Defining Our ”Main Thing”
“The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing” was a saying framed in the entry of a church I recently visited. Good words, easy to say but hard to do. I’d propose that the first step for leaders is to define our ‘main thing’.
Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that our leadership style, habits, actions, and words have already defined for us our ‘main thing’. A better starting place may be to ask, ‘are we content with what has become our main thing?’
The First Step
The foundational first step in our steward leader training is defining this ‘main thing’ as follows: steward leaders seek intimacy with God as their highest calling.* They prioritize activities that nurture this intimacy and reject the temptation to allow urgent matters to rob them of it. They follow God’s leading wherever it may take them and the ministry. In other words, the passion for intimacy with Christ is their ‘main thing’.
There is a battle going on for the heart of every Christian leader. Jesus wants our total dependence on him. The enemy wants to sell us the idea that self-reliance is a surer way to happiness and success. The temptation of self-reliance will push us toward the drive to succeed, as we saw in a previous section. From our misplaced definition of success, we will be cut off from the daily desire to know God’s will and do it. After all, if we are in charge, if we can rely on our own strength, wisdom, experience, knowledge, and cleverness, we don’t need to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Depending on God
It’s not that we stop believing or trusting or even wanting God to lead us, it’s just that we stop depending on him. If he shows up and guides us, great. But it is not necessary for us to move ahead and lead. God’s guidance becomes an option, and we will become impatient waiting too long for it. Instead, we will continually be thrown back upon ourselves to figure out what it means to lead well.
This is a heavy chain that will one day break the back of every leader who throws it over their shoulder and plods ahead in an effort to lead from their own strength. Let me ask, are you working so hard trying to do things for Jesus that you have left him no time to do things in you?
Outcomes Of Self-Reliance
What results from this self-reliance is stagnancy in our relationship with Christ. Under this chain, prayer and devotion become mechanical and duty driven. Once they stop being the very life force that we depend on as leaders, they will soon become a nicety that we engage in when we have enough time. Once we rely on ourselves to do things for Jesus, we forget the scriptural truth that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). This spiritual stagnancy is at the heart of every failing of Christian leaders great or small, whether it be a moral, ethical, or physical failing. That is why we must confront this issue head-on.
So let us ask ourselves, do we have a passionate desire to know the will of the owner and not let anything dissuade us from it? When we acknowledge that God is the owner of everything, what must follow is this passion to know his will, even if it means setting our “doing” aside so that we might sit at his feet and listen. Can you do that? In your leadership role, are you free to value your time being in God’s presence as highly as doing God’s work? This is a critical question for every Christian leader.
Both Mary and Paul knew that this truth was quite extraordinary, even life changing. Jesus makes the remarkable claim of Mary that she discovered the one thing that is needed (Luke 10:41–42). Martha can’t see it. She is distracted by things she considers to be extremely important. They upset her and worry her, causing her to become frantic and irritated. Sound familiar?
Paul, on the other hand, seems to have lost touch with reality in his letter to the Philippians:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
~ Philippians 3:5–9
Having built a great career with significant accomplishments, Paul equates everything he has done to a pile of cow dung, all because of this one thing that he tells us he has found. Has Paul gone mad?
It’s likely all of us have sympathy for Martha, feeling like at times we have been left alone to do the work God calls us to carry out. Mary sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to him while her sister runs around getting things done, producing results. Is this really a commendable choice? After all, if we all chose to be Mary, nothing would get done! And what of Paul? Is it right to treat with disdain a lifetime of hard work, education, responsible labor, achievements, accomplishments, and productivity? Isn’t that unnecessarily extreme?
That One Thing
This radical teaching found in both Luke and Philippians reflects the power of the temptation in our lives to compromise when it comes to this one thing that is needed. Everything in our life, everything, flows from this one thing, this first thing, this all-important and all-encompassing thing. Knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord will be, in the end, all that really matters in life and leadership. Everything else we think, say, and do will reflect the level of this knowledge.
Therefore, knowing must have our first, primary, and unequivocal allegiance. Jesus tells us that if we will seek him and his kingdom above all else, all the other things that would otherwise distract us will be taken care of. That is not an excuse to become complacent, settle for shoddy work, or pull back from the vision God has laid on our hearts. It is, instead, an invitation to re-engage in our work as leaders knowing that with God all things are possible. It will call us to a higher standard of excellence in our work and a greater passion in our calling, all because we trust that God can do all things in us and through us if we will be steward leaders fully surrendered to him.
Do you believe that?
Is the main thing in your life an unquenchable thirst and an unbridled drive to know Jesus Christ intimately and personally?
For Christian leaders in 2022, that is the one thing that is needed.
*This is one of the seven steward leader characteristics that we measure in our new Steward Leader assessment tool. Thank you to all of you who took the beta test last month. We are excited to be rolling out the full assessment in the first quarter of 2023, and at the Outcomes Conference in April.