Ministry Lessons From the Retail World...

I've recently started working at a rather large national retail store chain. And, as I was working my shift today, I began to think about some of the things I've seen and experienced since starting. I realized that some of the principles and practices that my bosses have trained me in (and modeled to me) transfer rather beautifully to the world of ministry. So I wanted to jot a few down so that I can remember them, and use them, in my ministry!

1) Presentation is important... We spend a ton of time on presentation at the store. Several times a day, we walk the aisles making sure that there are no holes on the shelves, products are where they should be, and that things are facing forward. Things are dusted all the time. Floors are polished. Seasonal decorations are hung. All of these things are done with the customer in mind. If perception is reality, then we want to be perceived as a clean, organized store.

I'm not sure if we think about presentation enough in ministry. What's the first thing a guest sees (and therefore thinks) when they walk into our space? What kind of environments are we creating and how do they affect our message? When we hand over our promo for camp to a parent, what impression does it give them? We need to start recognizing how much presentation can add to our credibility.

2) But it's not as important as great customer service... It doesn't matter how good the store looks, without paying special attention to the customers, the store can never be successful. Our store policy is that we're always asking customers "Can I help you find something?" Providing great customer service is the first thing on everyone's job description.

All of us in professional ministry have struggled with balancing being task driven vs. relationship driven. While presentation is important (we could have the best looking ministry around, with the biggest programs, sweetest print work, and most awesome videos) unless we're working hard to encourage growing relationships (with God and others), we're never going to have a successful ministry. Life change happens within the context of relationships.

3) Everyone's a janitor... This is a principle that I first learned from a book called Inside the Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys to Disney's Success It basically means that no job is too small for anyone. If there's trash on the ground, everyone from the new guy janitor to the company CEO reaches for it to pick it up. No one is too important to lend a hand when it's needed.

I'm especially guilty of thinking I'm too important to do some things in ministry. Sometimes, under the guise of "empowering a volunteer" to do something, I'd pass it off my plate. But the truth is that each of us is important, and each of is isn't too important. So there's nothing we should consider ourselves above, and nothing we shouldn't be willing to pitch in on. I love that everyone pitches in and does their part at my store. If only there was some model of that for ministry. Something like... a body. Like... a body... of Christ. Eh. I think I've still got a lot to learn with this one...

4) Encouragement is important... At least once a day (sometimes more than once) we have a sales team huddle, where all of the sales staff and managers gather together to talk about what's important at the time. And every huddle starts with what they call "recognition". It's basically team members bragging on each other! Everyone has the opportunity to bring attention to someone's good job! I love it! I even got recognized today!

Anyone who's been in ministry for very long can attest to how easy it can be to get discouraged. We all need encouragement. Duh. But I'll go one step farther and suggest that we all need to encourage others too! I don't care whether you're gifted in it or not. Just do it! It makes them feel great and makes you feel good too!

5) The store looks great because it's always being worked on... As I was working on product placement today, a customer walked by and said, "Wow! Now I know why this store always looks so good!" And it's true! We're always working toward making the store better! We never just let things coast because there's no such thing as coasting. If we let things go, they'll go downhill!

Too many ministries suffer because we find something (a method, a process, etc.) that we get comfortable with and stick with it for too long. The truth is (especially in youth ministry) that our audience is always growing and changing. We need to change with them! Don't be afraid to evaluate your ministry, admit that things aren't working like they should be, and take action to make them better! Don't get comfortable or settle! Don't be afraid to change! (Says the black kettle to the black pot.)

I'm actually having fun with this job. And the more I work there, the more I feel like I'm learning about dealing with people (managing, being on a team, serving others). I hope that God will give me grace (and memory) enough to live these lessons out when I land another pastoral job...

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