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The Priscilla Principle

Let me introduce you to Priscilla. She’s been my mother-in-law for over 25 years. She’s a special woman for many reasons. There’s one particular characteristic of hers, though, that makes her rather remarkable. It’s the basis for what I’ve started to refer to as The Priscilla Principle.

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My mother-in-law, in many respects, is everything you’d expect a mother-in-law to be. She was a faithful wife for 50 years until Emily’s dad passed away several years ago. She raised four children, and is now the grandmother to 12. She’s invested in her family.

She also invests in her friends. She has many friends in her garden club and other community groups. She knits. She sews. She bakes. She’s becoming a Facebook aficionado. She routinely beats me at Scrabble. She does everything you’d expect a 70-something-year-old to do.

But there’s something distinctive about Priscilla that makes her different from many of her peers. It’s one of those attributes that causes me to pause and acknowledge–when I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Many years ago I began to question how she invests much of her time and how she lives out her faith. It had nothing to do with her doctrine. The curiosity was all about her spiritual practices.

For starters, she doesn’t worship at a church you’d expect a seventy-something to attend. The services at her church have drums and guitars. They don’t use a hymnal. They’ve never played any of the classical masterpieces or the music from the 1940s that I usually hear on the radio when I walk into her kitchen.

In fact, the music is so loud at her church that she carries ear plugs in her purse. When the music starts, the ear plugs come out. She doesn’t know the songs. She doesn’t complain about the volume. More importantly, she doesn’t go to any of a number of other churches in the community that have a style of worship that is more appealing to her taste. It’s the most bizarre thing.

On top of that, her ministry to others is most intriguing. Many others in her season of life are plugged into ministries with their peers. Now mind you, she’s been known to hang out with the OWLS. You know. The “Older Wiser Livelier Seniors.” But, that’s not where she invests most of her time and energy. Instead, she opens her home every week to a bunch of teenagers. She cleans. She prepares food. She engages in conversation with them. She provides odd jobs for them. She’s opening her home and her life to people who are 60 years younger than she is.

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These practices were perplexing to me. And then one day I finally asked her, why do you do this? Why do you put up with music that you don’t like? Why do you attend a church that’s filled with predominantly young adults in a completely different season of life? Why do you invest so much time serving teenagers rather than enjoying time and mutual interests with your peers?

She just tilted her head and smiled. Through the years, I’ve grown to appreciate the different versions of my mother-in-law’s head tilts. There’s the “that-was-completely-inappropriate” head tilt. There’s the “that’s-a-pleasant-unexpected-surprise” head tilt. And there’s the “let-me-be-patient-with-you-as-I-try-to-teach-you-a-life-lesson” head tilt. That’s the one I got.

She paused, and then she explained why she has embraced these unique practices. She described how all of this effort is intentional to be part of a ministry that’s reaching the next generations. In other words, she sacrifices her personal preferences to reach others, primarily young people, for Jesus.

That’s The Priscilla Principle. It’s when someone is so mature in their faith that they recognize “it’s not about me.” It’s when someone realizes, “I’m willing to sacrifice my personal preferences in order to lead others to a growing relationship with Jesus.” It’s putting into practice what it really means to love God and love others.

What makes Priscilla so remarkable is that THIS IS NOT NORMAL. And that’s unfortunate. Most “mature” believers worship their worship. They want just the right songs played in just the right style. They want the pastor to preach on the right topics with the right level of weightiness to challenge the already-convinced. They want the right Sunday School room with the right teacher to learn from God’s Word. They want the right ministries with the right friends to fulfill their need for Christian fellowship. And when things aren’t done the right way, you’ll either hear from them or you’ll watch them try to find another church that does it just right. That’s nothing like how my mother-in-law lives out her faith.

Though it’s not common, you probably know some Priscillas in your life. We need to do a better job of sharing their stories. We need to challenge people to live beyond themselves.

We live in a me culture. We eat at me restaurants with meals made just the way we want them. We have our me playlists with just the right mix of music. We have our social media streams that share all the best highlights of why it’s so great to be me. It’s all about me. And that’s how we shape our me religion and me churches too.

What does it really mean to love God and love others? For those of us who consider ourselves to be mature in the faith, I think it involves far more sacrifice than we’d care to admit.

The irony is this. As I spend more time focusing on others, I worry less about my own circumstances. When I put the needs of others first, I find fulfillment. When I sacrifice, I find blessing.

Like I said, when I grow up, I want to be like Priscilla. There are far too many times when I’m focused more on my personal preferences than on the eternal impact I could be making on someone else’s life.

And that’s why I’m praying for more believers and more churches and me to begin practicing The Priscilla Principle.

By Tony Morgan, founder and chief strategic officer at The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. He writes about leadership at tonymorganlive.com. Follow Tony on social media: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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Tony is founder and chief strategic officer of The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia, NewSpring Church in South Carolina, and Granger Community Church in Indiana. He’s written several books, as well as articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com. He writes about leadership regularly at tonymorganlive.com. His next book, The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health, will be available from Thomas Nelson in May 2017.

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