"The most important thing you'll ever do is management," I told the students.
Admittedly, I intended to surprise my students at Fuller Seminary when I opened the class with that statement. Management is not exactly the most thrilling word. It usually conjures up job descriptions, performance evaluations, and HR Departments!
Yet my conviction is that management, in the larger sense of the word, is one of the most important things you'll ever do.
In addition, I am further convinced that it works best to first love yourself (self-management), then love those closest to you (the management of your love for your closest friends and family), and then the larger community, in that order. I understand that one cannot complete one sphere of management before moving on to the other—they all have to evolve at the same time. However, the priority of management should be upon self, family, and the world, in that order, to maintain health and wholeness.
Think of it like a tree. The roots, trunk, and even new branches may all grow at the same time, but if the roots are not set strong and the trunk sturdy, then the weight of the branches and their fruit will topple the whole thing over! In fact, most branches do not even begin to bear fruit until there is a sturdy tree underneath them. In the same way, you must manage yourself and your relationships well before you can venture into outreach.
Having written already about the first two spheres of essential management, we now turn to the third: the larger community and world around us.
A lawyer was concerned about his personal salvation. (I know, this sounds like the beginning of a joke!) He asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life in Luke chapter 10. Jesus replied with another question: You're a lawyer of the faith: how do you read the Law? The man responded with the Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus delighted in his answer!
But the lawyer pressed on. "Who is my neighbor?" he asked.
Jesus responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were of mixed race and despised by Orthodox Jews at that time, so Jesus calls us to love even the people everyone hates. He had a way of zinging his listeners, and this was no exception. Who can love like that? And yet, this is the call of God: to reach out beyond the familiarity of our close friends and family—even to our enemies—to exhibit the Kingdom of God in love.
First, I need to say this one more time. We should not even undertake risky love without first being well-rooted in self love and love of those closest to us. Think of a fellow on a river bank reaching into turbulent waters to rescue someone. People on shore hold him by the arm, or by a lifeline tied to his waist so he can reach out to help the person in the water. Similarly, we must tether ourselves well to healthy self-management and the support of those most dear to us.
Then, begin to pray about those in your larger network of relationships. For most of us, our work environment represents a place where we spend a lot of time. Perhaps God is calling you to be an agent of divine love at the workplace (or, a community group, organization, etc.). Bathe that environment in prayer. Ask God to prepare the way for you.
After you have spent some time in prayer, consider building relationships with your colleagues based on collaboration and trust. Relationships at work or in the community are often established on the basis of competition. We feel insecure if we are not battling it out for a place at the table of decision-making. Instead, look for the strong gifts of those around you. Comment on how well they do certain things. Join with them to complete key projects, working as their partners rather than feeling like you have to defend your turf or control all the outcomes. Being a team player means valuing the team and each individual member of the team.
Gradually, you learn to trust your coworkers, and they learn to trust you. People will start talking about personal challenges or struggles. Such sharing is an opportunity for us to listen and show Christ's love. Your conversations may also be an occasion to invite the other to a home group or to church where you have found spiritual resources for dealing with life's challenges. In any event, as you venture out to love others according to the commandment of Jesus, take time to pray and discern God's leading. Live your faith in the world naturally rather than according to some kind of forced script. You are not just another salesperson hawking Jesus cure-all miracle syrup.
Years ago, riding the commuter train to Manhattan, I struck up a conversation with the man next to me (that's remarkable in itself since normally everyone is silent and reading the Wall Street Journal). The topic was my favorite—management—and the man shared how his boss was an example of everything he wanted to be himself one day as a manager. Then, the fellow said his boss's name: I knew him as a member of my church! Identifying myself as his boss's pastor, the man laughed and said: You know, he mentions his church on occasion, but he lives his faith at work in the way he manages.
I walked off that train with a spring in my step!
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
- Is the thought of living your faith in the world scary? Do you agree that there is a natural way to share faith with others? What might that look like for you?
- The best context for sharing faith is a relationship of trust rather than competition. Do you think that's really possible in today's fast-paced workplace? Is your workplace (or network of community relationships) so competitive that building trust is next to impossible? What would it mean for you to build trust with others?
- The Parable of the Good Samaritan is about loving those who are the hardest to love. Who do you think are modern day "Samaritans" and what makes them hard to love?
- If you have not yet read them, we recommend Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.
Photograph "Servant Scuplture" used with permission.