I have never met a corporate chaplain nor seen a minister, priest, or rabbi in my office. Those with spiritual vocations and employed within religious organizations are certainly welcome in corporate offices but during my career, I just never witnessed it. In their paper, Caring for Employees: Corporate Chaplains as a Model of Faith at Work, published in the book Faith & Work: Christian Perspectives, Research, and Insights Into the Movement (Edited by Timothy Ewest, Information Age Publishing Inc, Charlotte, NC, 2018, pages 131-150), Dr. David W. Miller (Princeton University Faith and Work Initiative), Dr. Faith W. Ngunjiri (Concordia University), and Dr. James Dennis LoRusso (Princeton University Faith and Work Initiative) discuss corporate chaplains.
The authors’ research found that “the majority of companies that implement a chaplaincy program are led by a Christian chief executive officer, and the main chaplaincy providers – third-party firms who provide chaplains to client organizations – are almost exclusively Christian.”(p. 132) For Christian CEO’s, the “workplace chaplaincy represented an extension of their personal faith. … They tend to articulate faith and work in practical terms, rather than abstract theological terms. They are less concerned with exploring the finer points of theology or doctrine regarding work than they are in translating their understanding of Christian faith, as a whole, into worldly action.”(p. 134-137)
The chaplains are paid corporate employees who are “trying to contribute to the bottom line.”(p. 143) Administratively, chaplains reside in Human Resources. The program sounds helpful but I am concerned about corporate evangelism since there is a power difference between corporations and individual employees. This reminds me of the reformation period when Church and State were combined. “The workplace is not only shaped by the personal faith of executive; the workplace represents a context within which ministry or ‘witnessing for Christ’ can occur.”(p. 138) I agree that faithful executives can shape corporations through their personal spirituality and religious values. This is a major aspect of the faith and work movement. But we must be careful. Due to power differentials, executives may push their personal religious beliefs on employees, actively or unintended. Christianity is missional, but it is the Holy Spirit that does the work, not executives with evangelistic agendas.
One of the largest corporations with a chaplaincy program is Tyson Foods (>115,000 employees, 125 chaplains – p. 133). Tyson Foods employs chaplains from various religious beliefs (Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim) and practices interfaith chaplaincy. In 2006, Tyson invited customers to download prayer books of many faiths. This interfaith practice appeals to me as a more balanced approach. One of Human Resources’ activities is to counsel employees. Chaplains broaden the counseling into faith and work discussions rather than only secular. Personal issues like family, health and relational problems can be related to spiritual insights, if the employee desires. When a corporation is an advocate for an employee’s holistic life, employees will feel more corporate community which should “contribute to the bottom line.”