As as an adult, however, I've wanted more. There's a side of Jesus and his earthly ministry that we all too often ignore, yet is incredibly vital to the success of our work and faith efforts. Jesus was beautifully strategic and specific in how he invested his time and energies.
We don't often talk about the Jesus of of Matthew 13. We think that those who followed Jesus were there to hang on to his every word. In actuality, the crowds who tagged along were pretty diverse. Some were the legal and religious overseers of the day looking to trip him up somehow, some were just hungry and thought they would get fed if they hung around Jesus long enough. Others saw the miracles of Jesus as magic and were entertained by what they saw. In Matthew 13, the disciples ask Jesus why he was speaking to the crowds in so many parables. Jesus replies, in short, that the parables were a way to parse out who was really interested in his kingdom ministry, and those who were there to either attack his purpose or sap resources from it. Those who understood Jesus' parables would continue on with him, and those who missed the point would take off. Rather than be an all-welcoming message, Jesus' parables weeded some people out and nurtured the rest.
Or how about the Jesus in Luke 9 and 10? We celebrate the sending out of disciples who came back with awesome accounts of what they had divinely experienced in spreading the Gospel. What we don't realize is that reading the few preceding chapters of Luke shows Jesus spending quite a bit of time taking his followers through a rigorous and meritocratic selection process. He did anything but make his ministry sound fun. If those followers around him were willing to be without a home and without money and kicked and spit on and hated, they would be great for doing his work. By the time Luke 10 rolls around, Jesus has a sharp crew of folks who stuck it out with him and weren't scared away by the realities of ministry. Those were the 12, and then 70 that were sent out.
Another stunning example of Jesus' strategy is found in John 17, when he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane for those who would follow him for generations to come, future Christ-followers. It's fascinating that in the moments before He completes one of the greatest acts of history for all mankind, he isn't spending time praying for the whole world. Rather, Jesus prays for his followers throughout the rest of history. That they would get along and be unified together for impact, just as Jesus was on the same track together with his Father. It's not that Jesus didn't care about the rest of the world, He just knew that with the limited time of prayer he had, that if he would pray for the effectiveness of his followers throughout time, the world would be impacted positively in the end.
Much like us, Jesus spent much of his life in preparation for his earthly ministry, and then was given three years at the end of his life to execute it. This is the man-part of his divinity, the part we can most relate to. Like him, we have limited time and resources and energy to make a difference, to care for people and change lives and communities.
In the mid 1800s an economist by the name of Wilfredo Pareto began to notice a pattern in systems, organizations, and nature. It has become known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule. Simply, the greatest output in anything comes from the smallest input. 80% of the cars on the road are driving on 20% of the roads. 80% of our income comes from a key 20% of our total efforts. In a lot of faith-based or non-profit volunteer organizations, this principle becomes blatantly clear: 80% of the work done comes from 20% of the members.
I like to think Jesus and Pareto both knew the same thing: the greatest impact is going to come from a small, key percentage of people or efforts. Jesus' focused efforts towards and with those who followed him, his core leadership, and his prayer life all set off a global movement that has changed the world many times over.
As church and ministry leaders and changemakers, our tendency is to invest high levels of energy and activity into everyone and everything that comes our way. That can go well for a while, but eventually has a negative effect on what we're passionate about and the people involved. In order to make the most difference in the community around you, what are the 20% of your relationships that are going to push you and grow you to be your best? Who are your 20% of leaders that, if you invest in them, will create the most change in your work or church? What are the 20% of tasks that, if you focused on them, would make the greatest difference?
Jesus' strategy has a good enough track record for us to at least give it a try in our own work!