PLANNING OUR PRIORITIES
T PIERCE BROWN
For more than 65 years I have been impressed with the importance of planning our priorities as suggested in Acts 6:2, “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.” My problem is that in those 65 years I have not learned how to do it properly. Most preachers and Christians have the problem of choosing priorities, but sadly a large number do not seem to know they have any problem. Often we just do what seems convenient or handy at the time, and make no conscious choices of putting first things first. When I began to preach, I was constantly beset with the problem of how much time I should spend in the study reading and studying God’s word, how much I should spend in praying, how much I should spend in doing personal evangelism, visiting the sick, wayward and faithful church members. I have never solved the problem satisfactorily. However, I recently got an insight into another aspect of the problem that I had not considered sufficiently.
In my first full time preaching many years ago the church had a piece of property that needed to be cleaned off for several reasons. Since I was knocking on doors trying to set up and conduct Bible studies five nights a week, I thought that I should not “leave the word of God to serve tables” and suggested that all the other members who were not so engaged should do the work. I discovered that there seemed to be suspicion that I was trying to get out of my responsibility to do “common labor” along with all the other members. The fact that my hands were still callused from doing “common labor” should have made people realize that I was neither ashamed nor afraid of doing it, but that did not matter. I compromised my principles to the extent that I left what I considered more important work and helped clear the debris from the lot. It is probable that I would do the same thing again.
The reason (or excuse) I would give for such compromise is that it seems that with what I think is the spiritual immaturity of most members (and probably most leaders), I would do more harm than good trying to emphasize the truth that each of us should try to serve God in a way that our talents will be best used for His glory and for the salvation of souls. That truth needs to be emphasized, but until it is emphasized from the pulpit and in classes, and by the elders in their words and deeds, the resentment that would be created among members who would think the preacher thinks he is too good to do “common labor” would outweigh any good that might be done by refusing to do that.
Also, about 45 years or so ago, I became aware that one may influence others by becoming “all things to all men, that by all means we might save some” (1Cor 9:22). The church at which I preached had grown so that we needed a new building. We urged each member to help with the building in order to save money. I worked along with them almost every day. There was a wealthy Jew whose wife was a member. He saw me working along with the other members and was so impressed by the fact that I was not “above” such tasks that he began to attend regularly. It bothered me because I knew that most of the growth that we had achieved was not because we had a nice building, but because of those who were involved in Bible studies every night in the week. However, I realized that there are times when other factors make it important to examine again our priorities and realize that we may need to shift them under some circumstances.
The failure to do this is one of the things that caused such problems with the Crossroads movement. They would ask the new convert such questions as: “Which is more important, winning a soul to Christ or playing tennis with your girlfriend?” Even a seasoned Christian could be made to feel guilty if he did not follow the example or advice of his “spiritual advisor” and give up tennis for a “soul talk.” This is one of the techniques of “brain-washing” that was used so effectively (and strongly denied), for anyone who takes the position that playing tennis (or doing anything else when your leader wants you to do something “spiritual”) is more important than winning a soul must be either totally depraved or a moron.
The truth is that there are times that eating, sleeping or resting are more important than trying to win a soul. And the truth is that there are times and circumstances when using a paintbrush or driving nails may be more important than visiting the sick or trying to encourage a delinquent member. The fact that one may be dealing with immature members or leaders who have not learned to put first things first does not change the fact that under those circumstances one must choose what might seem to be second best over what seems to be best.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.