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People at work & at home need dedicated chaplains, he says

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A $20 bill, even one crumpled and ripped, is still worth $20.

Gil Stricklin made that point during a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service April 5. After crumpling, stepping on and almost ripping in half a new $20 bill, Stricklin offered it to a nearby seminary student who accepted it.

The lesson is not to “sit up front in chapel and you’ll get paid” but “live life and you’ll feel devalued” even when in reality you are valuable, Stricklin said.

People are valuable, he said, but because they’ve been crushed, broken, beaten up and dirtied, they do not feel valuable. Even Christians at times feel unworthy of God’s love and God’s blessing, he said.

“If there’s even one like that here this morning,” he continued, “I want you to know that there are literally millions of people out there in the marketplace, outside of this campus, in the hamlets and metropolitan areas who, because of their sinful lives, believe they are devalued and that God does not love them, want fellowship with them, bless them or show them a way to live life with joy and peace.”

The people correcting that belief are chaplains, said Stricklin, founder and president of Marketplace Ministries, a ministry that places trained chaplains in the workplace.

Truly grasping the value of every person will catapult Christians into the marketplace as it did the apostle Paul in Acts 17, Stricklin explained.

Though “bad characters from the marketplace” were hot on his trail in Athens, Stricklin noted that Paul’s concern over the city’s many idols drove him to confront Athenians in the synagogue and in the marketplace daily.

“Today there seems to be a belief that the only work of importance is in the church,” Stricklin said. “I believe that church is God’s ordained instrument on this earth to be the first line of offense and defense for the gospel of Christ.”

But Paul’s ministry had two thrusts — in the synagogue where he was missionary-teacher and in the marketplace where he was pastor-chaplain, Stricklin said.

Chaplains are not just in the military or hospitals, he said, nor are they second-rate, morally unfit or dropout pastors, but men and women who minister to people at work and their families at home, caring for those who have a religious faith as well as those who have none.

Calling chaplains “effective, dedicated” pastors to those who have no pastor, Stricklin said a chaplain’s parishioners include blue-collar workers who work 10 to 12 hours per day and single parents working for minimum wage.

A chaplain’s parishioners, he continued, are found on any worksite, be it a car dealership in Kansas City, a construction site in Austin, a food processing plant in South Carolina, an oil rig in Mississippi, a commercial bakery in Rhode Island, a computer service firm in Pennsylvania or any fast food restaurant across America.

“All these people who go to work are people God says are valuable,” Stricklin said. “Their lives have been broken and dirtied and crumpled and beat up. They’ve been stepped on and pushed around and yet they still need a pastor.”

Stricklin challenged Southwestern students to consider the biblical mandate of taking the gospel to the marketplace, noting that 21st-century changes require looking at ministry differently.

Statistics show that the average American family moves every 30 months and only 15 percent live in the same community with a majority of their family members, Stricklin said. By the time the average American male is 35, he will have had five jobs and by retirement, he will have had 15.

As an example of increased racial problems in the workplace, Stricklin told of a beef processing plant where a racial conflict caused human blood to be mixed with cows’ blood as employees stabbed one another.

Chaplains were brought in not to “preach or condemn or judge” but to “put a big umbrella of compassion over labor and management,” Stricklin said.

Today the plant has a new spirit, he reported.

Stricklin said more CEOs and businesspeople are laying their convictions on the line and saying, “I’m going to use my place of leadership to influence my people for Christ.” Consequently they bring in chaplains. Stricklin’s Marketplace Ministries has placed 31 chaplain ministries in the first three months of 2000, more than were placed in the ministry’s first five years.

“Most workers will not come to your church,” Stricklin said. “If you’re going to wait till folks come to join your church, you’ve got a long wait.

“We cannot abandon [the church],” he continued, “but we need to strategize, we need to look differently at what we’re doing. We need to get pastors who never have an opportunity to even build a relationship with a lost man to get out of the church.”

The task must be a joint effort of all Christians across denominations and must take place in the church and in the marketplace, Stricklin said.

“If we’re going to lead people to Christ in great numbers and disciple them, it must be a joint effort of ministering in the marketplace and discipling in the church,” he said.

“When Jesus said, ‘Go ye into all the world,’ he did not say, ‘Bring them into the church,'” Stricklin noted. “He said, ‘Go;’ “he did not say, ‘Come.'”

Share Christ, Stricklin challenged, then as people fall in love with him get them to fall in love with the church.

“Don’t try to get them to fall in love with being a Baptist before they come to know the Savior,” he said.

Stricklin encouraged those already plugged into ministries to consider chaplaincy. Five hundred Marketplace Ministries chaplains are also pastors.

He challenged ministers to go to the biggest employer in their town and ask the owner, “Could I just come by once a week and say, ‘Hello,’ to your people? Could I tell them if they ever need any help, I’m a chaplain and I’d be glad to help. I won’t come down there to preach at them, to judge them, to condemn them … I’ll just come down to love them.

“I guarantee you’ll find a lot of invitations to come on down.”

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  • Cindy Kerr