Richard Baxter, the seventeenth-century Puritan identified by Max Weber as embodying the Protestant ethic of “worldly asceticism,” once called for chaplains to be sent into places of work for the conversion of sinners.
In a 1682 treatise titled, How to Do Good to Many, Baxter pleads with “Merchants and Rich men” to provide for “some able zealous Chaplains to those Factories” situated in lands where the Gospel had not yet taken root. He urges chaplains “such as thirst for the Conversion of sinners, and the enlargment of the Church of Christ, and would labour skilfully and diligently therein.”
Our local paper, the Grand Rapids Press, had feature story on the rising demand for workplace chaplains recently, “Chaplains come calling in the workplace.” Today’s workplace chaplain isn’t so much a missionary as a pastoral care counselor (they’re called “care partners” by Gordon Food Service), but I think Baxter would approve.
After all, providing such pastoral care can be a kind of mission field, too, even in a Christianity-rich context like West Michigan. Greg Duvall of Marketplace Chaplains USA says, “You can get this sense that there’s this Christian ‘bubble,’ by the number of churches or the region’s history, but if you just look around, there are a number of people who are not connected through church or don’t have a growing faith.” For folks who don’t worship regularly or aren’t connected to a church, a workplace chaplain can provide a connection to a faith in a time of need or trouble that can help rekindle the spark.
I would expect seminaries and schools offering ministerial training to increasingly focus on workplace chaplaincy as a calling, not just for retired pastors or temporary workers, but for full time pastors too. Presumably those pastors should receive specialized training, part of which would be education in how business works. And that could be a very fruitful place for dialogue between the oft-divided worlds of church and business.