As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
At times there is a fine line between people and productivity. There are dishes to do, meals to prepare, reports to file, expenses to approve… how in the world can we focus on people while we’re busy doing work? For so many of us, we feel like we have to choose between one or the other. Being on a church staff, this is especially difficult. We’re hired to do a job and yet we’re supposed to be humble servants. We interact with people everyday but need to get our jobs done.
Let’s take a quick look at how Jesus handled the issue of people and productivity. In Luke 10, the great historian relayed several incidents in the life of Jesus that focused on people. First, in verses 1-23, Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples (yes, he had more than 12) in pairs to go into the villages of, I assume, Galilee to interact with people in a personal way. They weren’t allowed to take any provisions with them — not even a granola bar. They were to enter the houses of those who welcomed them and stay. Their message was simple: the kingdom of heaven is near. How near? They didn’t know. Just near. As a sign, the disciples were given power to heal the sick and cast out demons. Then, in verses 24-37, Jesus tells a parable about the Good Samaritan. Again, the subject is personal concern and care. The Samaritan saw a soul in distress and had compassion on him, going above and beyond to care for the poor Jewish fellow. Was his journey disadvantaged by his stopping and helping the man in need? You bet it was. He may have even missed a business meeting or failed to file a report in a timely manner. But he went above and beyond to tend to the person God brought into his path.
There may not be a greater model for ministry than this gentleman, fictional or real, outside of Christ Himself.
That brings us to Luke 10:38-42. After this parable of personal care and concern we have the story of Mary and Martha, sisters living in Bethany. We’ll meet their brother, Lazarus, later on. Jesus and his crew were invited in by Martha. As was His motus operendi, our Lord started either teaching or telling stories. Maybe he was talking about the weather. Scripture doesn’t say. We just know that he was captivating to Mary, who sat at his feet listening. For Mary, it was important to pay attention to Jesus. He was the guest of honor. And when that guest is the Lord, what else matters? Well, Martha thought something else mattered — her work. She chided Mary for sitting down and listening to Jesus instead of helping her get lunch ready or sweeping the dust under the rug. I can relate. I had a friend come over last week and I must have spent six or seven hours cleaning my house and getting it “less embarrassing.” Was Martha wrong for wanting to serve Jesus and his disciples? I don’t think so. Service is a valuable action in the Kingdom. The Son of Man — Christ Himself — came to serve. What WAS wrong had to do with Martha’s attitude about the situation. She was upset that Mary wasn’t working. Even more, she was upset that she was doing her duty alone. She wanted Jesus to order Mary to get off her knees and get to work. Service isn’t bad. Judgment is.
The Lord’s response says a lot to me about the people-productivity relationship. He says, “…only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” It’s not a right or wrong. It’s a good or better. Martha’s productivity was good, but Mary’s people focus was better. What the Lord has said throughout this chapter can be summed up this was: people matter most. Love your neighbor as yourself (10:27). When it comes to being task-oriented or being people-oriented, lean towards people. Focus on the ministry at hand, which is people.
After faithfully serving on a church staff for most of my adult life, I have come to this conclusion: people are more important than the tasks of a job. My paycheck may say one thing and, as along as I have work, I will do it to the best of my ability. After all, I was hired to do a job by my superiors. No doubt. But God’s primary call is to love people and put them first. When God brings someone (or -ones) into your sphere of existence (which He will), pay attention to them. Give them priority.
There is no place in church ministry for task masters — those who forget people in order to be productive. Task masters tend to run over or hurt people because they can’t see the ministry in front of their faces. I used to be more task-oriented in my own life. Now I actively seek out people. I now consider my ministry to my co-workers as just as important, if not more, than my job. I want to know them and I want to be known by them. I want to encourage them and laugh with them. I want to serve them even if it puts me behind at work.
Saint Paul wrote that in all you do, you should do it with diligence as if for the Lord (Col 3:23). And this is true. But also remember this — The Kingdom is made up of people and not jobs. People go to heaven, not companies. We’re in ministry, folks. Every day. To each other. People matter. When given the choice of being a Mary or a Martha, be a Mary.