Four Things Church Leaders Can Learn about Reinvention from Tony Bennett

Are you feeling the need to reinvent yourself in ministry? I’ve been listening to and reading about the singer Tony Bennett lately. I’m finding it an inspiration. Here are four items I’ve been reflecting on:

1. Be yourself, and do what you do best. Bennett’s career took a downturn in the 60s and 70s with the rise of rock music. His label, Columbia, made him do an album of pop music (a dismal failure by everyone’s standards). He said it literally made him sick to do that album. And he quit the label. He has stuck with the songs he loves, including his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He reinvented himself for a new era – but he didn’t stop doing what he does best. In ministry, plenty of people will try to tell you what you ought to be and do. While adaptability is important, don’t compromise the core of who you are. That’s what God made you to do.

2. Collaborate with younger people. When Bennett hit bottom in 1979, he asked his son to take over as his manager. And he listened to what his son said. He sang on MTV. He did an album of duets a few years ago with musicians like Elvis Costello and K.D. Lang. The result: A career that has gone on into his 80s. My young adult children know who he is (and not just because I’ve told them). For those of us who are getting older in ministry, developing relationships with creative and energetic younger folks can put some juice into our own work.

3. Express yourself creatively outside of ministry. Bennett began drawing as a child and never stopped. He studied painting seriously in the 1970s when his singing career was not going so well. He’s had exhibits of his paintings. (See his art work here.) What do you do that gives you creative satisfaction that is not at church? It’s a God-given gift, and it will feed your ministry.

4. Keep learning. Tony Bennett says the best advice he ever got was from the cellist Pablo Casals: “At any given moment you can learn.” Bennett says, “Isn’t that wonderful? The way he spoke. The way he spoke…” (Tony Bennett in the Studio: A life of Art and Music, p. 158). No matter what the challenges of ministry, of the wider society and even our personal lives, we can learn at any moment.

1 replies on “Four Things Church Leaders Can Learn about Reinvention from Tony Bennett

  • Gawain

    What an insightful article. I was a big fan of Bennett. I think that understanding churches as “learning organizations” can lead us productively into the future.

    I did an article using Gordon Ramsay a few months ago, in a similar vein. I also think Sidney Portier would be a good example.


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