Mary & Martha Leadership
38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I was born a Martha.
The reliable, get-it-done, keep-things-moving, aware-of-all-the-details, task-oriented person.
And so I’m naturally a Martha leader. Martha leaders tend to be second-chair leaders. They usually complement the highly relationally, people-loving, first-chair Marys of the world.
Both leaders are essential and necessary, but I believe that great leaders know when to be a Mary and when to be a Martha.
As a very natural Martha, learning to be a Mary does not come easily to me. And while it’s true that I will probably always think “Martha” first, I think it would be irresponsible for me as a leader to not attempt to learn to be a Mary in the right situations and circumstances.
This tension has become very real to me since I launched Cultivate Her – a leadership environment for women. In this organization, I’m the first-chair leader. I’m responsible for the leadership and direction, the vision and the communication. I’m the face and the voice of this organization and with that comes an expectation for me to be a Mary.
I need to lead relationally. I need to engage with people who are attending. I need to be fully present in conversations and not wondering if the food is out and whether the pens are at the tables. I need to sit at Jesus’ feet rather than hustle about with all the preparations.
The tug of my natural Martha tendencies causes me great turmoil:
Aren’t I supposed to be attending to the details? That’s what I normally do. Will my team really see everything that needs to be done? Surely they’ll miss something if I don’t check in. Don’t these people see that there is so much to do? I don’t have time for chit chat.
And even more troubling for me is my fear that the Marthas on my team are irritated that I’m “just talking” and not helping with the stuff that needs to get done. In the passage from Luke you get the impression that Martha just assumed that Mary was totally preoccupied and not paying attention, but I wonder if Mary really wrestled with her decision to be relational? Did she feel like she was letting Martha down by not helping her?
I’m learning that each role is equally important. Marys aren’t “just talking”. They are helping others feel valued. They are speaking words of encouragement and hope. They are helping people feel connected and loved. I wonder how many times I’m shirked my responsibilities as a Mary because I felt convicted that I wasn’t doing the Martha duties? How many people felt my lack of engagement and interest? In those cases, I didn’t play either role well.
As a leader, I think you have to fully understand when you need to be a Mary and when you need to be a Martha and you need to educate your teams as to which role you need to play… and when. If they understand the purpose of why you’re fulfilling that role, they are much more likely to complement and support you.
Mary and Martha both had an important part in the story. If Martha had never opened her home, Mary may have never been able to sit at Jesus feet.
Some days you’ll be a Mary. Other days you’ll be a Martha. We need to learn to appreciate both roles and the unique opportunities they bring.
Who are you more naturally like, Mary or Martha?