Ministry is a Marathon

Last year, during a presentation on the New Evangelization to a group of catechetical leaders in our diocese I’ve spoken to before, a startling realization hit me: they were attentive, engaged, and interested in a way I had not seen before.

“Well,” I laughed to myself, “that only took six years. Now to get to work on the catechists they lead!”

I was making a (silent) joke, but upon reflection I realized there was a sizable grain of truth: ministerial leadership is always a marathon, never a sprint, and we shouldn’t be discouraged or disappointed when our efforts don’t produce immediate tangible results. Too often we measure the results of our ministry in the short-term. But our faith reminds us to take a more sustained perspective and aim not just for the immediate, but for the long-term.

Indeed, Sacred Scripture is full of examples of the “long view” of leadership and ministry:

  • Abraham was 100 years old when the Lord’s promise of a son was fulfilled.
  • Joseph endured two years in prison, despite his pleas to be remembered by the pharaoh, before he was released and successfully interpreted the pharaoh’s dreams.
  • Moses tried ten times (and went through ten plagues!) before God’s command to pharaoh to free the Jews was answered.
  • Similarly, Moses had to lead a (at times disgruntled and obstinate) people for 40 years through the desert to reach the Promised Land.
  • The parable of the sower contrasts the seeds that fell on rocky soil and sprang up immediately (but ultimately withered) with the seed that fell on good soil and developed deeper roots.
  • Jesus formed the Twelve Apostles for three years, and they still abandoned him when he was arrested!

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes

No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no on killer innovation, no solitary luck break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process — step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel — that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.

We in ministry would do well to remember this and work on cultivating seeds that will have deep, abiding roots in our ministry.

How have you taken the long view in your ministry? How can you build your ministry step-by-step instead of shooting for instant results?

Image by familymwr under a CC-By license.