In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow—a woman who won’t stop bothering an uncaring, disbelieving judge until he grants her justice. Then Jesus tells His disciples that persistence is important—it’s a marker for faith. “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge,” says Jesus. “Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:6-8).
I heard this parable during a recent Sunday worship gathering—it made me think carefully about my parish ministry efforts. Before the pandemic, my parish had farmed out faith formation to another parish. With a change in pastors, it was time to restart the ministry and I was hired to do it. It was slow going. I started with a handful of families, added and lost some throughout the year, and ended with a core group of about four families. It was a little disheartening, and I wondered whether my low numbers were due to the lingering effects of the pandemic, changing demographics, the switch to a family-based formation model, or something I hadn’t discovered. I questioned whether my approach was what the parish needed.
Knowing I would have my four families register for this year, I resolutely set the schedule and began to promote the ministry. As I write this article, I am still fielding inquiries for faith formation and have over 20 families and 70 people actively participating in the ministry. I am grateful for the grace I had to persevere…
We are called to embrace persevering in ministry and in life. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, doesn’t name perseverance as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but he does name patience (see Galatians 5: 22). As we enter this winter season of ministry, we are called to embrace both patience and perseverance.
Here are a few ideas for practicing patience and perseverance in your ministry efforts…
- Pray – Continually pray for your ministry, for the people currently involved in it, and for those whom God is calling to be a part of it. Recognize that you do nothing on your own, but it is with the grace of the Holy Spirit that sustains you in ministry.
- Rejoice in and with those who are involved in your ministry – It can be tempting to think about all the people who should be involved in your ministry and wonder why they aren’t involved. Don’t get caught up in trying to attract them. Instead, acknowledge those who are participating and tailor your ministry efforts to them.
- Tend the soil and prune the branches – Evaluate your ministry efforts to discover those areas that need tending, watering, and pruning. Are there things that you are holding on to “just because”? Consider completing a SWOT analysis both on your own, with your leadership team, and with participants. What are the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats in your ministry? It’s always important to do this at the end of the year, but we can always do mini-course corrections mid-year.
- Set SMART goals for your ministry – Talk with your leadership team about your goals for your ministry. We all need to have a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), but we also need to have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-specific) goals. Remember to take it one step at a time.
- Take care of yourself – We pour our entire self into our ministry efforts, especially when we see needs to be met. So don’t forget to rest and recharge. Take a day off and do something that interests you. Read a book (for fun, not ministry-related), take a walk, play a game, go to a movie, spend time with friends and don’t talk about work. All of these things can help you renew your spirit to dive back into the trenches.
Patience and persevering in ministry mean that we don’t change course mid-stream just because our numbers or efforts don’t seem to be bearing fruit. Yes, revamping is sometimes needed; other times, we need to give our efforts time to work. A smaller yield this year may merely means that the roots are growing deep and the yield will be greater next year. Remember the parable of the barren fig tree (see Luke 13:6-8)—give it one more year, but in that year, you must cultivate the ground, tend the soil, prune the branches, and fertilize it so that it may bear fruit in the future. Persevere in prayer, in ministry, and in the work of the Kingdom.
Rosina Hendrickson is a member of Vibrant Faith’s Coaching Team, and she’s the Coordinator of Family Faith Formation at St. Thomas the Apostle in Chicago. She also facilitates STEP courses through the University of Notre Dame, a platform for online adult formation.