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A return to the original New Testament mission field

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Ministry in the workplace is prevalent throughout the Bible. The term “work” is mentioned more than 800 times and the Hebrew word “avodah” is the root from which we get the words “work” and “worship.”

Forty-five of Jesus’ 52 parables were about work, while 39 of 40 divine encounters in the Book of Acts occurred in workplace settings.

The workplace, whether out of the home or in the home, is a mission field, and many pastors tell their church members to go out and reach it. But according to those who specifically serve in workplace/worklife ministries, people are not getting the proper training on how to reach the workplace.

That’s why organizations like HisChurchatWork.org and Corporate Chaplains of America were formed. That’s why the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and other ministries are concentrating on ministering to the workplace.

These and other organizations are either helping churches train the masses to go out and be workplace missionaries or are actually sending out people into the workplace to minister. Henry Blackaby, founder of Blackaby Ministries International, for example, provides monthly conference calls and training sessions to corporate CEOs to help them learn to bring Christ into their corporate lives.

“People are happy in the pews letting ‘professionals’ do this,” said Doug Spada, a Navy veteran in nuclear engineering who started HisChurchatWork.org in 2002 at Journey Community Church in San Diego and now is based in Alpharetta, Ga. “We need to shift from going to church to being the church.”

Spada was a successful entrepreneur in Southern California and started Utili-Tech, Inc., an energy and utility services firm that worked with companies like ARCO, Texaco and Exxon. However, despite his business success, Spada said he became “spiritually burdened for people’s work lives” and prayed to God for guidance in using his talents in ministry.

Journey Community Church allowed Spada to start a pioneering church-based worklife ministry based solely on biblical principles drawn from such passages as Ephesians 4:11-12. From that, HisChurchatWork.org was formed.

“Why did I do this? It was me being obedient,” Spada said. “I was privately discouraged, disconnected, disillusioned in the area of my greatest influence.

“Churches think programmatically. They spend millions of dollars on programs and then people get saved when the pastor preaches. Pastors say God called him to the ministry. What about the people in the pew? What are they called to do? We help churches build bridges where walls and gaps existed. Our mission is to make sure every church leader wrestles with this. We teach churches how to sustain efforts to disciple the scattered church, whether it’s the bus driver, teacher, engineer or stay-at-home mom. We define work as what God defines it, which is the essence of work, not just a place you go.”

Spada works with churches to provide training in worklife ministry through a program he calls Worklife University, encompassing 30 modules of training. He provides support staff and also links and resources for the church’s website in order to “train the trainers” and help the church fulfill its greatest impact during the week.

“They then train the layperson to lead the ministry,” Spada said. “It’s important to have someone in the workplace…. We want leaders to bust out of the typical paradigm. What we’ve done is help the church take its rightful and biblical position in the workplace. There’s a significant amount of influence in the workplace and the church has been vacant from that. People need to realize that we are all in ministry.”

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association started looking several years ago at the impact of evangelism training in the workplace, said Jack Munday, who oversees workplace ministry at the Billy Graham Training Center near Asheville, N.C. The BGTC started the Christian Executive Leadership Forum in 2003 which works with business leaders on biblical leadership in business.

“The first century church started in the workplace,” Munday said. “We needed to provide encouragement and engage leadership in business. We call it the sacred/secular divide. Many of us are not in vocational ministry. We don’t see ourselves in fulltime ministry but we are. This is the message we are bringing to executive leaders.

“Most people come to Christ through relationships,” Munday continued. “Most of those occur in work instead of the neighborhood. Our prayer is for business leaders to be encouraged to live out their faith. It isn’t easy. There are a lot of different areas they have to be sensitive of. Our message to business leaders is to live out their Christian life but to also become more engaged in churches.”

According to the International Coalition of Workplace Ministries, there were fewer than 50 workplace ministries in 1992; today there are roughly 1,200. Reflective of that trend is Corporate Chaplains of America, which provides businesses with career chaplains who combine workplace experience with professional chaplaincy training.

Mark Cress, a Virginia businessman, started Corporate Chaplains of America in 1996 after he attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. As a Christian business owner, he saw the spiritual needs of his employees but did not know how to help.

Cress started Corporate Chaplains of America as the only chaplain. Today, headquartered in Wake Forest, it is in 23 states with nearly 100 fulltime chaplains in companies ranging from 10 employees to major corporations like Coca-Cola. It provides confidential caregiving, crisis intervention, management consultation, programs for worship or prayer, referral to other professionals and agencies, training and education for employees and supervisors, employee/community/church relations and programs, and special events scheduled in response to needs that arise in the workplace.

“We get permission to come in and share Christ in a non-threatening manner,” said Cress, who said chaplains have seen more than 1,900 professions of faith and assisted more than 10,000 employees since he started the company. “The chaplain is available one day a week for every 100 employees,” Cress said. “They can only speak about things the employee wants to talk about. We provide pastoral care in the workplace.

“We don’t see much resistance. The hardest part is identifying owners willing to hear our story. Once they hear our story and talk to other owners, it’s not a difficult sales pitch beyond that. People lower in the organization give us the most trouble, but there are no laws against this. Once we talk to human resource directors, the concerns go away.”

Corporate chaplains hold seminary level or higher degrees and must begin 154 hours of continuing education certification during their first year with the company, Cress said. They are taken out of the field three times a year for training to deal with new issues that occur in the workplace.

They carry cards which they give out to employees for whenever their services might be needed. Cress said the chaplains will respond within 10 minutes of being paged.

The organization’s vision is to employ more than 1,000 fulltime chaplains and serve more than 1 million employees by 2012. Sometime this year, Cress said the organization will start Community Chaplains of America, for churches to set up ministry teams of volunteer chaplains to work in neighborhoods with varied groups, such as police, firefighters, Little Leagues, hospitals.

“In the U.S. today, 71 percent of all employees are unchurched,” Cress said. “They still come to work with the same needs as those who are churched. Churches do a great job with the people they have but they do not have 71
percent of them.”

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  • Jerry Higgins