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Workplace chaplaincy can be a place for healing, growth

Ashley Tyree grabs a photo of a recent meeting of the Food for the Soul discipleship group that is part of the chaplaincy ministry for The Beasley Group in south Georgia. Photo courtesy of Ashley Tyree

HAZLEHURST, Ga. (BP) – Just as it goes with the church, life has a way of impacting the workplace. Employees deal with personal struggles, family issues, addiction and myriad other distractions that can impact their performance.

For Ashley Tyree, it’s not a matter of if those situations arise, but when. And more important, how can he explain during those times the comfort found in a relationship with Christ?

Tyree’s path in bivocational ministry preceded the day his full-time employer, The Beasley Group, asked him to become the first chaplain for North America’s largest hardwood timber producer. The Beasley family, he said, wanted their business to include a ministry for its 1,700 employees. As someone with 20 years of history at the company, Tyree was happy to fill the role.

Workplace chaplaincy is more common than some may think. “Tyson Chicken has 100 paid chaplains on staff,” Tyree said. “We didn’t model this after anyone else, though. The Beasleys just told us to do whatever we needed.”

The phrase “do more” stood out in their request. It left the goal set, but the possibilities to get there wide open.

Tyree talked about his role recently in an interview with Ray Sullivan and Kenneth Aycock, both consultants for the Georgia Baptist Discipleship team. In the discussion, he talked about workplace tragedies he’s experienced both as a chaplain with the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office as well as with Beasley Group.

About a year-and-a-half ago, one of those tragedies resulted in a worker’s death.

“I met with the guys who were on shift that night and I prayed with them,” he said. “They shared with me that the individual who was involved in the tragedy was saved; he was a Christian based on his own testimony. So I opened up Scripture and shared with them where Christians, when they died, where they go.

“We brought some counselors in because we had quite a few people involved. One of the things the counselors reported back to me was that the night [it happened] I opened God’s Word to those guys, that is what got those guys through it. So I said, ‘Wow, so we are making a difference here.’”

Workplace chaplaincy can be whatever it needs to be, depending on the needs. For Tyree, it started by seeing a workforce that said they believed in God, but most didn’t go to church. A chapel service was launched. However, he and others felt it began to become too much like a church.

That is not what chaplaincy is supposed to be, he said, so the worship service was discontinued. Those who had been attending were connected with a local church – mostly Baptist, but other Christian denominations as well.

“God did not tell us to start a church,” he told Sullivan and Aycock. “He just told us to go out and be obedient and help these folks.”

In addition to being available for counseling, several discipleship classes meet during lunch for those wanting to grow deeper in their faith. Tyree leads a group for those leading the classes – discipling the disciplers. Every Beasley employee is provided a Bible that would retail for $35. Per Tyree’s recollection, only one has rejected the offer.

Beasley also provides opportunities for consistent growth. Those who take enough discipleship classes can win the Golden Axe Award. In addition, they receive a plaque and $50 gift card for every course completed on faith-based leadership.

Though it might be understandable for people to assume Tyree is a Baptist pastor, since he served in that role at Lumber City Baptist Church, nine miles from Hazlehurst and he occasionally still preaches in the area, he said that on the worksite, it’s important that he is seen as a chaplain.

His chaplaincy is endorsed by the North American Mission Board. In fact, he will be in North Carolina this week for mandated training.

The chaplaincy ministry extends to helping interested businessowners establish their own program. Addiction centers have become aware of Tyree’s work and the benefits for those looking to re-enter society with a stable income.

“Do more” has basically become “do what is necessary.” Find the need; meet the need. Show how the Gospel is the answer.

Workplace chaplaincy can be boiled down to addressing three areas for employees, Tyree told BP. Those are physical, mental and spiritual. The Beasley family takes care of the physical needs through a paycheck.

More is required to truly care for your people, though.

“I handle the mental and spiritual well-being through coaching workers,” he said. “We have to be in balance. If you ain’t productive, we’d have to shut the saw mill down. If we’re not strong as a body of believers, we’re going to struggle.”