Ministering as a Police Chaplain
I have been a police chaplain for almost 30 years. It began when I was a church planter looking for ways to help out in our community. The police chief in Farmington Hills saw my desire and offered me a position as a police chaplain in the Farmington Hills Police Department. After that, one door after another seemed to open. God opened the door for Chaplaincy at a neighboring city, the Beverly Hills Police Department, and then the Southeastern Michigan Police Chiefs, in addition to Chaplain for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
One of my first experiences as a chaplain was when I was walking through the police department one day and a detective asked me, “Chaplain, do you believe in hell?” That packed question was the beginning of a two year, once a month lunch session, with an avowed agnostic. We discussed why Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God, and why Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to die for human beings. For two years, we sat there as I answered question after question. After a while, he began to ask the same questions over again, so I said to him, “the issue here isn’t that you haven’t had your questions answered, it’s that you don’t really want to accept the answers and you have a hard heart. I’m going to pray that the Lord will bring something into your life that will break your hard heart and show you your need for Jesus.” (Later he told me that he wanted to pull out his gun and have me meet my Maker right then). Several months later after that conversation I received a phone call from him on Good Friday. He said that nothing was going right for him (which he blamed on me and my prayers), and that he was ready to confess his sin and trust in Jesus as his Savior and Lord. He and his wife joined our church where they remained members until retirement, moving away. Just recently he was ordained as a chaplain. There have been countless other stories through the years that as I reflect on them, it amazes me how God works in the simplest ways and through the simplest messengers.
Think about this. Law enforcement does works of necessity on the Lord’s Day. (This is a good thing.) On the day and afternoon shifts, most officers work at least two Sundays per month, so even if they are church attendees, they are not able to attend regularly. Midnight officers rarely attend worship, anywhere. The field is white unto harvest.
Several years ago I was with a group of pastors and we were discussing evangelism over lunch. Some of the pastors expressed that they knew very few non-Christians, and one pastor said that he was not even sure he could name five. The thought occurred to me that I actually knew more non-Christians than I did Christians. Police Chaplaincy has provided a unique platform for the gospel. In fact, there are many opportunities to share the gospel and build relationships as a result of just casual conversation.
Police officers are some of the most hard working, selfless individuals you will ever meet. They get up in the morning and are not sure if they will return to their families in the evening . . . every day . . . day in and day out. Especially in today’s hostile environment, they are often disrespected, and quite often unappreciated. Statistics show that they account for some of the highest numbers of divorces, and the stress of job and home can be overwhelming.
Chaplaincy also allows our church to have a presence in the community. For the past eleven years, Oakland Hills has sponsored Law Enforcement Appreciation Sunday on the first Sunday in May in co-ordination with National Law Enforcement Appreciation Week. Officers from the surrounding communities are invited to a Bakery Reception prior to our morning worship. We raise money for a law enforcement officer who is in a particular financial need. The candidate is usually someone who has a medical condition that has prohibited them from their work, and as a result, they and their family have suffered. Donations are received from our own congregation, other individuals, police department benevolent associations, and command and officer associations on the local, state, and national level. The average gift to the officer (or his/her family) has been $6,000 to $14,000, nearly a $100,000 contribution total to date.
But it’s not just about the money. After one Law Enforcement Appreciation Sunday, an officer gave me his phone number and asked me to do a “ride along” with him. I rode with him weekly for several months. After sharing the gospel, he professed faith in Christ and began attending worship. On a subsequent ride along, he shared with me that he was struggling with forgiveness and thought he could never forgive his wife for what she had done to him. They had been divorced for some time, but because of the children had stayed in communication. I asked him to pull over, opened my Bible to Matthew 18, and asked him to read about forgiveness. I then told him that if he couldn’t forgive his wife that I wasn’t sure he understood God’s forgiveness. Two weeks later I received a call from him asking if I could come over to his house at 1:00 p.m. He said he would explain when I got there. I arrived, and was introduced to his ex-wife. She was just as surprised to be introduced to me as I was to her. We were both in the dark. The officer explained that he wanted to forgive his wife for leaving him and that he wanted to re-marry her. She began to cry but explained that she didn’t think she could do that. When I asked why, she said that it was because she had become a Christian, and since he was not one, she didn’t think it was right to marry him. They then began to share with each other what the Lord had done individually in their lives. They forgave each other, and I performed a marriage that day! There were tears of joy that afternoon. Wow! Seeing lives and marriages transformed by the Gospel is a blessing of chaplaincy.
A chaplain is also called on to pray at public events and to assist spiritually in tough situations, from S.I.D.S to suicide. Many of the situations a chaplain faces are emotionally overwhelming, however in our weakness, God’s strength is made perfect. But, not all chaplain services are tragic. As chaplain for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, I present a short devotional at their monthly meetings before offering a prayer (and always in Jesus’ name). In addition, for the past twenty-five years, I have been asked to join the chiefs from all over Michigan at their summer training conference, and to lead a prayer breakfast.
Opportunities abound locally for chaplains to connect to the law enforcement community through playing basketball, hosting Bible studies, offering video series like The Truth Project, accompanying on ride-alongs, officiating marriages, offering church parking lots to local police for use of internet access or donut breaks. Eternal friendships begin and are built from these opportunities. In February 2018, I was able to present at the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Policewinter conference a course on “Leadership from Above,” principles on leadership from the Bible. In June 2020, I presented a plenary session on the phrase “In God We Trust,” expanding on its history, theology, morality, and legality. On my bucket list is having “In God We Trust” on every police car in Michigan.
Every pastor and every chaplain needs support and encouragement. I’ve been blessed with a very lovely and supportive wife. She writes, designs, and brainstorms ideas with me. She also hosts the conference prayer breakfasts, always making everyone feel welcome. In addition, our congregation at Oakland Hills has caught the vision of police chaplaincy. They are energetic, enthusiastic, and evangelistic, and the ways in which they’ve contributed to this ministry is astounding. From the artwork and bakery reception for Law Enforcement Appreciation Sunday, as well as financial support, they have opened doors for me that never would have been opened. God sees what they do, God knows. My prayer is that God will continue to use this ministry to the praise of His glory.
Ralph A. Rebandt, II has faithfully served the Lord in the same church for 35 years, in law enforcement chaplaincy for 32 years, and is retiring from ecclesiastical ministry to run for Governor of Michigan, 2022.
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Note: A version of this article originally appeared in New Horizons (Feb. 2020).