It is a gross understatement to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced our shared experience of volatility. A lot changed in a very short time, and we all got very tired and wished it would all end. But it didn’t. It hasn’t. We have a new ‘normal’ that seems not normal. Companies and churches are in this mess together. For example, a recent article in The Globe and Mail tells us about the travails of Shopify which, over the past three years has been both the most valuable company in Canada (as denoted by total market capitalization) and the one to lose the most amount of value in 2022. If a parish went through that kind of a year, it might collapse.
The leaders of Shopify announced a series of changes aimed to focus on doing just one thing well, helping Shopify’s customers succeed with their own customers through online commerce. As an internal memo explained, “it’ll help Shopify the company keep pace with Shopify the product.” The root problem behind the huge loss in value and the reduction of more than 10% of their worldwide staff, included the observation that the way people interacted had become ‘bloated, noisy and distracting’ with ‘debates’ about ‘pineapple on pizza’. When a company realizes that a primary subject of internal dialogue was whether there should be pineapple on pizza, someone, in reality, a lot of people, have simply lost the plot. While the management tools which Shopify may use leave something to be desired, what is commendable is their recognition that what people spend time talking about is a good clue as to what they think matters.
Nearly 400 years ago, the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer, captured a scene that is narrated in the tenth chapter of Luke, in his painting entitled ‘Christ at the house of Martha and Mary’. The original painting hangs in the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh and a copy hangs outside our laundry room. In the scene, Mary sits at Christ’s feet, while Martha has clearly been busy in the kitchen. In the Lukan text, we hear Christ speak to the busy sister, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few are needed—or indeed only one.” Perhaps she had been calling to them from the kitchen, “do you want pineapple on your pizza?” What Jesus wants Martha to reflect on is that only one thing is necessary, and that one thing is Christ. How very impractical!
Over the past decades, I have been in enough corporate board rooms and church vestry meetings, to know that there are far more conversations about ‘pineapple on pizza’ than there are on what really matters. What both Jesus and even the leaders of a company like Shopify suggest, is that ‘many things’ are not the answer and that for God’s people, people like Mary and like Martha, there is only one thing that matters, and that is Christ. As His people, if we have Christ, we have everything and if we do not, then we have nothing. I can feel Martha’s frustration, her intense desire to just do something, to be active, to be busy, to calm her worry about many things with action. Jesus can be annoying—does He not see all that needs to be done? Yet Jesus speaks and heals that urgency, not with another project, but with Himself, with His presence, His words, His purpose. Perhaps as we in our parishes ‘worry about many things,’ we too, like Shopify, should ensure that our organization—the church—keeps pace with our ‘product’—Christ. We need to heed Christ’s invitation to focus on just one thing, the only person that matters, even to just sit at His feet. The pineapple can wait.