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Living With a Single Priority

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Priorities. Did you know that word actually means pretty much nothing? The word priority comes from the Latin word prior which means former or first. That which is a priority is first. It’s the source out of which something else comes. So to have many different “firsts” somehow ranking against each other makes little sense. In other words, you can only have one priority. Or…

To do two things at once is to do neither – Publilius Syrus

One of the most important questions you can ever answer about yourself is, what’s the one thing I’m really living for? I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got family, work, friendships, hobbies, my finances, my physical health, and a dozen little side projects at any given time. Can I really drop them all and focus only on one? Not exactly.

To understand what living life with a single priority is all about, as Christians, we need to ask the Master. And here is what Jesus had to say,

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My ONE Big Resolution. Yep, Just One.

Yep. Just one.

I plan on eating better based on what I’m learning from reading The Daniel Plan. I also want to exercise and run. Those are probably typical. I also want to read through the Bible, pray more, lead better, and date my wife like crazy, blog (almost) daily to help ministry leaders, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

But… I’m reading a really good book right now called The ONE Thing. The authors point out that there is no such thing as having right “priorities” because the word priority was never meant to be plural. It comes from an old French word that means the state of being first. And if there’s one thing that we know, it’s that there can only be one first.

So, if I could live my life for just ONE thing that would help me to discover rhythm in every other area and to develop the disciplines/habits/graces/practices that lead to a well-ordered life that brings glory to my Creator, it would be…

JESUS

Knowing Him. Following Him. Becoming Like Him. Making Him famous. Leading my family and friends to Him.

I just want to put Jesus first. Over-simplified? I hope so. But I have a hunch that if I live in step with Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will empower me to be what He wants me to be for the people around me who need me.

What ONE thing do you want to live for?

3 Ministries of Every Church Staff Member

Some churches view the staff as hired workers. If that is the case in your church, respect your leaders and don’t blame any rebellious attitudes on what I am about to say about this. Other churches view the staff as interdependent creative thinkers and leaders. In the first case, the usual mentality is “anything you aren’t doing for the church should be done ‘off the clock’.” In the second case, the mentality is “everything you do as ministry and mission benefits us as long as your priorities are in order.”

When I was at Saddleback, I learned some pretty great lessons about systems, structures, and staff leadership. In spite of our blessed chaos and the “fast, fluid, and flexible” environment of the southern California megachurch, I learned a ton about leadership and how a church staff can function in a healthy way.

One of the principles Pastor Rick often shared was that every church staff member is expected to fulfill three different ministries, on or off “the clock.”

1. Every church staff member has a ministry to the lost. And our ministry to the lost trumps our other responsibilities every time. We advocate for the lost, relate to the lost, and give our time and energy to bringing lost people to Jesus, first and foremost.


By the way, have you "liked" Grace Hills Church on Facebook yet?


2. Every church staff member has a ministry to the church. It is this second priority that is made first in many churches, probably to the detriment of the creative potential of the staff collectively. We wind up falling into the trap of just doing the work we’re expected to do with little time for independent, creative thinking. Apple, Google, and thousands of other tech startups could teach us some important lessons here about freeing people up to think beyond what currently exists. Gmail, for example, was a product born out of the personal development time granted to some employees who were free to play around on the clock. Today, it’s a core Google component. If we aren’t thinking about the lost and how to creatively reach them as much as we think about getting our jobs done, we’re toast.

3. Every church staff member has a ministry to his or her peers. That is, we have a responsibility to pour into and invest in our parallels. As Pastor Rick put it, Saddleback’s receptionists were to minister to other church receptionists, children’s ministry leaders to other children’s ministry leaders, etc. This is the trickiest of all for established churches who see “outside” ministry interests as competing with the productivity of their own staff. But it boils down to a matter of stewardship. If my church is blessed with knowledge or resources, it’s up to our staff to share that blessing with others. Ministering to our peers keeps us in the company of encouragers, prevents isolation and burnout, keeps me up-to-date and sharp on leadership innovations, and is ultimately good for the kingdom (and heaven knows how we need more kingdom-minded churches!).

It’s a tough shift. If you lead a church to be clock-punching and productivity-obsessed, you’ll get a lot done and perhaps build a larger, more effective church. But if you care about developing people into more influential leaders and growing the kingdom as much as you care about growing your institutional machinery, you’ll at least open yourself to the possibility of releasing your staff to think more about the lost than your church and also spend time investing in their peers.

Graphic background by Zach Fonville.

Ordering the Priorities of Life

Priorities

Priorities are a continuing struggle for most of us. For people in ministry leadership, this struggle usually doesn’t result from a lack of commitment, but from a lack of clarity about our commitments. That is, we’re either over-committed or we’re committed to mutually exclusive priorities. We are all given 168 hours in a week, but some of us use those hours more effectively than others.

So how do you order your priorities in such a way that major areas of your life don’t fall behind? How do you juggle all the stuff of life so that nothing hits the ground and breaks? First realize that you can’t juggle perfectly. No one can, but if practice makes perfect (or at least grows us toward the goal of perfection) then practice we must!

Define Your Roles

You may not like labels, but I do. I don’t want to be boxed in or defined by a limited perspective, but I do like the clarity of identifying who I am and living out my life according to my God-given roles. For example…

  • I’m a disciple. That’s my first role. before anything else, I’m a child of God, which comes with certain realizations (well-stated in the “Radicalis Declaration“). So my priorities begin with who I am as a believer.
  • I’m a husband. God put me into a till-death-do-us-part, one-flesh relationship with the love of my life and I have certain things I need to be concentrating on when it comes to growing my marriage and growing as a husband (and my wife will attest that I have a long way to go).
  • I’m a Dad. God has given me two of the most precious kids on the planet, and they need for their Dad to focus on how to be a better Dad.
  • I’m a Pastor. And as a Pastor (literally shepherd), I have a focus on people – caring for them, teaching them, mentoring them, and I have plenty of room to grow here too.

The list goes on. I do freelance web design work. I volunteer my services for some organizations. I’ve been a member of some boards and committees. I’ve been a speaker at meetings and conferences. Those are some of my labels – my roles – and I could probably come up with dozens, just like you.

Until we understand who we are in Christ and whom God has called us to be and to become, we won’t have a good grasp on what we’re here to be doing each day. Because of my roles, my priorities begin with prayer and reading God’s Word. My priorities include intentionally thinking about the needs of my wife, my kids, and the other people God has placed under my shepherding care.

What about you? What are your priorities? What are the big roles you need to be thinking through?

Photo Credit: Richard Summers