Today, before writing this post, I’ve been down to the building our church owns to sort out a problem with the boiler and make arrangements for services over the next few weeks. Yesterday, I had meetings with church members, the weekly bulletin email to send, travel tickets to book for a conference, and a trip to the local hardware store for some electric heaters for tenants who rent offices in our building (that boiler again!).
I looked at the Bible passage for the next talk, spoke with friends from church about a hard situation, and tried to work out which tasks needed doing and which could be postponed. Church planting demands us to turn our attention in different directions, be both reactive and proactive, and feel like we have more to do than there is time in the day.
I’m not sure if being pelted by so many disparate tasks is particularly acute in rural church planting, but it’s certainly a reality for us rural planters. This opens up a range of dangers and temptations but also gives us a fantastic opportunity.
The Dangers of Many Demands
The dangers are that we do too much, badly. Far too often, I preach feeling under-prepared. I rush into a meeting with a church member, hoping to help them repent of some sin or hold fast to Christ in some suffering, and I’ve not prayed about it nor engaged properly with what’s about to come. I’m worried and distracted, with too many jobs on my list, too many emails to answer, and too many thoughts chasing each other across my mind.
To feel, all the time, as though I’m chasing my tail is wearying. I’m tired and stressed. I work hard yet often have to shift some tasks to the next day’s already-long list. I have little energy left for my daughters and none for my wife at the end of the day. There are many things to do, but if I will not sit at the feet of Christ and listen to his teaching, then they are all pointless. Click To Tweet
For years, I sought to counter the rush of ministry and the endless needs of a rural church plant by growing in my efficiency and productivity—a good endeavor. But, while I am now able to do more, there is always more to do. I’m blessed to share the shepherding of the flock with gifted and committed fellow elders who lean in with love and care. But I’m still too busy and too tired. This is where the golden opportunity knocks.
The One Needful Thing
As a rural church planter, being a jack of all trades is essential. Jesus calls me into this ministry so that the Holy Spirit might conform me more closely to his likeness. I’m necessarily a jack of all trades, but I must be a master of one. In a busy life, Jesus says one thing is needed:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ (Luke 10:38–42, NIV)
I’m like Martha, and Jesus is calling me to be like Mary. There are many things to do, but if I will not sit at the feet of Christ and listen to his teaching, then they are all pointless. Being a rural church planter means I’ll be a jack of all trades, but I must be a master of dependence on Christ. I do not have the gifts, skills, energy, time, creativity, or resilience for this good work. I need Christ to do more than I can—in me, through me, apart from me, and despite me.
Seize the Day to Rest in Christ
So why, when I look at the day ahead, do I so often dive straight in? It’s foolish and wicked to begin my work without prayer, time in God’s Word, and worship of Christ. I live in the beautiful creation of country life—why do I so seldom walk out down the lanes to pray in the morning before I crack open my laptop and scan my to-do lists? When we’re masters of this one thing—sitting at our Lord’s feet and delighting in him—we get to enjoy what he gives us, love our families and churches, and be content to leave things undone. Click To Tweet
Here’s the opportunity: the myriad demands of life and the many things to be done, considered, and engaged with are an invitation to admit our weakness. They call us to depend on our Father and be content to simply be servants, with Christ as the One who determines our work and carries the responsibility for it.
When we’re masters of this one thing—sitting at our Lord’s feet and delighting in him—we get to enjoy what he gives us, love our families and churches, and be content to leave things undone. We get to enjoy the variety of the ministry we’ve been given as a means of grace, growing us in dependence as children of God. Then we get to glimpse our Father’s goodness—and so do those around us.