Are you a Mary or a Martha Leader? Take this Quiz to Find Out

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.

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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.’
  1. The urgent often crowds out the important. 
    • Martha’s busyness in the kitchen caused her to miss what was most important.
  1. 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)
  1. Everything has to be done perfectly.
    • A simple meal would have sufficed for Jesus, but not for Martha.
  1. You feel a nagging feeling of oughtness.
    • Martha had to attend to the details that had to be made.
  1. You often show insensitivity and impatience toward other people.
    • Martha yelled at Jesus for not sending Mary into the kitchen to help.
  1. 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.
  1. You convey a demanding spirit with others.
    • Martha demanded that Jesus tell Mary to help.
  1. 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.
  1. Delays easily frustrate you.
    • Ditto what I’ve written above about Martha’s response.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

  1. 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?

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Pastors Who Make $25 a Month: What I Learned about Leadership from them

I just returned from a trip to Cuba with a team of 8 from our church. We spent 7 days serving pastors and serving a local church there. It was an incredibly profitable trip on multiple levels. Although we came to serve them, I believe I learned more from them. Cuba is a very poor country with wages averaging about $25 US,  including pastoral salaries. Here’s what I learned about leadership.

cuba-2-2016

First, a bit about what we did. The pastors there tell us that their greatest need is leadership development. So, we focused on working with their leadership and providing leadership development for them.

  • Working alongside a local church’s children’s leadership team to carry out a community VBS. We didn’t lead it. We simply helped train and resource them so they could lead it. This experience gave them ideas about how they could lead one themselves in the future without our help.
  • Visiting churches for three half-day training sessions for local pastors. To reach one church, we actually walked up a mountain for three miles after our truck got stuck in a river. 30 pastors and church leaders were waiting for us to encourage and train them. At the other two locations 30-40 pastors eagerly awaited our time with them.
  • Training a group of about 80 pastors and leaders in an intensive 3-day training session focusing on leadership skills.
  • Working with the men’s leadership at a local church to carry out a men’s retreat that included 25 believers and 25 unbelievers. 23 of those man came to faith during the retreat. Amazing.

By focusing on leadership development, we leveraged our short time there by pouring into the pastors themselves. All together, we served about 150 pastors that represented conservatively over 8,000 people in their churches.

Here’s what I learned.

  • Where there is a will there is a way.
    • You won’t find Wal-marts or Christian bookstores in Cuba. Neither do Cubans enjoy the convenience of Amazon.com. Few stores are available for simple supplies that we often take for granted (like crayons for the kid’s ministry). But the pastors there find ways to make do with what they have and God has blessed them. The churches are rapidly growing and they have a vision to plant a new church for every 1000 people.
    • Question  for reflection: Do you let obstacles hinder your vision or do you find a way?
  • Limited resources made them appreciate even the small things.
    • As part of the intense 3-day training, the pastors took a final exam and created a 90-day action plan where they recorded what they would apply during the next 90 days. I brought a few extra single sheet paper copies that I offered to them if they wanted them. They quickly snatched them up because even finding paper is difficult in Cuba. A simple piece of paper, even with copy already on it would get used in some way.
    • Question for reflection: Have you lost appreciation for the small things God has provided for your ministry (like internet access, bible resources, and paper)?
  • Ministry success really does rise and fall on leadership.
    • The church in Cuba has dramatically grown the last decade or so. The denomination we worked with has prioritized a well-organized leadership development plan that includes a seminary, extension sites, in-church computer labs with bible software, and on-going training through intense seminars like the one I taught. They recognize that leadership is a powerful lever to move Kingdom purposes forward.
    • Question for reflection: Do you have a leadership development plan at your church?
  • I’m not sure I really know what sacrifice is.
    • This is my second trip serving pastors in Cuba. I used to think that since I’m an American serving in Canada I was making a great sacrifice for the Kingdom. After spending time with Cuban pastors, however, my ‘sacrifice’ pales into insignificance. The pastors at the 3-day intensive slept in non-airconditioned rooms with little air flow. Yet, they were alert and hungry to learn each day.
    • Question for reflection: Do you ever feel sorry for yourself that ministry is a ‘sacrifice’ rather than a privilege?

As our church considers making ministry to Cuba a permanent part of our focus, I look forward to continuing to learn from a passionate group of leaders who love Jesus in difficult circumstances.

If you have experienced cross-cultural ministry, what have you learned?

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Pastors Who Lack Close Friends: 5 Reasons Why

Barna Research discovered that 61% of pastors are lonely and have few close friends. The loneliest people in churches are often pastors. Why is this so?

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

The experts say that five key factors inhibit pastors from developing close friendships.

  • lack of formative modeling: in families of origin some weren’t close to their parents and/or their parents never modeling for them how to create intimate relationships.
  • some pastors developed a loner tendency: they’d rather be alone.
  • personality: some personalties can unintentionally push people away.
  • wounds from the past can compel some to put up walls with others.
  • fear of sharing loneliness with others: some pastors think that if people knew they struggled, hurt, or had problems, it might lessen the respect they would give and therefore hinder that pastor’s leadership effectiveness.

Number five can be very powerful. Certainly we shouldn’t publicly display all our dirty laundry, or we would diminish our influence. But actually I’ve found that when I have appropriately shared my struggles with others, most people endear themselves to me and respect me even more.

I’ll never forget a story I heard Bill Hybels share years ago in a conference. The specific details are hazy, but the impact on me remains.

On one of his study breaks he told about a Sunday night visit to a small church. After the sermon, the pastor stood before his flock and in tears shared a heartbreak he had experienced from his son. He said he felt like a failure and wasn’t sure what to do. He then closed the service. Spontaneously the people rushed to the front and surrounded him, hugged him, and wept with him. Bill then used a term to describe the scene: “the circle of brokenness.” As he drew thousands of us into this story, with misty eyes I realized that every pastor yearns for that kind of acceptance.

If fear of rejection, looking less like a pastor, or worry that you might diminish your influence keeps you from inviting safe people in, realize the danger in which you can put yourself. Without safe people, ministry can overwhelm us.

A psychologist friend of mine once explained that isolation can set up a pastor on a slippery slope toward sexual compromise. In isolation, Satan can exploit his vulnerability. He can then begin to compromise and live a secret sexual life that may ultimately lead to ministry and/or marriage failure. My friend reminded me that sin grows easiest in the darkness.

So, if you are a pastor, don’t minimize the importance of friends in the ministry and in your church. Push through your loneliness and find some friends.

What other factors have you seen that can create loneliness in pastors?

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Feeling Overwhelmed in Ministry or Life? Try this.

Ministry burnout, overload, and destructive stress lead to an abysmal survival rate for pastors today.  For 20 years a friend of mine followed 105 pastors and discovered that only half remained in ministry. Many other statistics bear witness to the high fallout rate for pastors. Burnout, moral collapse, and the weight of ministry has shattered many dreams for Kingdom impact. No pastor ever begins ministry with a goal to end up as a casualty of it. Unfortunately, unless some make systemic changes to their hearts and ministry pace, they too will end up a statistic. But, if you feel yourself on the road to burnout and overwhelmed you can change your trajectory through this simple yet life-transforming exercise.

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I’ve used a tool that many coaches use to help people regain balance from feeling overwhelmed. It’s called a “Life Balance Wheel.”

It had its origins in the Middle Ages when few could read. Etched on many cathedrals, it visually represented the cycle of daily life: happiness, loss, suffering, and hope. For most people life offered little hope and the carved images instructed the common person about the inevitable change process in life.

Today we use the life balance wheel in a more positive way. It takes many forms, but this example captures its essence. Each piece of the pie represents an area of life. Within that area the scale rates your satisfaction with that part of your life.

Here’s how to use it to help regain balance and deal with life’s pressures in a more intentional way.

  • Google “Life Balance Wheel” and you’ll find many free printable templates.
  • After you print it out, mark your level of satisfaction within in each area of your life.
  • Connect the dots to see how balanced or imbalanced you have described your life.
  • Pick one or two areas in which you feel least satisfied.
  • Describe what life would look like if your satisfaction in those areas increased to an “8”
  • List five specific steps you could take in each area that could help you move to an “8”
  • Give each step a specific date when you will take the step.
  • Make yourself accountable to someone to help you regain balance. A good coach trained in the life balance wheel would be a good investment.

This simple tool could have profound implications for your future, your family, and your ministry. Right now schedule an hour this week to complete the exercise and see how God could use it in your life.

If you’ve used the life balance wheel before, what have you found helpful?

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5 Church Growth Essentials from the Apostle Paul

When I was in seminary Church Growth 101 was a required course. I took interest in the whole field and became a student of church growth. I read a pile of books and attended most of the big church growth conferences. Some of the principles I’ve applied have worked. And some have failed royally. When we look at the early church, though, obviously they did something right. They grew exponentially. In this post I suggest 5 church growth essentials from the Apostle Paul that we see from his first missionary journey.

Large group of people in the form of the church. Flashmob, isolated, white background.

Church Growth 101 from the Apostle Paul

First, a bit of background. At this point in the early church, described in Acts 13-14, we see three significant movements: the main church leader moving to Paul from Peter, the target group for evangelism shifting from primarily Jewish to Gentile, and a move from a rural focus to an urban focus. Paul and Barnabas visited six cities on this first missionary journey.

Principle 1: Rely on the Holy Spirit.

In these two chapters we see the obvious work of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, while not dismissing good leadership, thorough strategic planning, and great outreach events, only God by His Spirit grows the church (Col. 2.19, 1 Cor. 3.7). In chapter 13 we see the work of the Holy Spirit in several ways.

  1. He was involved in the selection of Paul and Barnabas to go on this missionary journey (13.2).
  2. He planted in their hearts the desire to go (13.4).
  3. He gave Paul great courage to confront a wizard who wasn’t too happy that Paul was evangelizing his boss (13.6-12)

So, if you want to see your church grow, make sure the Holy Spirit is guiding and directing your plans and decisions.

Principle 2: Evangelize through your most natural relationships.

When Paul would enter a city, he would make a beeline to the synagogue. Why? Because he was a Jew and Jews would be there. Their common Jewishness bound them together. It was also natural for him to go there first, because the Jews were already religiously minded and Paul could easily talk about what was common between them, the Old Testament scriptures, prophecy, and the longed for Messiah.

Some of the most fruitful ways to grow the church is to find those most open to the gospel, often those already in our circle of relationships.

Principle 3: Stay flexible in your approach.

Paul tailored his evangelism to the group he was with. His method of operation with the Jews was to go to the synagogue and start with the Old Testament.

However, with the Gentiles who had no Jewish reference frame, he took a different approach. In one very pagan city they visited on this missionary journey, they healed a crippled boy (14.8-18). The word spread. A crowd gathered. And because of a Greek legend, they believed that Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes.

50 years prior a Latin poet had written about a local legend that Zeus and Hermes, disguised as mortals, had once visited the hill country near this city and they weren’t given hospitality. Thus, Zeus and Hermes destroyed the homes of those who refused hospitality. Now, the people thought that Zeus and Hermes had revisited them again (because of the miracle Paul and Barnabas had done) and wanted to avoid a similar fate. So they responded with wild fanaticism by offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas in order to appease the Greek gods.

Paul was shocked. Yet, he did not quote the Old Testament to them, as he did to the Jews. He appealed to what they knew, nature and natural law. He spoke of God being the God of creation and the general favor he shows everyone through the rain he provides that waters mankind’s crops.

Paul flexed his approach toward the particular people he was evangelizing. With the Jews he used one approach and with the Gentiles another.

It behooves church leaders to know their communities and to use flexible approaches rather than cookie cutter methods we might learn in a book or at a conference.

Principle 4: Deepen your spiritual roots.

Growing a church is not an either-or proposition, evangelism or discipleship. It is both-and. Paul certainly shared the Gospel. But in these two chapters he’s also encouraging believers to send their roots deep in the Lord. In fact, when the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas on this trip, the church as practicing two spiritual disciplines: prayer and fasting.

Later Paul encouraged them to continue in the grace of God and encouraged them to remain true to the faith. He was challenging them toward spiritual formation.

I recently learned a great insight about spiritual formation.

Everybody IS being spiritually formed. It’s just a matter of whether or not it is intentional or haphazard. 

Intentional spiritual formation means that we intentionally seek, through spiritual disciplines, to be formed in the image of Jesus.

Unintentional spiritual formation means that we are being passively shaped by the experiences, circumstances, and people around us. Such spiritual formation yields little good fruit and potentially, bad fruit.

So, growing a church requires that leaders give attention and intention to spiritual formation.

Principle 5: Don’t bend to resistance to the Gospel.

Throughout history, when the Gospel changed lives, resistance was sure to follow. Paul repeatedly faced resistance to his work, while at the same time many responded positively to the Gospel. In chapter 13.49-50, many came to faith while at the same time those in opposition began a smear campaign against Paul. Did he and Barnabas leave town? No, they spent considerable time there.

In another city (15.1-2) the people stoned Paul and left him for dead. Fortunately, he didn’t die. Did he leave town? No. The Scriptures say that he went back into that very town.

So, when you see God bless your church with growth, don’t be surprised to experience resistance as well, sometimes even from within.

God wants the Church to grow. He wants your church to grow. And He will grow His church as we apply biblical church growth principles we see in the book of Acts.

What other biblical church growth principles should we add to this list?

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