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Friday, May 10, 2019

Chaplains at Work

    Recently heard about a company called Marketplace Chaplains. Trained Christian chaplains available 24/7 to provide employee care to businesses. Workers going through a crisis or stressful life event can choose to contact them, choose where to meet with them, choose how much to reveal to them, even choose the best match from a team of chaplains serving their particular company. It’s all confidential and free to the employee.

    What a great idea! But after a few minutes of marveling over the brilliance of the plan, another thought: Why do we need these people?

    Yes, they’re providing a valuable service. Yes, there’s a lot of pain and suffering among the workers in any given company at any given time, leading to reduced efficiency for the business. (Let’s be real here. The only reason most businesses would hire this company is to improve productivity.) Yes, Christianity has the best solutions for coping with and overcoming the challenges that we all face.

    My question isn’t, “Why bother?” It’s, “Why isn’t this already happening on a more informal basis?” Aren’t there enough Christians in the secular marketplace that, if each one did a fraction of what Jesus commanded in instructing us to love our neighbors as ourselves, there would be no need for this ministry?

    I can understand how beneficial it would be for some individuals to have specialized training to be able to reach out to people from widely different backgrounds and with widely different kinds of struggles. But shouldn’t every Christian be learning how to fulfill what Jesus referred to as the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39)? Shouldn’t we be building loving, kind, generous relationships with those around us, including in the secular workplace? Then when someone needs a listening ear, we’ll naturally be there for them.

    We might not be able to steer them to other needed resources, as a Marketplace Chaplain will be able to do. But from what I’ve heard and seen and read, the majority of people who are struggling with everyday issues in their lives benefit most from simply talking about it with someone who’s willing to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” as James says “everyone” should be (James 1:19). “Everyone” meaning every Christian, not just specially trained experts. Where have we gone wrong?

    I know many loving, caring believers. I marvel at how many Christians are serving God full-time in low-wage ministries to the homeless, to drug addicts, in the inner city, with overseas missions, anywhere there is great need. These people are truly living out their faith.

    But for the rest of us, who are not called into those ministries, the teaching we hear in our evangelical organizations week after week focuses primarily (sometimes exclusively) on how to convert people, not on how to love them. Learn the right Bible verses. Memorize the latest apologetics. Lip service is sometimes given to building relationships, but it takes a back seat to the sense of urgency that if I don’t say something about Jesus to that unbeliever right now, he or she could be lost forever. Little time is spent teaching us members of a me-centered culture how to build genuine caring relationships with those who don’t know Christ.

    Most of the Christians I’ve known who are employed by large secular corporations follow one of two paths in the workplace. Some remain totally silent about their faith. They simply don’t know how to bring Jesus into a conversation. Maybe they’ve tried it a few times and met with nothing but hostility. Maybe they’re introverts who don’t talk about anything personal on the job. I can understand this approach.

    The second group sees the workplace as their mission field and themselves as missionaries. They steer every personal conversation to Jesus and the salvation that He offers. They do more talking than listening. They press each coworker to make a decision. Their hearts are in the right place, but I have to question their methods. And yet those methods are coming from their churches and Bible study classes.

    The problem is that they come across all wrong. They might care deeply about the person that they’re confronting, but their conversations feel more like high-pressure sales pitches than loving concern. If a particular coworker doesn’t respond well, they let the relationship drop and move on to the next victim.

    But every great once in a while I meet someone who models a more biblical approach to workplace evangelism. They build relationships with their coworkers. They love them just the way they are, as God loves us. They demonstrate genuine concern for those around them. They listen. They mourn with those who mourn. They don’t offer quick answers to every dilemma. They don’t judge those who have failed as parents, those who have failed as spouses, those who have failed to resist the attractions of drug and alcohol abuse. At some point, they share their faith, but not in a high-pressure fashion. And they touch lives in deeper, more meaningful, more long-lasting ways than those who follow the evangelically-correct methods.

    Why do we need Marketplace Chaplains? Because we’re falling so far short of God’s demands and desires for us as we interact with those who are hurting. Instead, we pay someone else to do it. I pray for the day when this ministry shuts its doors due to lack of demand, when Christians begin doing what we should’ve been doing all along.

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