One of the most famous stories in the Bible describes Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. The story contrasts two kinds of living and leading: one a frenzied, driven style shown by Martha and the other a reflective style seen in Mary whom Jesus commended. In this post I include a personal inventory a leader can take to discover his or her leadership style.
Greg McKeown who authored the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less captures Mary’s style with his definition of what he calls an essentialist.
“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless (p. 7).”
I’ve included Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit below and follow it with a 10 statement self-assessment you can take to discover which of the two styles your leadership is most like. I’ve based the assessment from insights I drew from the story.
Luke 10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 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!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha or Mary Leadership Style Inventory
As you take the assessment, grade yourself in this way.
- If the statement is never true of you, give yourself a ‘0.’
- If it’s sometimes true of you, give yourself a ‘1.’
- If it’s often true of you, give yourself a ‘2.’
- The urgent often crowds out the important.
- Martha’s busyness in the kitchen caused her to miss what was most important.
- Projects often take precedence over people.
- Martha’s project and busyness to make a meal trumped being present with Jesus. Author and pastor Chuck Swindoll writes, “Busyness rapes relationships. It substitutes shallow frenzy for deep friendship. It promises satisfying dreams, but delivers hollow nightmares. It feeds the ego, but starves the inner man. It fills the calendar, but fractures the family. It cultivates a program, but plows under priorities. (Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, p. 79)
- Everything has to be done perfectly.
- A simple meal would have sufficed for Jesus, but not for Martha.
- You feel a nagging feeling of oughtness.
- Martha had to attend to the details that had to be made.
- You often show insensitivity and impatience toward other people.
- Martha yelled at Jesus for not sending Mary into the kitchen to help.
- You feel resentment about others who aren’t as driven.
- The story reveals Martha’s resentment toward Mary’s lack of helping her prepare the meal.
- You convey a demanding spirit with others.
- Martha demanded that Jesus tell Mary to help.
- You have difficulty concentrating on one thing at a time.
- The scripture uses the word worried to describe an agitated state of mind which certainly inhibited her ability to concentrate and focus.
- Delays easily frustrate you.
- Ditto what I’ve written above about Martha’s response.
- You often experience sunset fatigue.
- This term sunset fatigue comes from John Ortberg. He describes it as coming to the end of your day with no energy for important things like being present for your family. Martha must have been exhausted after Jesus’ visit, not because of Jesus’ presence, but because of her misplaced priorities.
How did you do? Here’s the scoring key.
- If you scored 0-3, you’re in good shape.
- If you scored 4-6, take 2 baby aspirin.
- If you scored 7-12, take 2 extra strength Tylenol.
- If you scored 12-20, you might need Valium.
If you found yourself more like Martha than Mary, consider three ways to counter a Martha driven leadership style.
- Slow down your pace of leadership. Once when the pace got too frenetic, Jesus told his disciples to get away to a quiet place and rest (Mark 6.31). Slowing down involves not just slowing our physical pace, but our mental pace as well.
- Reflect more often to discover what is most essential. Martha was in such a rush that she failed to reflect upon what was most important at that very moment, being with Jesus. Jesus preferred her company over her service at that moment. Life will not automatically arrange itself into the correct priorities. We must regularly stop to reflect so we don’t miss what’s most important.
McKeown tells a story in his book that illustrates this idea. He tells about a man whose three-year-old daughter died. In his grief the dad put together a video of her short life. But as he went through all of his home videos he realized something was missing. He had taken video of every outing they had gone on and every trip they had taken. He had lots of footage. That wasn’t the problem. He then realized that while he had plenty of footage of the places they had gone— the sights they had seen, the views they had enjoyed, the meals they had eaten, and the landmarks they had visited— he had almost no close-up footage of his daughter herself. He had been so busy recording the surroundings he had failed to record what was essential (p. 236).
- Put first things first. Jesus told Martha that “One thing is needed.” Sometimes we simply must narrow our choices to put first things first. The word priority kept its singular focus until the 1900’s when we pluralized the term. We often need to step back from the pace of life and leadership to make sure we have prioritized what is truly most important, keeping ourselves moored to Jesus as we lead.
As Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
What has helped you become more of a Mary leader?