Mark Cress: Corporate Servanthood
It has been said that at any given moment, in every man’s life, he is either enduring or about to face a life-changing trial. How do people who have no spiritual network cope with the constant valleys and pitfalls of life or personal crisis? Corporate Chaplains of America has made it their mission to answer this question on behalf of the American business man and woman. Conceived in the heart of Dr. Mark Cress, founder of CCA, this organization has been effecting spiritual change within the American workplace since 1996.
"I’m the typical entrepreneurial story,” said Mark Cress, as he described the winding path that led him to corporate chaplaincy. “I wanted to be a business guy; it’s all I ever wanted to do.” After graduating with a business degree, Mark began working for the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. In 1984, he became vested within the company and started on the road of entrepreneurship.
“God was really good to me. My story is typical: the first business I tried didn’t work very well, the second I tried didn’t work either, but it wasn’t as bad as the first. I went through a succession of ventures like that, all the while trying to be a good Christian owner.”
With both a business brokerage background and extensive experience with commercial acquisitions and business start-ups, Mark ultimately found himself the owner of an INC. 500 TV production company in Richmond, VA. “After multiple attempts, I finally found a business that proved successful,” he said. “I had a strong Christian partner that was 20 years my senior. We just had a good thing going together. We prayed together, did Bible studies together and tried to run the company on Christian principles.”
Even though Mark made it a point to be available to his employees for spiritual support, he never felt that he was adequately ministering to their needs. “I had a desire to be a spiritual ear for them and to help them through the crises and problems they had, but I didn’t know how to make it happen, and due to my position, it was clear that employees wouldn’t share certain things with me,” said Mark. “I didn’t want to do a hospital visit, I wanted to run the business. I wasn’t qualified to deal with a funeral when an employee had a death in the family. I wasn’t equipped to be what they needed, because I was a business guy, but God was dealing with my heart to care for these people.”
Not able to ignore the calling of God upon his heart, in the early 1990’s, Mark sold his business and entered seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. After earning his Master of Divinity degree and later a doctorate in Business Ethics, he began to actively develop the plan for Corporate Chaplains of America. It was from these humble beginnings that the largest full-time chaplaincy organization in the country was born.
“On February 12, 1996, we launched the genesis of Corporate Chaplains of America with one little company,” said Mark. A business owner and prior acquaintance requested that Mark would come share the Gospel with a friend. One thing led to another, and that man came to Christ. His company was the first company to sign up with CCA. “I began to chaplain them, and they became the incubator for CCA.”
Word began to spread about the positive effects of chaplaincy within the Raleigh business community. By the end of the year, CCA had three companies, and the Lord was impacting the lives of the employees that Mark was serving.
The Explosion of Workforce Chaplaincy
As an overflow of their personal intimacy with Christ, CCA chaplains embody the “love your neighbor as yourself” command found in Luke 10:27 by their devotion to their corporate neighbor—“which in the marketplace is the many employees and families they serve daily,” said Cress. Through sacrificial love modeled by Christ, CCA chaplains are serving thousands of owners, leadership teams, employees, and family members across the country. This system of Christ-like care is revolutionizing the corporate care mindset and impacting the very heart of America.
After the first several new mission fields, God began to richly bless the ministry of CCA. “The first five or six years of CCA, we were learning how to be effective chaplains for the Lord,” said Mark. “We had an earnest desire to serve the Lord in the workplace and to care for employees and their family members. So many people didn’t have anyone to look to in a time of crisis; we became the one they went to for help.”
Today, over 500,000 employees and family members are under the umbrella of chaplaincy care. As full-time servants to the American workforce, CCA chaplains are solely dedicated to the spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being of the employees within their network. CCA chaplains are 100% committed to corporate ministry, serving companies through weekly rounds and 24/7 availability as needed.
“This isn’t a hobby; it is a full-time vocation,” said Mark. “We are the only organization that employs predominantly full-time chaplains. If a chaplain’s pager goes off on Sunday morning at eleven o’clock, they will be available to respond within ten minutes of the call, guaranteed. We don’t allow our chaplains to hold other jobs, because they are full-time chaplains. We need our chaplains to focus on the corporate employees. That’s the most important thing we do. Our chaplains are servants.”
With over 28,000 employees and family members who have come to Christ over the course of the ministry, Corporate Chaplains of America has made a significant positive impact upon corporate culture. By being servants to the workforce, they have supported, loved, prayed for, and assisted thousands of American workers. This fact alone is a testament to the almighty power of God behind the scenes of countless American companies.
"Our CCA chaplains are having a profound impact on our people and our business. I never visit a location today without someone coming up to me and thanking the company and our leadership team for these chaplains. Over the years, they have helped our employees and family, members through many crises and difficulties. When you do that for an employee’s family you create loyalty and commitment like you can’t imagine. It has been a great investment and one that will generate returns for eternity."J. Frank Harrison III • Chairman & CEO of Coke Consolidated
When an individual Christian realizes that he is an ambassador of the King, lives are changed, but when an owner/CEO embraces the need for chaplaincy, and the entire organization operates with the singular mindset of shining the truth of Christ’s love into the darkness, a corporate culture will dramatically change, and eternal dividends will multiply. Referring to the organization’s logo that is embroidered upon the apparel of all chaplains, Mark said, “Our chaplains go into the workplace with God’s name on their chest. We represent Christ to these people.”
The Need for Workforce Chaplaincy
Everyone experiences heartache and loss, and many employees do not have the support system of a local church or organization. This tragic aspect of American culture lends itself to the lack of positive emotional outlets, thus leaving the bulk of society clamoring for support and one-on-one intentional care. Corporate Chaplains of America is literally standing in the gap between desperation and hope.
“We do not serve a singular corporate category; we have a chaplain in every business sector,” Mark says, “that runs the gamut from beverage distributors, to standard warehousing, insurance, banking, technology, manufacturing, food service, to medical vendors. It is all by God’s design. Additionally, we serve companies of all sizes and types (blue collar, white collar, bilingual), from 25 employees to 10,000 plus. We have a chaplain within two hours of almost every employee in the United States. If someone in Raleigh calls and says their mother is in the hospital in Oregon, we have a chaplain in place that can check on her. It’s what we do. These things happen weekly. We are available and ready to serve.”
Not only are individual CCA chaplains invested in the lives of their constituency, but also the entire organization, top to bottom. “Every day at 2:30, every member of our team receives a notification on their phone that says how many people came to Christ across the nation the prior day,” said Mark. “We track and celebrate what God has done through our ministry. We all stop every day to pray for the workplaces under our watch.”
For a Christian, operating within a cutthroat corporate culture is difficult at best; for an organization that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ within a humanistic workforce, survival is by the grace of God. “Many people have asked if our mission statement creates conflict because the name of Jesus is used,” said Mark. “The beautiful answer is that it doesn’t. When people are struggling and in crisis they just want some one to help them and walk alongside them. This is proven in the success we have had serving diverse companies with employees from every culture and various beliefs.”
One of the key reasons why CCA has not faced opposition within the workplace is the simple fact of the care with which they approach the ministry. Each chaplain is recruited, hired and trained with great detail and possess a combination of business and seminary training. They take a permission-based approach, and everything they do is done in a confidential manner. Relationships with employees are built, maintained and broadened to include entire family units. Lives are changed; families are affected; homes are rebuilt.
Corporate Chaplains of America has flourished through decades of service to the American workforce because of their commitment to servanthood and to faithfulness in their mission. Echoing the words of Jesus, Mark looks at CCA as a brotherhood of servants.
The Future of Corporate Chaplaincy
Brokenness touches every one of us, and its effects are felt upon believers and non-believers alike. Every day, substance abuse, financial challenges, domestic violence, relationship issues, suicide, grief and loss knock on the doors of American families, and people succumb to the pressure of life without hope. The cubicles, conveyor belts and cash registers of America have become the greatest mission fields of the twenty-first century, where people spend more time than any other activity in life. There is a dire need for compassionate care in the workplace; the answer is corporate chaplaincy.
“Great companies value people completely,” said Mark, believing that great companies invest in corporate chaplaincy, because they recognize that employees need the care, love, and support that is delivered through CCA and the life-changing good news of Jesus Christ. “When a company possesses a worldview that values man as God’s most precious creation, whether it is a customer, a vendor or an employee, corporate chaplaincy is a natural fit. The challenge is to bring awareness of the program to company owners and CEO’s.”
Raising awareness of the program and the need for chaplaincy support within organizations is the number one obstacle to continued expansion of the ministry, but despite the economic recession of the past five years, Corporate Chaplains of America has seen steady growth. Mark attributes that to the staying power of business owners and entrepreneurs and their desire to integrate faith at work. As one business owner put it, “CCA Chaplains are on the hunt, looking for the hurting and suffering to provide caring support and the hope of Christ.”
"In addition to the intentional caring and eternal benefits of chaplaincy, all business owners think in a bottom-line way too. If you want your company to be better, more profitable, have lower turnover, and all of the dashboard things you would normally see, chaplaincy will do it. Our company is a much better company today, than it was before Corporate Chaplains got here."Jay Harris • President, Harris Beverage
“The kind of owner who will invest in corporate chaplaincy is the kind of person who doesn’t quit,” he said. “The only companies that we lost in the great recession are those that went completely out of business. We had business owners that said they would turn the lights out on the building before they would cut their corporate chaplain. They’d take their last breath before they’d cut CCA. We grew through 2007 and 2010; God always provided. It is our belief that God will provide everything we need, to do everything He wants us to do, exactly when He wants us to do it.”The Next Step for Corporate Chaplains of America
Never stagnant, CCA is always training for the next marathon. Corporately, change is on the horizon, as CEO Mark Cress is preparing to transition into another role within the company. Even though changes are coming, the executive board and the chaplains under their employment anticipate great blessings in the days ahead.
“Recently, God spoke to my heart and said, “Mark, you listened and have been a faithful servant in starting and building this organization to where it stands today, but you have reached your limit.” God told me that it was time to bring in the next person to be the CEO of Corporate Chaplains and lead us to greater heights. We have always operated on the concept of open hands, and I am anxious to see how God will continue to provide for CCA in the future.”
From dreams of becoming an entrepreneur to the founding of a non-profit chaplaincy organization, Mark Cress has seen God work in miraculous ways. A twenty-one acre ministry campus, more than 150 active ministry chaplains, and thousands of employees across 40 states and internationally are all testaments to the humble submission of one man to God’s plan.
“This is God’s work, God’s building, God’s workplace; we don’t have to control it. God has brought many people in to help us grow and do what we’re doing for American employees. I’m so thankful that God has let me ride it this far,” said Mark.
If you are interested in learning more about Corporate Chaplains of America and how they may serve your organization, leadership team, employees and families, please call (919) 263-0289 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Jessica Burchfield
Jessica Burchfield is the contract Communications Coordinator for Clearwater Christian College, a freelance writer, and a professional photographer based out of Tampa, Florida.Read More Articles by Jessica Burchfield