The wise are glad to be instructed, but babbling fools fall flat on their faces.” Proverbs 10:8
Many of you know that I was in the grocery business for a number of years. I believe it was God’s training ground for me in ministry. There are many parallels in the management of a grocery store and vocational holiness. Both are essentially about people. In the grocery store, I learned how to manage by being fair, honest, and firm. I also learned about market share, stockholders, store labor management reports, etc. Many would say that I was successful in that industry. I was fortunate to be promoted a few times and learned from one of the best leaders in the business.
I want to share with you four lessons I learned in the grocery business that have helped me in ministry.
First, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who could my job and that I was expendable. I struggled at the beginning and was very rough around the edges. In fact it frightens me at times when I think back on the things I did or said. One day I was struggling but also very proud. I had just received a performance review and it basically said that I needed to shape up. At first I was angry but then I read Proverbs 10:8 and realized that if I was ever going to succeed at this I would have to listen to criticism. When you are in management, you get criticized all the time. My boss told me, “Bill you need learn how to manage people by who you are and not what the name badge says.” Respect is earned not given. I began to sharpen my listening skills. Anytime I was criticized, I wrote it down and at the end of the day I would review it and think about it.
Second, I learned that in order to get respect I had to be honest. I needed to admit when I made a mistake. I hated it when that happened but I had to come to grips with myself. Honesty builds trust and when people trust you, you can move quickly. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Third, I had to learn to put myself in my employees’ shoes. Would I ask them to do something that I wouldn’t do? Is it fair to punish someone by the schedule? I would love to sit here and tell you that I got along with everyone really well. NOT. What I did learn was to handle people in a way that would be fair to them. If I didn’t think I could be fair with someone, I would ask another manager to step in, especially with performance reviews. The more I would try to understand an employee, the better results I got out of them. I tried to remember their kids names, family situations, etc. Being more relational in my job was a big part of my personal effectiveness.
Fourth, I learned that in business that no matter how well we conducted ourselves and no matter how clean the store was, the customer was KING. It didn’t matter who we thought we were; what mattered was who they thought we were. I once turned down a customer for a refund of a purchase he had actually made at one of our competitors. My boss overheard me politely telling the customer that he had not purchased the product in our store (the item had another store’s label, he had the other’s store’s receipt and brought it in their bag!). After the gentleman left, my boss called me to the office and chewed me out properly! He said, “Don’t ever send a customer back to the competition! Go find the guy and give him his money back.”
Here is how I have tried to apply these lessons as a leader. When you are criticized or offered help, take it, chew on it, file it away and ultimately use it. You will be better for it. Are you firm, fair and honest in your dealings with your parishioners and leaders? Think about it. Are you consistent in your forthrightness? Leaders must model what they want to achieve. When you are honest as in admitting you were wrong or making mistakes, people will respect you for it. It is biblical to live with integrity. If you know you can’t be objective about someone, ask a respected leader to help you. Share the task but make sure that you are being as fair as possible when dealing with that staff person, lay leader, etc. When you stand up to preach on Sunday morning take a long hard look at those sitting to hear a word from God. I used to calculate in my head how many man-hours were sitting out there just to hear me speak. I thought to myself, “They could be at another church or doing something else so I better be good.” I wanted to honor them with excellence. I wanted them to know that it was worth it to come. We need to be at our best on Sunday.
Finally, you and I are God’s vessels but we aren’t the only ones He can use to get the job done. If you are doing everything at your church, stop it! Stop it now. Learn how to build teams and delegate. Delegation is leading with trust. Learn to manage more by doing less. Admit that you don’t know everything and keep leading.