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The One Thing That Really Matters Most in Ministry

THOM AND JOANI SCHULTZ

Here's how to diagnose if your ministry is making "the one thing" your top priority, and how to move toward it if you're not. An excerpt from the just-released book The 1 Thing by Thom and Joani Schultz.

When passengers aboard the hijacked 9/11 jets realized they wouldn't survive the ordeal, several reached for their cell phones and quietly dialed their loved ones. If no one answered, they left recorded messages with their final words: "I love you."

The passengers could have said:
• "Be kind to the neighbors."
• "Cast my absentee ballot."
• "Don't forget the house payment."
But, of course, they were focused on their personal relationships. They desperately wanted to say, "I love you."

We'd do the same. When we think of our relationship with our son, Matt, we have many typical parental expectations. But none of those comes close to our deep desire for his love.

Life crises often clarify what's really important. And for parents and children, ultimately what's most important is their love relationship.

Our heavenly father views his children in a similar way. He cherishes the love, the relationship, more than anything else. God the Father sent his son to live among us, to befriend us, and to show us how to befriend him. We see through his life and ministry a gallery of friendships -- all varying in depth and maturity. He built close friendships with Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus. When Lazarus got sick, his sisters fully expected their friend Jesus to intervene. And Jesus' bond with them showed its depth through his tears and his healing hand.

Jesus also developed friendships with his disciples. Some of these friendships were deeper than others. He selected three -- Peter, James, and John -- to accompany him to the Transfiguration and to be with him during his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

SEEING MINISTRY THROUGH THE FRIENDSHIP FILTER
The formation of healthy human friendships provides clues for deciphering "the one thing" that Jesus referenced in his dialogue with Mary and Martha. Remember, Jesus told Martha she needed only to focus on "one thing," not the "many things" she was worried about. And he noted that Mary had chosen "the one thing." So what is this "one thing"?

• Jesus? Martha acknowledged and opened her home to Jesus yet was told she didn't get it. Agreeing that Jesus is real is not "the one thing."

• Serving the Lord? Martha was directly serving Jesus, preparing a meal for him. Yet Jesus told her she didn't get it. Working full speed for Jesus, in ministry for him, is not "the one thing."

• A good heart? Martha had good intentions. Her motives were fine, but she didn't get it. Righteous motives, even directed toward the Lord, are not "the one thing."

• Proper protocol? Tradition would've required both Martha and Mary to prepare for the guest. But Jesus ruled against the tradition, the ritual, the way things had always been done. That wasn't "the one thing."

• Justice? Martha argued that she was being unfairly overworked while Mary sat around. Even so, Jesus told her she didn't get it. Equality and fairness are not "the one thing."

• A growing relationship with Jesus? Yes, that's it! That's what Mary chose. She wanted to know and grow closer to Jesus. The Lord was (and still is) looking for friends with whom to develop deep relationships. That is "the one thing."

"The one thing" is a heart-to-heart relationship, a close and growing friendship, with God. This is what God craves. This is what we crave. God created every person to yearn for this intimate relationship with him. Nothing else will do.

And without it, nothing else matters.
We make friends with Jesus much as we make friends with other people. So what's involved in developing a good friendship? We asked our friends and associates to list qualities of and steps toward a great human relationship.


Here's what they listed: common interests, shared values, volition (picking your friends), spending time together, talk that's give-and-take, shared experiences, having fun together, eating together, spending time with your friends' friends, sharing emotions, companionship, helping one another, healthy interdependence, love, intimacy, trust, loyalty, willing sacrifice for one another, forgiveness, and commitment.

Study this list, and then consider how it applies to a growing relationship with God. What can we learn from our human friendships that may contribute to our relationship with Christ?

DOING MINISTRY USING THE FRIENDSHIP FILTER
Deep, intimate friendships -- the kind that mirror what God is looking for with us -- are vanishing from our busy lifestyles. We find it harder and harder to establish, nurture, and rely on real friendships. It's a sign of our times.

Church futurist and PreachingPlus.com host Leonard Sweet writes: "We're a remotecontrolled, security-fenced, Internet-commuting, environmentally insulated society. We're increasingly cut off from genuine experiences and expressions of community. We're increasingly removed from real, dynamic relationships. Our high divorce rates, our fractured families, our corporate superstructures, and our let's-just-move mindset all evidence our failures at relationships."

We're in a relationship famine. According to George Gallup Jr., four people in 10 say they've been lonely for "a long period of time." The scarcity of real relationships intensifies our hunger. We're desperately seeking real friendships. Even as we sit solo at our computers, we browse Web sites that promise to link us with other like-minded people who also seek a friend.

Here lies the real opportunity -- and the responsibility -- of the church. Jesus calls us to tap into the Mary-like hunger for relationship that calls out all around us.
l What if the church prominently fashioned itself around relationship-building?

• What if it deprioritized the distractions of well-intentioned ministries and focused on ending the relationship famine in our culture?
• What if it elevated human
relationship-building above the rituals we've come to associate with "church"?
• What if it utilized what we know about building great human friendships to nurture real friendships with Jesus?
• What if it made "the one thing" the top priority?

Most Christians today came to the faith through the relational influence of their friends and families. They met Jesus while pursuing their relationships with other followers. They wanted to belong.

The world is ready to be invited into a warm, friendly environment where relationships naturally incubate. The spiritually hungry are looking for a fireside ambience that lends itself to friend-making.

It's time for a reordering of the church's priorities -- on the grand scale of Martha and Mary. It's time to place a "friendship filter" in front of every decision, ministry, program, place, and procedure. So when we're considering our ministry options, we can use the friendship filter to ask:

• Which option will best induce and enhance relationships-with others and with Jesus?
• Which should we choose if we're trying to grow warm, human relationships? (That one is usually the better option for growing closer to Jesus as well.)
• Which option best creates a fireside ambience-a setting that invites relationship-building?
• Which option will telegraph to the world that building a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the top priority here?

When applying the friendship filter, beware of "yeah, buts." The Martha mentality is epidemic in today's church. Old church dogs resist change. They launch well-rehearsed defense mechanisms and rationalizations. They, like Martha, often operate from a good heart, they cling to proper protocol, and they call on a sense of fairness. And, like Martha, they're often the busiest servants.

But they're often distracted from "the one thing." Distractions have caused the church to evolve into something that looks quite different from the Christian church of Jesus' time. It orbited around relationship-building, not rule-keeping, knowledge accumulation, entertainment, political causes, or maintaining the status quo.

It's so easy to lose sight of "the one thing." It's so crucial that we don't. cm
The template for life-changing ministry is really pretty simple -- it's what Jesus called "the one thing."

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