Recently my wife said to me that she heard that Steven Covey said: "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing." I think that the Christian Church is in trouble in this area unknowingly (maybe sometimes knowingly). Historical influences can exercise an influence on us without us knowing it. I am convinced this has led to a general drift in priorities from the first priority of wholeness to some part of that wholeness.
Take the example of the city that I live in today when it comes to influences that are unknown. It is located between Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You would think that the football tradition here would be strong, as it is in most of the state of Wisconsin. But there is a historical influence that has ties to the Los Angeles Lakers. This city, I was told, is the original beginning for the Lakers who traveled from here in Sheboygan, then to Minneapolis and finally to there in Los Angeles. So it is stronger in its basketball tradition than it is in its football tradition. This influence is subtle, because it is buried in this city's past, yet it is very real in its influence on what people see as a priority and as its first love. The Laker influence apparently is still sending out ripples of influence into life here in Sheboygan. I'm learning this the hard way trying to coach football in a basketball city.
The same may go for churches. We may not know it, but we are heavily influenced in subtle ways by our historical roots. Lutherans may not be aware, but their priority is righteousness and justice. The Reformed may not be aware, but their priority is humility and truth. Episcopalians may not be aware, but their priority is comprehensiveness and holiness (or wholeness). Methodists (and many Evangelicals) may not be aware, but their priority is love and practicality. Finally, Baptists may not be aware, but their priority is goodness and mental maturity to discern it. All of these groups, at their historical root, had holiness, sanctification and wholeness at the top of their priority lists with these other priorities, but gradually with the confusion over what holiness meant, wholeness lost its priority alongside these clearer priorities. A lack of clarity rolled out into a lack of priority as history rolled out into the future.
The problem is that these other priorities pull us in directions we often are not aware of consciously and so the main thing is pushed aside by something that is not the main thing. The first thing is that we need to understand what the main thing was for the previous generations, so that we can understand where they and we habitually use our time. Then once that recognition is there we can decide if something else should replace it. In the past, wholeness supplemented many of these good priorities and even was a first priority among Anglicans and Episcopalians, except that comprehensiveness was gradually pulled away from its biblical roots in holiness, due to lack of clarity on the ground surface of meaning.
Jesus once said to the Pharisees that they needed to "Do the greater and not neglect the lesser things. " I think this is the problem with so many things churches do. We are not doing the greater or the main thing, moral wholeness. Instead we are working on the lesser things that should not be neglected, yet should not come first. The main thing needs to be the main thing, as Covey says. I learned the truth of this lesson from Jesus through the Word and by the Holy Spirit. I don't want to be grouped in history with the Pharisees who worked so hard on the lesser things. And holpefully, you don't want to be grouped with them either.
Let me simplify too the whole lesson of priorities or main things. It comes down to big versus little. We must count our priorities up front. The big must win over the little. Otherwise the big things never get done and their big impact is never felt. That is why we do not feel big impacts in our Christian lives. Wholeness is that big impact, yet it must first be a priority for us to feel it. Feelings have their core ties to relationships. Big things last means small feelings. Main things make big splashes. Small things barely make ripples.
Until wholeness becomes the main thing for many of us, I think our situation as Christians will continue to look bleak. We desparately need to be renewed, even as happened in past times of renewal (Romans 12:1-3). I know wholeness as a priority has had a bigger impact for me than any other lesson I have learned. It has renewed not only my mind, but my joy. I hope you will join me in the name of our God to change our main thing to be the main thing.
Pastor Jon Westlund