Monday, July 26, 2010

When Delay Allows Us to Review Our Priorities

(If you don’t receive my Cal Habig Coaching newsletter, this was the featured article in the April 2010 issue.  If you want to subscribe, go here.  My next newsletter will be coming out within a week.)

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"  ~ Robert Browning, 'Andrea del Sarto'

One of the most common frustrations of ministry is our desire for things to happen faster than they usually do.  We may think they should go faster (and perhaps according to some standards, they should), but they don’t. 

How do we react?  Do we redouble our efforts?  Do we work to motivate staff to do more?  Do we take projects away from volunteers and staff and drive them forward ourselves?

It is hard for us to recognize and cope with the fact that the delays may be of God.  “God’s timing” truly “may not be our timing” as much as we hate to hear it.

Ted Engstrom has a good reminder in the old classic  “Renewing Your image Church Through Vision and Planning” from the Christianity Today “Library of Leadership Development” series.

Engstrom notes that when he became frustrated with “the gap between what we think should be done first and what we can actually do, it usually arises from the pull between priorities and our ability to move the resources needed to attack the priorities.”

He talks about his three foundational priorities in his life. 

  1. Bedrock for Engstrom is his relationship with Jesus Christ. (as I hope it is for all of us).
  2. Second is his commitment to the Church.
  3. Third is the work that God has given to him.  That work “rises directly from my commitment to Christ and his church.”

Engstrom notes “Usually, if I appear to have a conflict, a clash between what I think I should do first and what I’m actually able to do because of the people involved, I need to examine these levels to see if my priorities are in the right order. This forces me to put people before programs. If I find myself frustrated in driving toward a goal, I need to check and see if I have put level three before level two. Have I put the work of Christ ahead of the body of Christ? That’s very easy for any of us to do, especially in light of the fact that our families are part of the body.” (p. 160)

Here are four red flags Engstrom uses to keep us out of the ditch of misplaced priorities.

1. Are my motives pure? Why do I want to accomplish a particular task or promote a program? Will it make me look good? Will it move me up a rung or give me a little more leverage?

We may frown at the idea that we could be less than sincere, but motivations are complex. We all struggle daily against the desire for recognition and power. The same program, for example, that will comfort the sick may also score points for the pastor. This is where our human reasoning often fails us, and we need to ask the Spirit of God to search our hearts. This is a time to pray as David did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart … and see if there be any hurtful way in me” (Psalm 139:23–24, nasb).

2. Do the goals of the program fit my theology? Time magazine told about a church in Florida that runs a bar in its parish hall. The pastor believes it brings people together in a good setting and contributes to the life of the church. That’s an extreme example, and most of us would fault the practice. But the issues are often more subtle, and while we’ll always have well-meaning people who will think up off-the-wall programs, we must test all proposals through the grid of our theology. If we don’t—and find ourselves stymied along the way to implementation—perhaps we have skipped this important question.

3. Will the program enhance the lives of the participants? A ministry to the medical complex might change the lives of many patients, but it may also jeopardize the workers. We have to ask whether this or that program will put novice Christians in leadership roles, tempt the weak with celebrity status, or pull mothers and fathers away from their children one more night of the week.

These are tough questions, but they provide the checks we need to avoid putting level three before level two.

4. Have we been seduced by our culture? Do we have a numbers orientation? Are we prone to think bigger is automatically better? Has society’s worship of size, success, speed, production, promotion, and glamour crept into our evaluation of church programs?

I don’t like to think along such lines.  I LIKE to think that my priorities are always upfront and known to me.  But, they’re not. Sometimes God has to slow me down IN ORDER to make me reevaluate.  Or simply to have think time. 

Or simply to be reminded that He is God…and I am not.

What do you think?  Drop me a line & let me know. 


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