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Auto techs change oil while chaplains change lives

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (KT) — Oil isn’t the only thing being changed at auto service centers in central Appalachia. 

Lives are, too.

Chaplains serve alongside work crews at Fast Change Lube & Oil centers in the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Matt Hinson, regional director of operations for Marketplace Chaplains USA, said it’s common for customers to decide to become Christians while waiting on their oil to be changed. In fact, he said, 400 people made that decision since January alone.

Brian Horton, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Shelbiana, Ky., makes weekly rounds at Fast Change centers in Pikeville, Prestonsburg, Paintsville and South Williamson in Kentucky and in Logan, W.Va. Those rounds give him one-on-one time with employees and customers in a region where half the population, according to some estimates, no longer go to church regularly.

Horton is one of about 1,500 ministers nationwide working with Marketplace Chaplains, which serves 3,400 businesses ranging from restaurants to manufacturing plants to construction firms.

“Jesus said ‘go and make disciples,’ not ‘wait in the church for people to show up,'” Horton said. “Being a marketplace chaplain places me in the real world, so to speak.”

In a good year, Marketplace Chaplains record more than 3,000 first-time professions of faith and another 5,000 decisions by others to recommit their lives to Christ.

Kevin Davis, a minister who owns 20 Fast Change centers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, wants to honor God with his businesses.

“I feel like God gave this as a platform for ministry,” he said. “Life happens. People have heartaches, disappointments and troubles. As the boss, they’re not likely to come to me, so I teamed up with Marketplace Chaplains to provide this service.”

Hinson’s first involvement with Marketplace Chaplains was while serving as a pastor in Montgomery, Ala. 

“I started part time at an Express Oil Lube in Montgomery and fell in love with it,” Hinson said. “I would preach from the pulpit that we need to go and share Jesus, but I was always in my office preparing my next sermon. This gave me an opportunity to lead by example.”

Horton said employees who are served by chaplains tend to have higher morale and are more productive. Companies served by chaplains also tend to have lower turnover rates, because the employees feel valuable.

“The employers I serve want their employees to have longevity,” Horton said. “The more they show that they care, the better chance that happens. Positive conversation opens doors and breaks down walls so that when the serious stuff comes up, they know they have a chaplain to talk to.”

Horton, who holds a doctorate from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said such community-based ministry is crucial in ministering to hurting people.

“To be invited into the workplace and be part of the employee care process opens doors that may not otherwise exist,” he said. “The people are outside the walls of the church, especially during the week. So, I was excited when the opportunity came along to speak truth into the lives of people on a regular basis.”

Horton said this is precisely what Christians are called to do.

“We are to be intentional in our disciple-making process,” he said. “To sit in the office and not engage the community would be missing an important element of the call of a pastor. “I am called not only to serve and disciple a fellowship of believers but to reach and energize a community.”