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Marketplace Ministries’ weekly reach: Christ’s compassion in 900 work sites

DALLAS (BP)–When Marketplace Ministries was founded in December 1983, a 1973 Datsun functioned as the organization’s headquarters. The budget for the ministry was $25. Gil Stricklin was the ministry’s founder, administrator, accountant and public relations coordinator.

“We like to believe God started it, but I was the first employee,” Stricklin said.

Marketplace Ministries today offers corporate chaplaincy services to secular businesses in 36 states and has approximately 1,178 fulltime, part-time and backup chaplains caring for 250,000 people. Chaplains with Marketplace make approximately 900 work site visits per week to places ranging from banks to construction sites.

Stricklin, an alumnus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, stressed, however, that the majority of the work accomplished by Marketplace chaplains is done away from the work site.

“The chaplains become a pastor to people who have no pastor,” Stricklin said from his Dallas-based office. “That’s really the basic tenet of what we do.

“We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re always doing something with an individual, but it certainly means that we’re on call or we are at a hospital, or a jail, or a cemetery, or someplace for those people. So we don’t work by the hour. We work by the needs.”

Each company that requests chaplaincy services from Marketplace pays a fee based on the number of employees to whom services will be available. Marketplace, however, raises a portion of its operating funds as a non-profit organization. The funds provided by Marketplace are used to facilitate chaplaincy work among the family members of employees.

“We’re out there to be a servant,” Stricklin said. “We’re out there to value, to say to people you are valued in the sight of God and he wants to have fellowship with you no matter what you’ve ever done, no matter what you’ve ever thought, no matter what you’ve ever said, no matter what failures you’ve ever had, or what successes you’ve ever had. You’re still valuable to God.”

Berl Pedigo, a 1962 Southwestern graduate, has worked as a chaplain with Marketplace since 1988. He recalled an employee in one of the first companies with which he worked. The employee’s son was incarcerated in the local jail and then sent to prison.

Pedigo was able to visit the man’s son and develop a relationship with him. His relationship with the father and son soon developed into a relationship with the entire family. He was with the family when the son was released from prison, attended weddings of the employee’s daughters, and ministered to the family through the employee’s illness and death from cancer.

“It was just such a privilege to be there for them,” Pedigo said. “I just saw a lot there from the birth of new children, marriages, difficulties, and then the employee ultimately died.”

Through the years chaplains with Marketplace have officiated at more than 900 weddings and conducted premarital counseling. Marital counseling continues long after the wedding day.

“Most people spend an average of 1,000 hours to get ready to get married,” Pedigo said. “And then they spend less than 40 hours to ever do anything to learn how to live happily for the rest of their lives.”

Companies interested in utilizing Marketplace Ministries are presented with 21 services offered through the chaplaincy program. Several of the services promote lower turnover rates and higher overall productivity among employees served by chaplains. But the “secular” benefits of having chaplains in the workplace are outweighed by the spiritual benefits, Stricklin said.

“We say we’re chaplains, and we don’t try to hide who we are or what we do,” Stricklin said. “But we share the Gospel and we talk to people about Christ when they invite us. When they ask us a spiritually leading question, we have the right to answer that question.”

Pedigo noted the openness to ministry where chaplains have become familiar and trusted faces.

“That’s particularly true of people who may be at first quite reticent to the thought of having a chaplain at their workplace,” Pedigo said. “After they get to know you and see you there on a regular basis, and you know them by name and perhaps have met some other family members, I definitely think that there is more openness to ministry like that.”

Stricklin estimated that approximately 95 percent of the companies that work with Marketplace do so because they want their employees to come to know Christ.

Kathy Ryan, who has worked with Marketplace since shortly after graduating from Southwestern in 2000, noted, “One of the neat things is to see the heart of the president or the CEOs of these companies, and that they want this benefit, this care for their employees.”

For Ryan and other chaplains, the benefits of the work are found in the people they encounter. Ryan met a woman who worked at one of the companies she visited regularly. The woman spent time in jail, but Ryan continued to visit her through the length of her sentence.

“Now she’s out,” Ryan said, noting the joy in “just seeing the healing in her life, the restoration, and the work that God has done to bring her back to him.”

Ken Williams serves as the director of operations at Whitmore Manufacturing Company in Rockwall, Texas. The company makes lubricants for industrial equipment and also has a location in Cleveland, Ohio. Marketplace chaplains work at both locations.

“They’ve become an integral part of the company, kind of the extension of the company — more or less — in times of need,” Williams said.

Today the challenge for Marketplace is not finding companies to work with, but finding people who are qualified and have the time to do corporate chaplaincy work. More than 700 pastors currently work with Marketplace while pastoring their churches. Sixty-six denominations are represented on the Marketplace staff.

While there remains a need for new chaplains, experience and integrity are key in corporate ministry, Strickland said. The average age of Marketplace staff members is 52. Most chaplains have more than 20 years of ministry experience.

“We don’t train people to be chaplains,” Stricklin said, noting that the purpose of the ministry is not to develop credentials for ministers.

“What we can help you do and what we do in our training is to show how to associate the ministry you had in the church to a secular workforce, to a secular environment.”

Stricklin said, for example, that corporate chaplaincy doesn’t always offer immediate success in ministry. A chaplain who walks into a company on the first day shouldn’t expect that the workers will begin a Bible study.

“But you let us stay there six months to a year and we’ll probably have one or two or three [Bible studies] going.”

Marketplace oversees 125 to 150 Bible studies at any given time. Bible studies through Marketplace generally last for a designated number of weeks and illustrate biblical principles for life.

In the midst of the Bible studies, hospital visits, weddings and funerals, being a servant is key in the ministry of corporate chaplaincy, Stricklin said.

“Our program says … the company cares about you if you’re at work, if you’re home, or if you’re getting drunk on Saturday night,” Stricklin said. “The company still cares about you.”

Ezekiel 2:5 is often quoted by Stricklin and other Marketplace chaplains: “And whether they listen or fail to listen — for they are a rebellious house — they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ON-SITE VISIT and MARKETPLACE PIONEER.

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  • Lauri Arnold