Drew S. McGinley is covered in tattoos from head to toe. He’s carried dead bodies out of woods, walked through combat trauma, and is no stranger to a 40-pound rucksack. He has been in the U.S. Army for 14 years. He’s called and commissioned and lives life with a sense of urgency.
McGinley is an Assemblies of God U.S. Missions chaplain, a role he calls “dirty boots ministry.”
The 41-year-old chaplain, who is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, says he doesn’t like sitting in an office. He’d rather be where soldiers are, where the action is.
“If people are at the range, I want to be at the range,” McGinley says. “If they’re doing a 12-mile ruck march, I’ll do it with them. As a chaplain, I refuse to wait for people to come to me. I go to them.”
McGinley says there are three primary tenets of being a chaplain: nurturing the living, caring for the wounded, and honoring the fallen. He sums it up as pastoring troops, and he spends most days building relationships with soldiers, counseling individuals through personal and professional challenges, answering faith questions, and simply being present during times of crisis.
When the COVID-19 pandemic dawned in Washington last year, McGinley adopted an unconventional approach to chaplaincy as in-person ministry opportunities became limited. Using the username @thetattooedchap, McGinley launched YouTube and Instagram channels to help build community and share resources with chaplains or those interested in becoming a chaplain. In the past 14 months, the social media posts and videos have generated thousands of clicks and amassed over 1,100 subscribers on YouTube. The videos cover a variety of topics, including day-to-day chaplain operations, race and racism, field training tips, and parenting while serving in the military. Regardless of subject matter, McGinley hopes his online ingenuity will create camaraderie among chaplains.
“Being a chaplain is some of the most emotionally and spiritually draining work a person can do,” McGinley says. “It can feel extremely isolating. Those in this profession often face death and are constantly in difficult situations where we have to be Jesus in the darkest moments of peoples’ lives.”
This mission resonates with Dave E. Cole, assistant superintendent for the AG Northwest Ministry Network. Cole oversees the network’s Outward-Focused Network, a system that helps congregations emphasize ministries beyond church walls. He calls McGinley’s work an answer to prayer.
“Our network is constantly working to find new areas and methods of ministry,” says Cole, 67. “Drew is helping increase awareness of outward-focused ministry and filling a need. Drew is a catalyst for more.”
Chaplaincy is one of Cole’s passions, too. Prior to becoming assistant superintendent, Cole served as a chaplain major in the Civil Air Patrol while pastoring International Christian Center in East Wenatchee, Washington. As chaplain, Cole met with cadets for moral leadership training and had the freedom to pray with leaders and facilitate faith conversations. In his current network leadership role, Cole has relied on personal experiences to create a network for chaplains. He also has expanded chaplaincy ministries to niche groups like bikers, law enforcement officers, first responders, medical workers, and prisoners. He says McGinley brings new energy to this mission.
Both McGinley and Cole see chaplaincy as a way to mobilize the Church to carry Christ’s message to the workplace and hurting corners of communities.
“Sometimes, we ask God to give us opportunities to reach people for Him, but we don’t want to step outside our realms of comfort,” McGinley says. “Chaplaincy is an opportunity to be Jesus in the midst of pain and build relationships with people who are experiencing crisis.”
Aside from his work with the Army, McGinley serves as an adjunct professor at Northwest University, the AG school based in Kirkland, Washington. McGinley uses New Testament and Christian thought courses to convey the realities of dirty boots ministries and the challenges that can accompany vocational ministry. McGinley holds a Master of Arts in theology and culture from Northwest University. He also has a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Science in Human Service Counseling degree from Southwestern Assemblies of God University. He says his training gives him credibility in the field and presents opportunities to blend book knowledge and real-world ministry insights — both in the classroom and through his online chaplain network.
“Too often, people have an idealized version of what ministry means because we don’t talk enough about the tough stuff,” McGinley says. Whether it’s through teaching, through social media, or through my everyday work as a chaplain, I want to help prepare people to tackle difficult things through the power of the Spirit and be grounded on the foundation of Scripture.”