“Jesus Working” from the Basilica de la Sagrada Familía in Barcelona, Spain. Used with permission.

There’s a fascinating piece that has just been published in The Atlantic. It has the intriguing title, “Finding Jesus at Work.” The focus of this article is on workplace chaplaincies.

[In] recent years, a number of companies have . . . hired spiritual leaders to serve on their staffs. Though slightly less trendy than nap rooms and yoga classes, workplace chaplaincies are another attempt to make workers more productive by catering to their “whole” selves. Sometimes, these chaplains serve as spiritual social workers, advising staffers about everything from divorce to cancer. They might conduct weddings or funerals; they’ll often refer people to local churches and, at times, professional psychologists.

The major source for this article is Princeton University faith/work scholar, my friend David Miller, who has studied workplace chaplaincies in depth:

According to David Miller, a Princeton professor who studies faith and work, these chaplaincies add value to companies, potentially helping create lower turnover rates, increased levels of focus, and reduction in stress-related illnesses.

“Human beings still have problems in life—we get cancer, we get divorced, we have workplace accidents,” Miller said. “In different situations we seek and heal through different kinds of help and services. Sometimes it’s a medical service, sometimes it’s just a friend to cry on their shoulder, and other times there’s a spiritual dimension to it.”

One of Miller’s observations, from a paper he wrote in 2013, is telling: “Due to people not having sufficient social support networks, whether at church, in the family, or community, it has become necessary for the work organization to become the new community.” This observation fits with what I have heard from many marketplace leaders. The primary community for many in today’s world is their workplace. I wonder how this reality might shape the church’s work in the years to come, in addition to marketplace chaplaincies.

Emma Green, who wrote “Finding Jesus at Work,” notes that most marketplace chaplains are Christians, Protestant Christians, to be more exact. She observes,

There’s nothing wrong with Christian chaplains, of course. But there is something specifically Protestant in the notion that spiritual fulfillment—that “whole self” someone can bring to work—is best attained through intellectual and emotional coaching, rather than the physical ritual of religious practice.

I’m not sure that many Christians in the workplace, including chaplains, believe that spiritual fulfillment “is best attained through intellectual and emotional coaching.” Rather, this kind of coaching can be one element of a ful-orbedl spiritual life.

Green concludes with words of caution concerning the comfort a marketplace chaplain can provide to workers:

It means making work an even bigger part of life, and relying even further on an employer with a profit motive as a benevolent provider of meaning. Workplace chaplaincies seem to be a great personnel solution, so long as workers live their lives as personnel, rather than persons.

It would be interesting to test this observation, to see if workers served by chaplains find that their whole lives, not just their lives at work, are enriched by what they experience through the chaplaincy at work.

Photo used under Creative Commons license:ús_treballant).jpg

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