The One Thing That Really Matters Most in Ministry

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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.

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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.

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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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