What does “giving 110%” look like for a Chaplain?

I’m involved in an interesting discussion with colleagues regarding the relationship of chaplaincy to our corporate environments. The discussion started off with an article about how folks in business need to “over deliver” in order to move up the corporate ladder. It was put out as to how we as Chaplains can do this and what it might look like.

It drew some pretty heated remarks. Some considered that Chaplains should not even consider advancement in their work. The general idea was “I’m here to please God, not men! If you’re in it for advancement, get another job.” And that’s not much of a paraphrase.

Others wondered more openly about where the lines were between guarding oneself and “going over and above” for someone. We may feel called to help in situations that test our boundaries, either by the prodding of a manager or an inner prodding which may be the Spirit, our own fears, or even whatever we had for dinner last night. As one respondent wisely noted, “who is served when the chaplain suffers compassion fatigue or burnout?”

Personally I find this a tough issue. My personality makes me long for security and approval, and even with all the CPE, counseling, prayer and scripture reading I don’t think that is going to change any time soon. Chaplain jobs are not easy to come by if your position is terminated, unless you’re willing to move about the country or self-start some sort of program. I found that out personally about a year ago after I lost a position I had held for about 7 years.

Chaplaincy is difficult to measure as a benefit, especially in a heath care setting. There are many reasons for this. One is that many misunderstand what we do, thinking that our main job is to pray with people and call the Priest when needed. Another is that while other outcomes are easily quantifiable in medicine, as in infection control, fall risk management, and wound care, one’s experience of Chaplain support is often more subjective. That’s why I think sometimes I tend to try and find ways to quantify myself more by doing more: more visits, more calls, more bible studies and so on. “Works based” you say? Sure it is. I’m saved by faith through grace, but I still have to fill out my timesheet to keep my job. The economy is not based on grace.

It’s very easy for lines to become hazy. What exactly is giving “110%” and what is just part of normal job requirements? And what is doing too much? Is giving a monthly bible study at a nursing home going over and above? What if my hospice doesn’t have any patients there? Is calling family members after hours part of the job or breaking a boundary? Does it matter who we are over-delivering to?

And, as the original poster of the question proposed, is advancement such a bad thing? For all of the negatives of corporate environments, they have many positives as well. The opportunity to advance one’s position and increase influence is only one. Granted, the motivation needs to come not from the promise of advancement but from a sense of calling. Still, the external pull to perform at higher levels and internal push to succeed are strong and hard to ignore. Do we dive in to the corporate culture and strive to give 110%, even if it is truly for our patient’s sake, or do we swim against the current as a prophetic messenger against burnout, compassion fatigue, and never ending stress, even if it costs us advancement, approval, or even our position?

And now off to work!


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