Urgent versus Important
I’ve been struck lately of how often urgent things overtake the important matters in church life. There’s nothing profound in that statement – we all know that we should “put first things first” (per Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). But knowing and doing are two totally different things.
Let me start with an obvious qualifier – we will never escape the urgent in ministry. When a wife calls to say her marriage is falling apart, it’s an urgent matter that requires immediate attention. Meeting with grieving relatives after the death of a family member is not something that can be put off for a couple of weeks. If a staff member says, “I’m thinking about leaving the ministry,” I don’t advise you to say, “That sounds like a good topic for next month’s scheduled career development conversation.” In truth, it’s not fair to use a black-and-white distinction such as urgent vs. important for many of these situations. To the people who are in the midst of the crisis, the issue is urgent and important.
We will always have to deal with urgent matters, but if we’re not careful, the urgent will completely overwhelm the things that are of long-term, strategic importance. The result is that far too many ministries (and their leaders) only live in the moment and fail to ask and address the bigger questions that should shape their future direction. If you’re just trying to get through the day’s crisis, you won’t think about the next big dream that God has for you.
So what is the counterbalance for a busy ministry leader? Each person will need to develop his or her own plan based on personality and the demands of the ministry, but here are 4 core concepts:
- Create margin for urgent things. If your calendar is already full a week in advance, then even a small urgent issue can wreck your week. You may not know which urgent item is going to intrude into your schedule, but you know that something will. So leave enough breathing room to handle the unexpected.
- Know what is truly urgent. I’ve always like the saying, “Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Whether due to someone’s negligence or inappropriate hype, followers may attach urgency to cases that are not. A good leader determines what is truly urgent rather than letting others make that decision.
- Know what to delegate. Some situations are truly urgent but can be handled by someone else. Leaders who want to make time for important things learn how to say, “That sounds like it needs immediate attention. Let me ask ____ to help you.”
- Schedule time to dream. Don’t wait for a break in your schedule to work on important matters, because the break will never come. Make a regular practice of putting a block of time on your calendar for big picture thinking, and treat it just as untouchable as any other significant meeting.
I hope you’ll start today to escape the urgent and work on the important.