (CEUs) will be required to maintain one’s certification active.  


7. What is ecclesiastical endorsement?

Ecclesiastical endorsement is the church’s affirmation that the worker is religiously trained, a member in good standing with his/her denomination, and is performing or will perform a valid ministry in the name of that denomination. A form is available for trained WELS workers to request ecclesiastical endorsement.


8. What level of theological training is required for WELS ecclesiastical endorsement?

The applicant will have to have completed the religious training required to achieve a certificate or diploma for his/her position, whether pastor, teacher, staff minister, evangelist, congregational assistant, etc.


9. How might I use my chaplaincy certification and ecclesiastical endorsement?

Ministry can be carried out in many different facilities. Those facilities might include, but are not limited to, a children’s home, a general hospital, a hospice, a mental health facility, jails, prisons and other correctional institutions, half-way homes, retirement communities, substance abuse clinics, and military installations.


10. Why do I need chaplaincy certification and ecclesiastical endorsement?

Many healthcare facilities, jails and prisons, and military bases are tightening their requirements for ministry in their facilities, especially if a pastor wants to reach out to more than just his own members or a layperson wants to do chaplaincy work. Endorsement is required for membership and certification in virtually all professional chaplaincy associations. It is also a demonstration of the chaplain’s commitment to professional competency and accountability to the mission of the church.


11. What is Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)?

CPE is professional education for ministry. It brings students into a supervised clinical setting. The concepts of CPE are included in the required course: “Your Chaplaincy and Ethical Issues.” The essential elements of CPE training are:

  • The actual practice of ministry to persons in need
  • Detailed reporting and evaluation of that practice
  • Pastoral supervision
  • A small group of peers in a common learning experience


12. Where does one conduct fieldwork or CPE training?

The fieldwork / CPE programs are offered through health care institutions, hospitals of all kinds (e.g. general, university, children's, psychiatric, military, VA), geriatric centers, hospices, parishes, mental health facilities, correctional institutions, and a variety of other settings.


13. How many CPE units are required for certification?

No CPE units are required in this program, unless the program participant chooses to use CPE as an elective. If a person also wants to be certified by a national certifying agency, those agencies may require additional units. One unit might be a daily course for nine weeks or it might be one day a week for nine months (400 hours). Each program has different requirements.


14. What are the costs to be certified and endorsed?

The costs for the three basic WELS courses through MLC are about $850 each. The courses earn credits through Martin Luther College, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The costs for the CPE program vary by institution. There is no charge for endorsement.