Marketplace Ministries sees workplace as mission field

DALLAS—As the first and only Marketplace Ministries chaplain in 1984, Gil Stricklin started the fledgling ministry with $25 and a 1974 Datsun as his office.

Thirty years later, Marketplace Ministries staffs nearly 3,000 chaplains around the world who care for 145,000 employees in 600 companies ranging from banks to manufacturing companies to food industries to law firms. They are thought to be the largest and oldest workplace chaplain organization in the world outside of the U.S. military.

“It’s amazing that just building relationships with people—a trust level and a confidence level—they know why you’re there. You’re there to help them,” Stricklin says of his ministry as a corporate chaplain.

“You’re designated to be the guy that, if they’ve got a problem or need some help, they come to you. We make over 13,000 worksite visits per month, which is over 150,000 for the year, where we’re actually going to a worksite.”

The idea for the ministry was birthed out of Stricklin’s passion for evangelism and more than 20 years as an Army chaplain, including two tours at Arlington cemetery and a deployment during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

As Stricklin worked among military medical staff during his deployment, he thought, “If these people need a chaplain, what about everybody else out there that aren’t connected with the Army?’”

So Stricklin and his wife, Ann, stepped out in faith and launched Marketplace Ministries. The first company Gil served had 150 employees, and by the end of the first year, three more companies hired him, which required him to bring on additional chaplains.

During that year, they saw more than a dozen employees come to faith in Christ. This trend has continued over the past three decades, as Marketplace chaplains have witnessed nearly 100,000 professions of faith.

In addition to those who become Christians, chaplains see many employees recommit to being active members in a local church.

“For every one person we lead to Christ, there will be twice that many who will rejoin a church,” Stricklin says.

Often, the difficulties of life such as health, marriage and family problems pave the way for gospel conversations with employees who would never go to a church for help.

Stricklin recalls getting a foot in the door with employees during at the first business he served. He was given an office, but no one ever stopped by so he simply made himself available during break times. After a few months he asked the owner to give him a task so he could be among the workers. As a result Stricklin found himself packing sunglasses in the company’s warehouse, which opened up opportunities for ministry.

“Finally,” Stricklin says, “one day a lady came to me and said, ‘Are you that preacher man? My mother had a stroke last night. She’s down at Baylor hospital. Would you have time to go and check on her and come back and tell me since I can’t get there until tonight?’

I said, ‘I’ll go right now.’”

“You’re designated to be the guy that, if they’ve got a problem or need some help, they come to you. We make over 13,000 worksite visits per month, which is over 150,000 for the year, where we’re actually going to a worksite.”

Stricklin, who always kept a suit and tie in his car, changed clothes and went immediately to the hospital. He returned to the hospital every day to minister to the family and performed the funeral a short time later.

Several months later, Stricklin led a salesman named David to the Lord. David’s daughter had stomach cancer, and as Stricklin made regular visits to her in the hospital, he asked David about his faith. David responded that he did not really have faith so Stricklin shared the gospel with him and he trusted Christ.

This kind of passion for Christ and compassion for people sum up the characteristics Marketplace Ministries looks for in its chaplains.

“We want guys that are dedicated, committed, strong in their faith, brilliant, and theologians to be in this ministry,” Stricklin says, adding that chaplains must demonstrate personal holiness and evangelistic fervor.

“We can’t teach you pastoral skills. If you don’t have those by experience then we don’t hire you. On the average our staff has 20 years of pastoral experience, and they have at least 30 years of walking with Christ—they have a track record.”

Ongoing training for chaplains is key to maintaining the level of quality they seek.

“We teach them how to take their religious skills and move it to a non-religious environment,” Stricklin says.

“Ninety percent of our chaplains are part time. We have over 1,500 pastors who are serving a congregation and working with us anywhere as few as five hours per week.”

Marketplace Ministries also staffs 800 women chaplains to minister to women in the workplace.

“There are some things that men shouldn’t be talking with ladies about, and there are some things ladies don’t want to talk with men about,” Stricklin says.

All chaplains are required to sign a statement of faith and agree to standards of conduct, which include abstention from alcohol and no divorce.

“I’d rather stand before Jesus one day and for him to say, ‘Gil, your standards were too high,’ instead of saying, ‘You lowered your standards to meet the standards of the world.’”

With three decades under their belt and ongoing expansion to businesses around the world, including new ventures in China, Stricklin desires for the ministry to maintain its foundational values as it breaks new ground.

“I don’t ever want this just to be a business,” Stricklin says, adding, “I want us to stay on track in that we’re a soul-winning agency and we’re a church-supporting agency.

“People don’t have to go to church, but they’ve got to go to work, whether they like it or hate it. And if we can be there on Monday morning at 6:00 when that ol’ boy gets out of his pickup truck, and he’s had an argument with this wife, and we can show God’s love through actds of kindness—we’re sowing seeds, and some of it is going to fall on fertile ground, and he’s going to come to know Christ and his life is going to be changed.”

Read related stories in the Oct. 8 edition of TEXAN Digital Magazine.

Texan Correspondent
Keith Collier
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