There are more than 180 Assemblies of God Theological Seminary alumni currently serving as chaplains in the United States Armed Forces and Veteran’s Administration. Many more serve as chaplains in hospitals and prisons around the United States.
David Wright, a 2015 graduate of AGTS, is one of the most recent to answer the call to chaplaincy. Assigned in September as an infantry battalion chaplain in the 3-2 Stryker Brigade at Fort Lewis, Washington, Wright is ready to reach the military for Christ.
It’s a calling he’s prepared for through previous experiences with the Army, as a children’s pastor and most recently, with the Master of Divinity program at AGTS.
“I only have one life to live for God, and I desperately desire to have maximum impact,” Wright said.
A powerful encounter with God at age 17 first pointed Wright toward a career in ministry, but the chaplaincy wasn’t something he considered until more than a dozen years after boot camp.
A native Californian, Wright began attending Central Bible College in 1998 to study Missions. He met Amanda (Taylor) and exchanged letters with her while he took a semester off to complete basic and advanced training for the Army Reserve in 2000. After returning to college, he proposed.
By Wright’s senior year, he and Amanda knew they were destined for children’s ministry. The couple led a spring break trip to Fairbanks First Assembly of God in Alaska, where they learned the church needed a children’s pastor. When David graduated in 2002, they took the job.
David and Amanda pastored for seven years at Fairbanks First, including one year when David was mobilized to active duty as an instructor in Texas.
After David completed his Army obligations in 2008, he received an honorable discharge. At that point, becoming a chaplain or returning to the military was nowhere on his radar.
“Many people over the years asked me if I wanted to be a chaplain,” he said. “I always dismissed it. It seemed too far out there, and I never saw myself as qualified.”
In 2009, the Wrights moved to minister at King’s River Worship Center in St. Albans, West Virginia. There, with support from Pastor Ron Crum (AGTS ‘14), he rejoined the Army to gain leadership experience and help pay the bills.
After completing Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia, Wright began to seek God fervently about the chaplaincy. His answer came quickly, and David learned that his next step would be earning the required Master of Divinity degree from AGTS.
Wright left his ministry position and moved to Springfield without a job lined up in order to pursue his M. Div. The 78-hour program normally takes at least three years to complete, but Wright got it done in a “fast and furious” two. He credits the culture and his classmates at AGTS for getting him through.
“When I started, I had been out of school for 10 years and I had no idea what to expect,” he said. “I really risked my family’s future for the pursuit of this and I simply had to stay focused. I asked those ahead of me a lot of questions, and they helped me create a strategy to finish quickly.”
That strategy included balancing heavy academic semesters with a part-time job at Evangel Temple, a local Assemblies of God church with a history of helping chaplaincy candidates.
“At 35, I’m no spring chicken in the Army world, and I wanted to get out in the force as soon as possible,” Wright said. “I believe all of this helped prepare me for the pace of the Army.”
Approximately 40 students are studying for the chaplaincy at any given time, and the network of like-minded people supported Wright in his mission.
“The amount of chaplaincy students at AGTS makes it a very unique seminary,” he said. “It’s always good to be connected to people who are pursuing similar goals, and I know that I’ll be seeing some of my fellow students out there in the force very soon.”
Wright’s academic adviser at AGTS, Dr. James Railey, said the chaplain program is tailored to fit its candidates. AG Chaplain Scott McChrystal teaches and counsels students, and the Admiral Vern Clark Veteran’s Center opened during Wright’s final semester.
The center equips veterans with resources to help with their studies, finances and federally required documents. It’s a structure that supports the human connection with instructors like Dr. Railey.
“David is a prime example of a young man committed to the call of God on his life, in this case to the military chaplaincy. He will succeed in that ministry,” Railey said.
Now, looking to the future, Wright knows he’s in this new position for a reason.
“Chaplains have a unique role,” Wright said. “You won’t find anyone else in the Army charged with the spiritual leadership of the soldiers – there’s just nothing else like this ministry anywhere.”
And while many soldiers’ career goals in the armed forces revolve around achieving a specific rank, that’s not what drives him.
“The Army is pretty competitive regarding promotion, but the only person I’m competing with is myself,” Wright said. “My goal is simply to fulfill my calling and to help others fulfill theirs along the way.”
This story initially appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of Vision Magazine, which is hitting mailboxes soon.