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The bounding main (thing)

I was once had the privilege of sitting at the feet of one of the greatest 20th Century preachers. I had an interview with him in his office and my eyes kept being drawn to a plaque he had on his desk. It was facing away from me and towards him. I was really curious about what it said but no matter how I tried to wiggle around I couldn’t read it. At one point his secretary called him from the room, so I quickly got up and sat in his chair (it was comfy!) and I read what it was that inspired this man who I knew as a Godly hero. That was nearly 20 years ago, but those words continue to inspire me. The plaque read “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

It is all very good to have priorities in life but the key is not only to have the right priorities but to keep them the priorities! This is a constant struggle as we battle with the tyranny of the urgent but if we lose our priorities we lose our ultimate purpose. This is true on a personal level. I must regularly check to see if I am giving my priorities priority or have I drifted off course. A simple means of checking where my ideal priorities and my practical priorities diverge is to look at where I spend time and money. I’ve learned to make this check regularly. I’ve discovered that the course corrections are easier and gentler if made early. The times I have drifted in an unexamined way have been the most painful and consequence filled corrections!

This is no less true on a corporate level. The urge toward an incarnational/missional expression of Church is an impulse of course correction. If we examined the traditional church’s spending of professional and volunteer time and spending of finances, we would find that these resources are devoted to the building and those who come inside. The Great Commandment, which includes “love your neighbour” is not as evident as the “as yourself” part. It is time for a course correction. I am reminded of the famous “Good Samaritan” story which answers the question “Who is my neighbour?” Traditional church spending certainly does not often reflect this priority. It doesn’t do any better with the “Great Commission”. We see an emphasis on ‘coming to church’ but a lack of serious focus on ‘going into all the world.’

Course corrections can be painful but I suggest not making them may be even more painful.  For some the impulse to course correction leads to the idea of planting new missional expressions of Church. This seems to me to be the easiest method of correction and I am vitally interested in this especially as a means of reaching the unchurched in the 21st Century West. This cannot be the only response to this impulse though! The traditional church like a big ocean liner (the Titanic springs to mind some days) cannot ‘turn on a dime’. A drastic yaw may scuttle her but a new course must be charted and new headings need to be set. I am really interested in developing resources to assist leaders of traditional churches in making such changes. I realise that these changes probably ought to begin on a micro level but it is important to keep the big picture (the main thing) in mind at all times.

More in weeks ahead…..


One comment on “The bounding main (thing)

  1. Thanks for your interesting thoughts, Reed. Yes, we need to have a heart for both missional churches and traditional churches to help them change direction. Sometimes we think too micro, when macro is needed. Perhaps many of the micro problems are a result of toxicity at the macro level. Evangelical Anglican congregations sometimes try to hunker down at the local micro level, weathering the storm of the macro toxicity. Our individualism as evangelical Anglicans often makes it hard for us to recognize macro toxity, and to respond to it decisively. It was not easy for our congregation St. Simon’s NV to respond in unity to macro-toxicity. We would have preferred to be left along and grow at a micro-level. We were close to tearing down our building to making room for more growth. Instead we had to make a macro-decision that was very costly. You know the rest of the story. Is there any chance that the situation that Taylor College is facing may be connected to this macro-toxicity issue?

    Ed Hird+

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