Talk about changing scorecards, years ago I heard a prayer that altered mine. It was on the occasion of a MasterLife clinic at White Oak Conference Center. Dr. Avery Willis, the author of the MasterLife material, was leading the training and I was a small group facilitator. Before the first session he gathered the group leaders in a circle and prayed this prayer---"God our Father, help me today to discern the difference between what is urgent and what is important. In Christ's name, amen".
Now, I'll confess that I'm pretty much a prayer slacker and am still learning the disciplines of a consistent communion with Christ. On that day, probably twenty years ago, his prayer impressed me deeply because it touched a raw nerve in my personal life and Kingdom service. Completing the personal spiritual inventory that was required for leading those conferences revealed my tendency to major on minors, that is, spend valuable resources of time and energy on matters peripheral to the mission he had entrusted to me and his church. That prayer confronted me with a distraction problem. Often it is the result of not differentiating between important matters and urgent ones.
OK, so I'm one of the boomers whose mind wandered long before we knew about attention deficits. So are many of my colleagues in ministry, especially those with strong "ideation" themes in their strength array (see Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath for an explantion of the Clifton Strength Finder inventory). Beyond the language of the positive psychology world it translates to being easily distracted. Staying on point can be a problem for those of us created that way. It really doesn't take much to divert our attention or shift our thoughts in another direction.
Beyond the fearful and wonderful mysteries of the way he wired each of us, there is a mission problem here. It's been my experience that most churches, especially those among the 80%+ that are plateaued or declining, deal with this same dysfunction in pursuing their mission. Most of the congregations I've been close enough to study, and many of their leaders too, are so side-tracked by urgencies that the important matters of their Kingdom assignment have become secondary to their existence. This thought always takes me back to the 5-B's of church mission disrtraction, the ADHD that interfere with misision---business, bulletins, budgets, buildings, and by-laws. Of course, these are said in some jest and are good preaching points when dealing with the doctrine of the church. They do, however, comprise some of the more explosive elements of church life today. Tamper with them and take cover. Incoming!!!!!
Staying on point is necesssary for effective mission. Jesus defined his mission to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel on numerous occasions. Track his journey to Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke and you'll see a focued, intentional drive to fulfill his purpose. His last instruction, the Great Commission, was given so his disciples didn't get blown off course by the winds of political stress or religious pressure. Several times the Apostle Paul referred to "this one thing I do" or a critical order of things. Even then, without the sophistication the digital scheduling and wireless reminders, they knew the cost of being distracted.
Staying focused is a constant issue for me, sixty-five years into life, and after thrity-five years of pastoral ministry. How does this kind of intention happen in a world with so many distractions?
(1) There are three picture frames on the wall facing my computer station. They've faced me in four church offices, and now at home in retirement. They contain my Life Verses (Psalm 40:1-3), Ministry Verses (Ephesians 3:8-9), and Passion Verse (Psalm 71:18). They are there to keep me riveted on my purpose. In the same way, I recommend that pastors and church leaders not only have their own verses, but that they be communicated to the church family often.
(2) The mission statement of the church should be visibly displayed in all the church media. We taught it at least one time every year, and usually organized the church around it.
(3) Training of leaders should involve teaching components that emphasize the important things and minimize the urgencies or side issues.
(4) Be absolutely sure your stated purpose or mission statement is consistent with Scripture and relates to Christ's commisison to the church. Many of us will be distracted by needless talk and justification when there are questions about the mission. Biblical mission doesn't have to be rationalized.
(5) If you are a pastor, church staff member, or leader in the church, tell them the mission and tell them again. They can read it, see it on a coffee cup, wear it on a t-shirt, or pass it in the hall. But, nothing registers like hearing it from you.
Last November I was totally blessed to travel to Krakow, Poland; London, England; and Los Angeles, California with Governor Mike Huckabee and a group of spiritual leaders from Iowa, Nevada, New Hampsire, and South Carolina. We studied Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. What a learning experience. Since then, I've been reading biographies of these great leaders. One of Churchill's quotes fits here. He said, "You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks".
Ain't it the truth. Most barking dogs are just urgencies anyway.