What Does a Chaplain Do? (Plus Where They Work)

More than half of adults in the U.S. consider religion to be an important aspect of their lives. A Pew Research Center study reveals that 47% of adults deem religion to be ‘very important’ and 23% consider it to be ‘somewhat important.’

Individuals with religious affiliations often belong to communities that share their same beliefs and world views. They can look to religious leaders — such as chaplains and pastors — for spiritual guidance, moral support, and advice about life decisions.

Chaplains and pastors minister to individuals regularly by leading religious services or offering spiritual guidance. The core responsibilities of the two roles are similar. Each occupation also necessitates an educational background in spiritual studies, such as a master’s in divinity or spiritual care. However, when considering the career path of chaplain vs. pastor, there are some differences.

Simply stated, chaplains offer spiritual care in the clinical setting. “Spiritual care” has to do with issues of meaning, hope, and transcendence that are often more pronounced during illness, injury, birth and death.

What does a Chaplain do?

Where do chaplains work?

Where a chaplain works will dictate their duties: Chaplains can work in many different environments:


Hospital chaplains may work with staff or patients in a hospital setting, helping patients and their familys prepare for an upcoming procedure. They may also work in a nursing home setting, assisting residents in coping with changing medical needs. Chaplains also offer guidance to staff members, helping them explore their beliefs and how they impact their careers.


Prison chaplains provide support and guidance to incarcerated people. They work directly with inmates and staff, understanding challenges and helping reduce recidivism rates. They may also lead and direct religious services and offer individual counseling to inmates with specific religious beliefs. Additionally, some lead volunteer programs made up of inmates.


Deployed military members may not always have access to religious services. An on-site chaplain can provide them with the services and support they need. Chaplains may also work with other types of first responders, like police or firefighters. Some chaplains may also provide counseling services to the families of deployed soldiers.


Chaplains may also work in the school setting. While they will primarily work with staff members following a crisis, they may also provide guidance to students and the local community. They will also directly oversee all religious services and groups on campus. Some school chaplains may provide faith-specific services in a religious school.


Chaplains may also work in a higher-educational setting, mentoring and educating students who want to become chaplains. In this environment, they will prepare lesson plans, teach classes and organize internship experiences. A chaplain may also provide support to staff members or students in a college setting following a crisis.

Mental health department

Chaplains may work in an inpatient mental health department, assisting patients with coping. They may also work closely with other mental health team members in creating a treatment plan for patients.

What does a chaplain do?

Chaplains organize and lead religious services, usually in a location other than a church. They provide spiritual guidance and assistance to people who may be detained, incarcerated, hospitalized or deployed. A chaplain may be of any faith and usually offers nondenominational services to accommodate all patients or residents. A chaplain may have the following duties:

Chaplains are representatives of religion and spirituality. They may work with people who consider themselves to be more philosophical, adjusting their services to meet the beliefs of the person.

Work environment of a chaplain

The typical work environment of a chaplain will vary, depending on where you work. Some chaplains may spend the majority of their workday offering guidance and support to those nearby. This could include military members on active duty or staff members working in a hospital. Chaplains will also meet with people who have questions about religion or spirituality.

Chaplains may also be in charge of conducting spiritual or religious ceremonies. They may lead groups in prayer or facilitate a wedding. They may also oversee a funeral in a military base. A lot of chaplains also work in a prison setting, where they primarily work on rehabilitating prisoners. They may work with youth, understanding their difficulties and introducing them to religion. They may also provide education and access to resources.

Benefits of being a chaplain

There are many benefits that come with being a chaplain, including:

Salary of a chaplain

Some chaplains may choose to stay in the same environment for their whole career. Others, however, may choose to pursue other career options. The following careers may be available to chaplains:


What is the role of the chaplain?

A chaplain seeks to motivate and initiate meaningful use of each individual’s beliefs and attitudes in the management of their difficulties. The chaplain’s role is supportive, serving as a counsellor and guide to the psycho-spiritual needs of the staff and patients.

What is the difference between a chaplain and a pastor?

A hospital chaplain offers spiritual guidance and pastoral care to patients and their families. As representatives of religious traditions, chaplains in hospitals and medical centers use the insights and principles of psychology, religion, spirituality, and theology.

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