My father was not in ministry. He was a lifelong salesman, selling industrial locking systems to institutions. He turned 96 in April. He’s got quite a bit of dementia. Still, he can be tuned in at times, especially when he’s talking about his career, which he loved. He still says, “I wish I were working—every day was different!”
I have to be honest and say that I haven’t always appreciated his experience and approach to life. I wasn’t interested in business and sales. He was an off-the charts extrovert and my brother and I remember cringing as children when he struck up a conversation with anyone and everyone.
However, I’ve come to realize that the business side of ministry is critical to making church work. I’ve also learned that enrolling others in ministry endeavors also is required for a meaningful and productive ministry. That’s sales, even if no money is exchanged.
So when I visit, I ask him for sales tips. He always gives me something, and frequently his tips are relevant to ministry, too. On a recent visit he said, as he often does, “There’s always tomorrow!” His face lit up, and he waved his hands and exclaimed, “It’s the mystery of tomorrow! You never know what’s going to happen.” On another day he said, “If today isn’t working out, you can make a difference tomorrow!”
The ability to let go of what’s happened today is essential for ministry. We need to assess, evaluate, and learn from our experience and our mistakes. However, when you spend too much time ruminating and blaming yourself or others, you waste energy that is better used to creatively think about the future and take action. In addition, remembering that there are new opportunities tomorrow can give you energy to move forward in positive and productive ways.
That positive and persistent approach applies to so many aspects of life, including the work of the church.
I always write down his advice, and now I have a whole collection. Here are a few more:
“If they say no, don’t take that as final. Come back later.” I’ve found this to be true in recruitment for leadership. Keep a running list of people who are good prospects for leadership and ask them again next year!
“If you can’t stand rejection, you don’t belong in sales, because you are going to be rejected.” Likewise, in ministry we experience many setbacks along the way, and we have to be able to tolerate criticism and outright rejection to make it. Persistence and resilience are essential for a lifetime in ministry. We may have wonderful ideas for moving the ministry forward, and people are not necessarily going to stand up and enthusiastically embrace them, especially at first.
“You never know what will transpire in a conversation.” In ministry sometimes we make assumptions about people—they will never say yes, they are too busy, they won’t be interested. If we make an offer of an opportunity, without too much invested in whether they say yes or no, we might be surprised.
“I always thought that what I had to offer would benefit them. I knew I could really help them.” In ministry, we have the conviction that the gospel message will benefit people, that growing in their faith will benefit them, that entering into leadership will benefit them as well as the church. When we have that confidence, it’s easier to keep going, and to keep coming back offering people the chance to enter into the life of faith and of spiritual growth and of leadership.
I’m grateful my father is still alive and able to give me the benefit of his wisdom and experience. Even if this may be his last Father’s Day, that wisdom is inside me as well.
The Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.