As I shared in my post “A Unifying Question”, I believe unity requires shared mission not a shared belief system . Once we agree on our shared mission, in the case of Embrace Richmond that mission is strengthening impoverished communities. The more challenging question becomes “How?” What methodology will we employ in order to achieve that mission? Poverty is a complex issue and there are hundreds of strategies out there for addressing the underlying issues. It is easy to get lost in what seems like a bottomless pit of need.
A few months ago, I attended the worship service at Richmond Hill. Reverend Ben Campbell’s sermon was on the story of Mary and Martha. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I have always been a “Martha” and as such have always disliked this passage of scripture. If I had not been at Richmond Hill with its contemplative spirit and had I not been in a place of personal spiritual seeking, I would have likely tuned out Rev. Campbell’s words. As he gently said “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things,” I am certain he was looking right at me.
Distracted? I guess you could say that. The needs of so many people constantly pulling me and Embrace Richmond in all different directions, stretches me and the organization to the point we can’t see what we am doing. In the past year, there were seasons when I felt like we were just running around putting out fires and for every one we put out, three more pop up.
Rev. Campbell again gently repeated the words, “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” I expected Reverend Campbell to then tell us all that the only important thing was to sit at Jesus feet like Mary. I had heard the story before and that is how it always ended; me the “Martha” being scolded for not sitting at Jesus feet. I was ready for it. ”Bring it on, I can handle it”, I thought to myself.
But then he did something quite surprising. He asked “What is your one thing?” I thought it was a trick question. Wasn’t the answer obvious: We should all spend all our time in prayer and studying the bible? Rev. Campbell acknowledged my thoughts in a jovial fashion saying something like, “Some think this passage is about the contemplative life, the monks love this passage because it supports their lifestyle. However, that is not what is going on in this passage. What is going on is that Mary chose “one thing” an “excellent thing” not a “better thing.” Martha was worried and distracted by “many things” therefore she was not fully present in anything. It is not that the active life is bad. That is not the point of the story. The point is to choose “one thing” and pour all of your being into that one thing. So what is your one thing?” Now I don’t know if I got Rev. Campbell’s message down word for word but this is the just of what I heard and it spoke powerfully to me.
What would it mean for me to do “one thing?” What is that one thing that I am passionate about? It did not take me long to answer that question and if you were to take one look at my book shelf you would quickly discover, I am passionate about the church. More specifically, I am passionate about the church as the “Body of Christ” bringing good news to the poor. I have dozens of books on church leadership from The Purpose Driven Church, The Equipping Church, The Tangible Church, Aqua Church, Missional Church, The Externally Focused Church, Simple Church and the list goes on and on. I started Embrace because I wanted to see the Church more fully engage in the world, I wrote the book because I wanted the reader to see that the church exists outside the sanctuary walls.
For the past five years, I have attempted to learn the non-profit world, its structures, systems, best practices. However, I feel like a fish out of water in non-profit circles. I have never wanted to be an Executive Director. God called me to be a pastor with a very unique context; the context of a non-profit. So my approach or methodology for achieving our charitable purpose grows out of my calling as a pastor.
Who we are shapes what we do and helps us discover our “one thing.” A friend of mine helped me this week with this. She said the point of choosing one thing is to be fully present in whatever you are doing. It is not so much that the one thing is the “best” but that when you do the “one thing” you put your best into it. I cannot put my best into Embrace the non-profit and I will continually come up short as an Executive Director, but I can put my best into Embrace the missional movement of God, no matter what you call it.
Our board spent time this year clarifying who we are and crafted this statement, “Embrace Richmond is a faith-based 501c non-profit organization addressing issues of concern from a Christian perspective.” We prayed hard about these words and wanted to be clear that our “methodology” or how we do the work we do, grows out of our Christian call to care for the poor. However, our vision is to unite people of all faiths around our mission of strengthening impoverished communities. This is not an easy vision to live out but one that requires tremendous attention to creating safe space for everyone.
So if Ben were to ask me today, what is my “one thing?” I would answer, “to fuel a movement of God that transforms our city.” Later this week, I want to dig a little deeper into what I mean by a “missional movement of God.” It really is not as scary as it sounds. I promise!
To the rest of the Martha’s reading this post, what is your “one thing?”