Opportunities and Frustrations of Working as an Industrial Chaplain

The call of the industrial chaplain is perhaps a lesser-known chaplain’s role, but it’s one that has grown in recent years. According to reporting published The Atlantic, thousands of spiritual advisors work as industrial chaplains in the United States. Marketplace ministries (~2,800 chaplains) and Tyson Foods (~115 chaplains) are the some of the largest employers, but there are many other ministry organizations and companies that have counselors on staff.

As with any ministry, working as an industrial chaplain comes with both opportunities and frustrations. The following is a glimpse into what you might expect working as an industrial chaplain.

Opportunity: Work Directly with People

For most Christians who pursue this role, the primary attraction is the ability to work directly with regular folk on an everyday basis. Pastors are constantly trying to meet people where they are, and this counseling work puts chaplains right alongside people. Moreover, chaplains aren’t in the field as another worker -- they’re given the role of a chaplain and recognized as having some spiritual purpose.

For those who view the workplace as an enormous mission field, there’s no easier way to bring up spiritual conversations than being in the office, field or school as a counselor. People will even come with their own concerns and questions, which may lead to many fruitful discussions. Perhaps some will even ask to pray together.

Frustration: Beholden to the Employer

Of course, this opportunity comes with one major trade-off. Industrial chaplains are beholden to the companies that employ them, and sometimes this means evangelism and other explicitly Christian advice may be off limits.

If an employer simply wants someone who will listen, console and counsel -- but not offer Biblically-based advice -- the situation can become highly frustrating. Especially for chaplains who get into this field in order to reach people, not being able to actually proclaim the gospel may lead to discontentment, discouragement and ultimately a disheartened Christian counselor.

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To avoid the likelihood of this potential problem, industrial chaplains should be honest when interviewing for jobs. It’s important to be honest with oneself about what type of role would be satisfactory, and honest with an employer as to how faith influences counseling. Some may only be able to offer biblical counseling that’s permeated with Scripture, while others might have a different take on how their beliefs impact the advice they give.

Opportunity: Be Home During Evenings and Weekends

Entering corporate culture has other advantages, one of which is the opportunity to be home most nights and weekends. While counselors might work long hours during and after emergencies, such events are uncommon. Most weeks, chaplains should expect to keep regular hours and be home when their day is done. Those hours are often fairly standard business hours.

Going home at the end of the workday has many obvious benefits. Married chaplains and parents are able to spend time with their family, and everyone can see friends at times when people are generally free. Additionally, anyone who wants to can pursue ministry outside of their standard counseling work.

Frustration: Work on Employer’s Projects

Part of being beholden to an employer means working on projects that the employer wants to focus on. These are usually good things, but they aren’t always where a chaplain would prefer to spend their counseling time. For example, a chaplain might want more time to help someone going through a divorce while an employer may need the chaplain to focus on a workplace conflict.

Again, this is something that prospective industrial chaplains should pray and think through before taking on any job in this field. Being honest and accepting the limitations of one’s role go a long way toward preventing these types of frustrations.

Opportunity: Work in Many Different Place

As the field of industrial chaplaincy grows, more and more companies are posting job openings throughout the United States and the world. Many major metropolitan areas have companies that employ these chaplains, and there are some openings for industrial chaplains in smaller cities as well.

For some people, the flexibility to work in many different communities is a significant consideration. Chaplains who are married to spouses who move frequently for their job, in particular, might need the ability to change locations every few years.

(Industrial chaplaincy isn’t the only counseling vocation that affords geographical flexibility, for there are also hospitals, counseling centers and other ministry organizations located throughout the country and world that have openings for chaplains.)

Frustration: Accepting Others’ Faiths

Secular workplaces will expose chaplains to people of many different backgrounds and religions, and there are times that chaplains have to accept others’ faiths. While a Christian response to a situation may be the most clear and promising to a chaplain, effectively resolving a matter with particular employees frequently requires finding solutions that are compatible with their faith systems.

As with other frustrations, some chaplains may be fine with this while others may not be.

Opportunity: Receive a Regular Paycheck

As employees, industrial chaplains receive regular paychecks. Every week or two, there will be a check or a deposit made into a checking account.

While Christians should have their sights set on the things above and focus on laying up treasures in heaven, the benefits that a stable income proves shouldn’t be understated. Research conducted by a ministry of Christianity Today found that three-fourths of pastors knew at least one person who left vocational ministry due to financial stress. Being paid helps keep food on the table and the Christian able to minister.

Entering the Corporate Culture

The corporate culture isn’t for everyone, and those who would be discouraged by the frustrations mentioned above probably should choose another vocation (counseling or otherwise). For those who, after being honest with themselves and their employer, believe they can be effective counselors in the workplace setting, however, industrial chaplaincy might be their calling.

Scott M. Brodie

Scott M. Brodie

Scott M. Brodie holds an M.Div. from Redeemer Seminary and is confirmed in the Anglican Church of North America. He writes on Christian and secular subjects, and is starting a children's publication.
Scott M. Brodie