Founder & CEO
This is the second in a series of 4 blog posts on what the Church and the business world can learn from one another about leadership. You can read the first post on action and reflection here.
Did you know that 42% of the people who make customer service requests on social media expect a company to respond within one hour of contact? Anything more than that, and a brand will begin to see sharp drop-offs in both CSAT and NPS.
That may not seem so bad at first, but if you’re a decent-sized organization playing in several different markets, it’s enough to keep your digital team up a night… literally.
The Distance Between Patience and Urgency
This is just one of the many ways in which our increasingly connected digital world has injected a heightened level of urgency into the marketplace.
But let’s not pretend this an entirely new development. Sure, the technology is new, but the market’s always been driven by speed. The early bird gets the worm, and the first to market—whether in smartphones or submarines—usually wins the prize.
Historically, the Church has lived on the opposite end of this spectrum. We are a waiting people (Rom 8:23). Patience is in our DNA, a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us (Gal 5:22).
As we saw last time, the Church’s strength lies in patient reflection. Unlike the business world, her survival depends, not on agility, but on ability—that is, God’s ability to sustain her. Since He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:1), churches don’t usually worry about having to pay a stiff economic price for an excess of patience.
But, when patience devolves into complacency, the costs pile higher than no man can count. The Church may not have a market, per se, but it does have a mission. And, as Carl F. H. Henry said, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.”
What Can Church say to Business?
In the business world, patience is often more of a strategic posture than a genuine disposition of the heart. What might the Church have to say about that?
- Faster ≠ Better. According to Malcolm Gladwell, successful entrepreneurs are those with courage, imagination, and urgency. “They’re not willing to wait. They have a burning desire to get something done.” Amen, but it’s easy to misapply that insight and identify speed with productivity. The two aren’t the same.
- Learn the difference between urgency and emergency. The talking heads on TV might lead you to think otherwise, but wise leaders over the Church’s history carefully guarded the distinction between urgent matters worthy of patient response and genuine emergencies in need of immediate intervention. Business leaders can follow their lead by not allowing urgent concerns to masquerade as emergencies and steal all their time and energy.
- Don’t let urgency press you into unfruitful action. When a breadwinner loses a job, or a marriage falls apart, the wise pastor doesn’t run in guns blazing with a readied slate of solutions. Instead, he moves in close, prays fervently, listens, waits, and responds when appropriate. In the same way, business leaders can approach pressing matters with both urgency and patience.
Bonus: Moving Towards a True Sense of Urgency
Business leaders often act with a sense of impatience, eager to gin up energy and enthusiasm in an otherwise complacent workplace. As John P. Kotter—author of A Sense of Urgency—argues, this false sense of urgency hurts more than it helps.
Kotter summarizes false urgency in this way:
“Far too often, managers think they have found the solution to [the problem of complacency] when they see lots of energetic activity: where people sometimes run from meeting to meeting, preparing endless PowerPoint presentations; where people have agendas containing a long list of activities; where people seem willing to abandon the status quo; where people seem to have a great sense of urgency. But more often than not, this flurry of behavior is not driven by any underlying determination to move and win, now. It’s driven by pressures that create anxiety and anger. The resulting frantic activity is more distracting than useful. This is a false sense of urgency that may be even more destructive than complacency because it drains needed energy in activity and not productivity. Since people mistake the running-around for a real sense of urgency, they sometimes actually try to create it. The frustrated boss screams “execute.” His employees scramble: sprinting, meeting, task-forcing, e-mailing—all of which create a howling wind of activity. But that’s all it is, a howling wind or, worse yet, a tornado that destroys much and builds nothing.”
The antidote to false urgency, from my perspective, is that heart-level disposition of patience that business leaders can learn from the Church. This true sense of urgency doesn’t come from a place of fear, anxiety, or discontentment, but courage and conviction about where the Lord is moving a leader to act.
What Can Business Say to Church?
As practiced as we are in patience, the Church can often be a little too patient, waiting on God to work for us instead of through us. Here’s how business wisdom can help:
- Slower ≠ Better. There’s a sense of piety in patience which can often act as a mask for anxiety, indecision, or downright disobedience. Business leaders can show the Church that complacency has consequences, and the way to effect real change in the world is to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
- Keep an eye on your competition. Whatever your industry, there’s always another guy down the street itching to beat you to market. The Church doesn’t often think in these terms, but maybe she needs to. Should the fact that there’s a “roaring lion” out there inject a bit more urgency into the leaders equip and encourage their churches (1 Pet 5:8)?
- Immediate needs require immediate action. As we saw above, the marketplace requires a level of agility foreign to most church contexts. Church leaders everywhere need to learn how to be nimble—responding to a crisis doesn’t require a committee meeting. It calls for urgent, prayerful action.
Putting it Into Practice
Once again, Church and Business have a wealth of wisdom to offer to one another. What might that look like in practice?
Business: How to Practice Patience
- Stop and focus. Do you know where you are right now? Odds are, you’ve been so busy doing that you haven’t had a chance to reflect on your being. Don’t take another step until you’ve regained clarity on not only what you’re doing, but why.
- Challenge your urgency. What’s the most pressing matter on your plate right now? What would the short, medium, and long-range consequences be if it went unresolved? Does the pace of your activity align with the issue’s actual urgency?
- Learn to see others. Urgency is necessary, but the most successful leaders I’ve worked with are those who know how to pair urgency with relational acuity. Have you blown by your subordinates in your non-stop quest to get things done? If so, stop for a second to reconnect. You may not get through your entire to-do list today, but you’ll make a relational investment that’ll pay dividends in the future.
Church: How to Patiently Practice
- Make the call. If you’ve been in ministry for more than 10 minutes, then there’s someone on your heart right now—a congregant in crisis, an elder with whom you’re on the outs, a jaded skeptic. They’re your market today, and the product you’re selling is a life-giving word of Gospel encouragement. Pick up the phone and say what needs to be said. No excuses.
- Fulfill a need… today. Pastors are privileged to have a bird’s eye view of all the needs in a church and community. Even better, they’ve got access to the physical and spiritual resources to meet those needs. Develop a sense of urgency by committing to fulfill a need—big or small—every single day.
- Activate your prayer life. Contrary to what many in our culture might think, praying is doing—a more powerful doing, in fact, than anything you or I could ever imagine. The key is urgency. If Church leaders could develop the same sort of urgency in prayer as a successful business leader has in his market, they would be amazed to see what the Lord will do
Urgency and patience—the two terms seem like complete opposites. But, as I hope you’ve seen by now, there’s no need to dichotomize the two. Church and business leaders alike can urgently grab their cake and wait to eat it, too.