By Brian Hammons
Do you ever get distracted and lose focus from something important? It happens a lot in our lives with the constant barrage of tasks, demands, and changes.
It also happens in organizations of all types as leaders become distracted, focus upon daily tasks or a pressing problem, and forget to pay attention to the really critical issues. Patrick Lencioni, in his recent leadership book The Advantage, refers to distractions resulting from lack of clarity on fundamental questions and failure to communicate that clarity, leading to “confusion, disorder, and infighting” and low organizational health. In business, it can cause decline and ultimately failure, financial collapse. In the church, distractions can cause misunderstandings, divisions, long-term decline and, yes, failure. But the real failure isn’t financial – it’s in people who God cares about and wanted to reach through those who follow Jesus.
So – what about “the Main Thing”? I always remember that phrase, and Larry Fagan standing up at Annual Conference many years ago saying that “the Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.”
He was reminding us that, even with the distractions that can pull us in many directions, we as the church have got to keep focused upon the “Main Thing” -- to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. THAT’S our mission and purpose, given by Jesus himself (Matt 28:19-20). We do a lot of things in and around the church, but if we get distracted and don’t create clarity to get the “Main Thing” right, we risk long-term failure.
Our United Methodist Book of Discipline reminds us that making disciples – followers – is our mission (par. 120). We know it by heart, and hear it stated so often that we almost forget about it. We get distracted and forget to focus upon “the Main Thing”.
And the local congregation – YOUR local congregation – is the “most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs” (par. 201). So it’s encouraging to see many of our congregations and leaders (both clergy and lay) really engaging in that mission and seeking ways to make disciples and transform lives in their communities. In fact, most of you who have been through an HCI or SCI have re-discovered that mission, stating it in some form of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. If you’re one of those, may God continue to produce fruit as you keep “the Main Thing the Main Thing” and reach out to transform lives by making disciples – followers – of Jesus Christ.
When we really focus upon the mission of following Jesus and leading others (making disciples), we have to discern what is really important in getting that done versus what’s merely convenient or really could be discontinued, left behind. Between what’s essential and what’s nonessential. That reminds me of Wesley’s focus upon essential beliefs versus those ideas that aren’t essential to our Christian community and about which faithful people may disagree.
So when I hear of disagreements in the church, especially heated ones, I wonder – “what about the Main Thing?” After all, really none of those are worth risking our mission and essential purpose over. Yet folks sometimes argue in the local church over relatively minor issues. And some annual conferences argue over budgets and other issues (thankfully in Missouri we don’t do that nearly as much). And the general church argues over structure and many issues that are part of our secular political world. Important, yes. But vital, essential? What about the Main Thing?
I’m thankful that here in Missouri many of you are getting it right – working hard, with clergy and lay leadership that helps keep the distractions aside and keeps reminding folks of your mission – the “Main Thing” – as you envision, plan, and make a difference in your community. And I’m thankful that Bishop Schnase helps all of us keep that focus.
But I’m concerned that the United Methodist denomination continues to risk becoming distracted by some in other areas who continue to push issues that have divided society. These issues really are nonessential to the mission of the church, and our General Conference has decided upon them time after time. Continuing to push them, even to the point of openly and purposefully violating clergy commitments and our connectional Discipline, risks turning a nonessential into a major distraction for our denomination. What about the Main Thing? What about helping local congregations become more healthy, vital, and fruitful in carrying out the Main Thing?
I pray that our bishops and other denomination leaders will be able to help us navigate through these distractions with both grace and truth. And I pray that you and your congregation’s leaders will be able to navigate through all the distractions you encounter, also with grace and truth, focused upon “the Main Thing”. Finally, I’ve got to trust God with my concerns and prayers, knowing that only through the Holy Spirit’s guidance can we set aside distractions and focus upon what God calls us to be and do – our mission, the Main Thing.
As we get rolling in 2014, with all the activities ahead, let’s set aside distractions, especially those beyond our power to do anything about, and “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus... ” (Heb. 12:1-2). Periodically let’s raise the question that can help bring our focus back upon Christ’s mission for us: “What about the Main Thing?”