I was doing research for an organisation I was part of, supporting Christians working in the mining industry. We had received a grant to examine the need for chaplains in the industry.
I called Wayne, who was mine manager at a large coalmine in Australia’s Hunter Valley. He was a bit curt as I explained the reason for my phone call. When I mentioned that I was ringing to see if he thought a chaplain would be useful from the perspective of mining operations he interrupted me.
“A chaplain? One of those God guys?” he demanded.
“Yes,” I replied meekly wondering where this was going.
“How soon can you get me one?”
“Well, we aren’t actually offering them, we are just researching the need.”
“I need one in ten minutes,” he said.
It turned out that in ten minutes one of Wayne’s best workers was going to walk through the door wanting some advice on marital breakdown.
“I am bloody good at getting huge amounts of dirt out of the ground,” explained Wayne, “but I don’t know what I’m going to say to this bloke.”
“But you have an Employee Assistance Program, and a human resources department,” I pointed out.
“That EAP is a psychologist on the end of the phone. What chance do I have of getting this guy to call a perfect stranger and confess that he is failing at his marriage?” said Wayne gruffly. “And who is going to visit his wife and kids? And don’t mention human resources to me, they’ve outsourced this stuff. Get me a chaplain, and get me one quick!”
The list of domestic issues impacting on the workplace includes addiction, depression, financial difficulty, parenting struggles, domestic violence, elder care, separation or divorce, stress, grief and suicide. All these are symptoms of brokenness.
Chaplains have tended to be focused in dangerous industries, such as defense, mining and emergency services; places where suffering and/or death occur, such as hospitals, aged care centers and prisons; or where there are vulnerable people, such as schools. Industrial chaplaincy emerged in the 19th century as a specific outreach of churches to working men. Today, the growing popularity of corporate chaplaincy is a recognition that wellbeing in the workplace has a spiritual element.
There is also an opportunity for every Christian worker to see themselves as an informal chaplain, offering hospitality, care and counsel within the workplace. Many Christians become the person others turn to because they are more caring, and will keep personal information confidential.
Think it Through
Does your workplace have a chaplain?
Do people tend to ask your advice about personal issues? How could you be an informal chaplain in your workplace?
What Does the Bible Say?
Have a look at Romans 12:3–21 and note the qualities of a Christian mentioned, which would also make a great description for an informal chaplain: humble, recognizing specific role and gifting, serving, encouraging, generous, leading, merciful, loving, clinging to good, hopeful, patient, prayerful, sharing with those in need, hospitable, blessing others (even enemies), rejoicing with others, mourning with other, a peacemaker, not conceited, doing what is right and overcoming evil with good.
Verses 9–16 are a good summary:
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Blessing (from the Chaplaincy Everywhere course)
Go, responding with sensitivity to the nudges of the Holy Spirit.
Go, with eyes open to the needs of those around you.
Go, with the love of God in your heart, knowing that his love is enough.
Enough for you and for the whole world,
Love that is making all things new,
Love that enfolds us in a healing embrace,
Love that is at our end as in our beginning.
Go, with love, in the love of the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.