What clergy can learn from Dolly Parton

I’ve gotten intrigued by Dolly Parton lately. I admire much about her, including her talent, hard work, persistence in the face of setbacks, and generosity

What can clergy learn from Dolly?

Be generous. Forbes magazine just this week declared her a major education philanthropists particularly for her “Imagination Library” providing books to millions of preschoolers. I was always dismissive of her theme park, Dollywood, but I’ve learned she’s provided jobs for many in the depressed area where she grew up. We do not have Dolly’s financial resources, but we can only teach generosity to others if we, too, are generous.

Work hard. Dolly is still at it at 73 and still going strong. Ministry is hard work. It takes time on the clock and time on the calendar. Hard work is not necessarily the same as overfunctioning, when we’re working hard toward our own goals. You may not want to do paid ministry until 73, but meaningful ministry after retirement will help you and others.

Connect across generations. Dolly connects with and supports younger artists. She just released a new video of “God Only Knows” with Australian Christian brothers For King and Country, and performed at the Newport Folk Festival in july with the country group Highwomen.

Access to people of a variety of ages is one of the wonderful benefits of pastoral ministry. Even if your congregation tends to be older, they have family members you will have the opportunity to connect with, even if they never come to church. Whatever your age, look up and down the generations and develop relationships.

Be positive. From her hardscrabble childhood to career ups and downs to the doubtless many private challenges, Dolly puts her best face to the world. Despite her wealth, she said in a Labor Day CBS interview, ‘I count my blessings more than I count my dollars.” That’s a good model even for those who may find the dollars are tight. 

Find your own creative expression. Dolly has written thousands of songs. I wrote my first song this year, not because of Dolly but because of an assignment from my music teacher. I’m never going to be a big songwriter, but I am a writer, and I write something almost every day, even for 5 or 10 minutes. What’s your creative outlet? It might be preaching, or it might be something else. A creative practice outside of church, even a few minutes a day or a week, will enhance your ministry at church. I can guarantee it.

Be yourself. Dolly is unapologetically herself, including the big hair and the plastic surgery she frankly admits she has had. And she encourages others to be themselves.Whether you are tall or short (Dolly is just my height), round or thin, big-haired or balding, a singer or can’t carry a tune, find out the best of who you are and put that into the world.



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