I remember asking a group of clergy a question adapted from a Stephen Covey book from years ago: “What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have the most significant positive results for your church and ministry?”
The answers were wide-ranging and depended on the circumstances of the churches and the gifts of the pastors. One suggested that if she consistently had one significant personal conversation with a church leader each week, the effect would be dramatic on reducing conflict, aligning the mission, and empowering laity. Another said that if he consistently gave quality time to preparing and improving his preaching and worship services, the results would be amazing. A pastor of a larger church took up the challenge seriously, and established a pattern of inviting one visitor or prospective member each week to lunch with him in order to get to know the person and invite them to a deeper relationship to Christ through the church’s ministry. Consistently repeating this significant ministry with excellence became so important to him and the church that they expanded the practice so that another staff person and a leading laywoman began also to meet with one prospective member each week for lunch. One youth director said that consistently attending youth sporting events and concerts to support the youth of the church would reap huge relational benefits, and another said that having one significant conversation each week with a parent would strengthen her ability to lead the youth. When I shared this question with laity, the answers were just as fruitful: getting to know one visitor personally each month; welcoming personally to one visitor each week; contacting one shut-in member or neighbor each week; leading one bible study or mission initiative each year. The possibilities are endless. How would you answer the question?
During our recent annual conference, we focused on deepening the spiritual life. We distributed copies of Five Practices of Fruitful Living, the new book that focuses on how we cultivate a life that is purposeful, deep, and fruitful. The premise of the book is that by repeating and deepening certain fundamental personal practices, we cooperate with God in our own spiritual growth. We place ourselves in service to God and become instruments of God’s grace.
Continuing with the theme of deepening our spiritual lives and opening ourselves to God’s grace and calling, let me reshape the question above and move it to the personal level. “What is the one spiritual practice that you know if you did it frequently and consistently would have the greatest positive impact on your spiritual life and the most positive results in your personal life?”
One person might answer that consistently maintaining a morning or evening time of prayer, reading, meditation, or devotion. Another might suggest that belonging to a small group with other Christians who pray and share and explore the spiritual life together is most vital. Another may realize that they feel most connected to God and alive spiritually when they develop a consistent pattern of service to the poor. Yet another may reflect on the significance of physical exercise that provides time away to reflect, pray, and mull over the larger questions of life each day. Another will say that intentional time with a spouse, daily engagement with their children, or the consistent sharing of a common family meal. Again, the possibilities are endless and highly contextual and personal. Implied in the question is the notion that we know what connects us to God and others. I think this is true. We often do know intuitively or explicitly what has strengthened us in the past or what holds the most promise for helping us in the present, but we lack the consistency and commitment to reestablish the pattern.
The tenth chapter of Luke records the story of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus at their home. Martha complains because Mary doesn’t help with the chores. Instead she hangs on Jesus’ every word. Jesus gently reminds Martha to remember what is important. “One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it….” (The Message)
As most of our congregations prepare to launch a host of small group ministries, bible studies, new classes, choir and praise band ministries, and service projects this season, let me encourage us to reflect on this question of personal discipleship in order to reshape our spiritual practices so that we place ourselves in the most advantageous setting to allow God to reconfigure our interior lives and prepare us for greater ministry. What is the one spiritual practice that you know if you did with frequency and consistency would have the greatest impact on your relationship to God and others?
Yours in Christ,