Monday, March 5, 2018

Lessons Learned: The Main Thing

Jane Hansen was one of the most remarkable Christian leaders I have ever known.  She was for many years the President of Aglow Ministries International headquartered in Seattle.  Most of my readers will not know her or much about Aglow Ministries, but I sat as a member of their advisory board for the 7 years I served as Rector of St. Luke’s in Seattle.  Aglow is an independent evangelistic ministry aimed at women and strongly associated with The Assemblies of God and also other various Pentecostal denominations.  For those 7 years, I watched one of the best managed Christian organizations that I have known.  Jane’s ministry team was very professional and at the same time a wonder example of a Christian team ministry.  Ironically as a woman, Jane would not have been allowed to be a pastor in her own denomination though she ran a ministry that vastly outnumbered any of their churches.

I was on the Advisory Board because my predecessor at St. Luke’s was before me.  I sort of inherited the position.  The board of Aglow has a bit of an unusual organization.  It was comprised of Jane and her Vice Presidents all of whom headed up a major division of Aglow.  The Advisory Board was made up of six area pastors most of whom headed large, 2000 plus ASA, congregations.  I wish I could say more about Aglow’s work back in the 80s, but it would take too long.  I want to focus one of the primary things that I learned from Jane.   

During one Board meeting a group made up of local fundamentalist and evangelical organizations made a presentation on abortion.  They represented a national organization that was trying to get every conservative denomination and para-church ministry to sign a common declaration opposing abortion in the strongest terms possible. After an hour of presenting their point of view, they concluded with how important it would be for Aglow Ministries to sign on and how strange it would be if they refused.

Now remember, all the board members were women, most were grandmothers, and all would have been clearly opposed to abortion.  After the group left, Jane asked the advisors for comments.  Three of the pastors were strongly in favor of them signing on. Three others of us weren’t so sure.  For me, it felt like the presenters were a bit intimidating and certainly they were pushing to get Aglow to sign on.

After we had spoken, Jane paused and looked at her board members.  Several of them were members of two of the Churches represent by advisors in the room.  She then asked if we would mind stepping out of the room for a few minutes while she had an conversation with her fellow leaders.  Half an hour later, we were invited back in.

“Well what did you decide?” asked one of the pastors who had been vocally in favor of them signing on. Jane pause, smiled, and then said gently, “We have decided that it would not be right for us to sign on to this declaration.”  

That Pastor looked stunned.  “Why not,” he angrily replied.  Here is how Jane answered: 

“Pastor, you know how all of us feel about his issue.  It was a difficult decision for us.  However, when we thought about our mission to introduce women to Jesus Christ it caused us to stop and ask this question; what if one woman decided not to attend an Aglow meeting because she once had an abortion? Then we would be failing to carry out our mission.” 

What did Jane and her associates grasp?  Long before secular writers wrote about this, they knew that a ministry, denomination, and congregation needed to remember to keep the main thing the main thing.

I have consulted with many congregations and worked with three dioceses and time after time I had to remind myself of the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing.  This is often a difficult discipline for leaders to keep.  Keeping it means that leaders need not to dilute their effectiveness by adding more and more good things to what they are called to do.  Next, leaders need a way to say “no” to what they are not called to do.  Of course, the discipline is dependent on two other things. 

1.      You have to know what the main thing is!

2.     You have to organize everything around it.  

Most Episcopal Churches that I’ve worked with have no idea what their main thing is.  When I ask leaders to share their mission and core values, I often find the mission is so vague that they are not able to build a strategy around it.  In addition, they will list 20 or more core values and some of these congregations have less than 100 people present on any given Sunday.  

The congregation that I served in Seattle was just like this.  They had way too many good things and no way of centering on what the main thing was.  So my first work was to find the main thing.  Then we set to work carrying out strategies that made the main thing the main thing.  In three years, the congregation, already large by Episcopal standards, became the largest it had ever been in its history.  Then we launched a daughter congregation as a part of our strategy. 

My advice to every leader is to always Make the Main Thing the Main Thing! 


  1. VAMONK, I don't know what happened to your comment, but the leader begins by asking the right questions to find out what the main thing is. Of course, in one sense, for a church the main thing is the mission of the church "Reconcile all people to"... from PB and the two core values of the Great Commission and Great Commandment. It also has to be contextualized to your setting.

  2. Morning Kevin - This is more a comment about the "Main Thing". Great article and I couldn't agree more. Toward that's been my experience that Jesus prioritized all of Scripture with His "main thing" of the 1st commandment (Love God) and the 2nd (love your neighbor) and 3rd - "Go and make disciples."

    1. Yes, indeed he did. I think one of Bishop Payne's strengths was to focus on the Mission, the great commandment and the great commission. Good to have your comment.