The battle over a proposed sale of American evangelism’s ‘Missions Pentagon’ raises questions of missionary strategy and nonprofit accountability. What responsibility do ministries have to their founder’s vision—and to those who sacrificed to fund it?
Gil Stricklin says the idea struck him as he was preparing to end a 27-year military career, with 22 years in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, ending as a colonel. If military chaplains could have the impact they so consistently demonstrated among needy service personnel, why not deploy similarly called men and women to meet comparable needs among folks in civilian life?
At age 49, Stricklin shared the idea with a few skeptical friends. He especially pushed the project with a colleague whose business was importing sunglasses from around the world and then distributing them across the United States. The company employed 150 people—and the owner said he’d pay Stricklin $18,000 a year to look after the spiritual and emotional needs of workers and their family members. Stricklin, though, felt guilty taking that large a salary for part-time service.
But it didn’t take long. A woman in the tagging department (where Stricklin had decided to work temporarily so he could “just get to know those folks, you know”) came to him in tears. Her mother had had a serious stroke the night before. “Could you maybe go see her at the hospital? I can’t get there until after work later this afternoon.” He did—and then a few days later conducted the woman’s funeral as well. His role as the man with a tender, loving, and compassionate heart took root. And along the way, Stricklin learned a whole lot about troubled marriages, alcohol, drugs, gambling, financial mismanagement, rebel teenagers, the effects of stress, and dozens of other crisis issues as well.
Marketplace Chaplains has learned about speaking the gospel right in the middle of that secular setting.
Seventy percent of the U.S. workforce is said to have no connection to a caring church, and Stricklin was discovering how important it was to bring such support right to the workplace. The owners and managers of such companies were discovering that it is simply good business to take care of such matters before they balloon into lower productivity and other job-threatening issues. “If we could bring the right person into their place of business,” Stricklin said, “many owners were willing to pay for that service.”
And not just Christian-owned businesses. In all sorts of settings, Stricklin discovered openings he would never at first have suspected. Soon, he had been asked to find and train chaplains to place in a dozen companies. Then it was two dozen. Today, after 33 years, it is 758. Marketplace Chaplains operates around the world: One subsidiary specializes in the United States, one in international settings, and yet another with people working with two of the nation’s major railroads.
Theirs is not specifically the work of evangelism. They are instead “people who give help, hope, care, and love” this year alone to over 170,000 hurting people in the workplace. If Stricklin’s clients ask for spiritual guidance, Marketplace Chaplains is free to give it—and to offer it in Jesus’ name. That, he says, is God’s business. “Many executives,” Stricklin says, “are quite sure they don’t need our service. I tell them, though, that our chaplains are like pickup trucks. You might not think you want one; there will come a time, however, when you need one.”
We don’t usually devote space in WORLD just to tell you about yet another Christian ministry. When we learn about an organization doing something unusual, we tend to ask, “How does this affect our readers in terms of their learning to live out their Christian lives in a terribly secular culture?”
I’m struck with what Marketplace Chaplains has learned about speaking the gospel right in the middle of that secular setting—and not to be silenced by threats to keep mum in this diverse society. Gil Stricklin, Doug Fagerstrom (Gil’s successor as CEO of the nonprofit company), and the team they’ve developed (their staff includes 1,796 people) have become adept at applying their faith right at the heart of crisis situations—and doing so (a) while the host company is paying the salary of the chaplain, and (b) without raising the ire of a few intolerant non-Christian observers. That’s quite a combination!
I sense the need for honing my own tools in that same manner. I want, in the context of my personal life, my church life, my community life, and my professional life, to sharpen my skills the way the folks at Marketplace Chaplains seem to have done. Those with a similar inclination might want to start by checking out mchapusa.com.