The Urgent is the Enemy, Part 1

November 5, 2012 — Leave A Comment

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.” ~ Mother Teresa

I feel really privileged to work with faith leaders. It inspires my hope for the world that I know so many brilliant, courageous men and women who are working so hard to make it a better place for us all. There may be evil everywhere; Lord knows it definitely gets more air time on the newsfeeds. But there’s a lot of good out there too, going head to head with the darkness every day. That’s a very hopeful thought to me.

Of course, even the best of us is only human, and you don’t work in a job like mine without seeing trends in the ways the darkness most often, and most effectively, undermines leaders and takes them out. We regularly hear stories of yet another leader’s “moral failure,” by which we mean they got mixed up sexually with something or someone they shouldn’t have, but I don’t think that’s what takes out the vast majority of leaders who crash and burn ~ not by a long shot.

The greater danger is, unfortunately, much less scintillating, and much more tolerated in the leadership world. Some leaders, ironically, even consider it a sign of how hyper-committed they are to Christ. But it’s not. It’s a deathtrap; a slow poison that chokes the life out of the soul and turns a leader impotent long before he finally burns out.

I’m talking about the ever-present battle in leaders’ lives between the Urgent and That Which Matters Most. You’d be surprised to know how many spiritual leaders tell me they feel disconnected from God, and rarely if ever hear his voice anymore. You’d be surprised how many have chronic health issues tied to stress, how many are exhausted, how many lack even one authentic friendship, how many feel like they don’t even know their spouse anymore…and the sad list goes on.

It’s not as though God has left them. Really. It isn’t that at all. The problem is that somewhere along the way somebody (guess who?) convinced them that serving the Voice of the Urgent was the same as serving the Voice of God, only faster and more effective. But it’s not. Urgent is a small “g” god. A usurper. A charlatan masquerading as effective ministry. So what if you build a megachurch and thousands of people know your name, if the entire endeavor costs you your soul?

Mistaking the call of the Urgent as the call of God, these leaders, now perpetually short on time, start whittling away at That Which Matters Most. They no longer linger with God. They meet him on the go. Five minutes here; 15 minutes there. Their longest prayer times, ironically, are often when they’re teaching others to pray. The branch they are begins to whither from the Vine, and what was a deep love affair devolves into a work-based relationship, and then, slowly, to nothing much at all. A memory, perhaps. Nostalgia. “Ministry” becomes a desperate attempt to get God to show up again, like he did “back when.”

But it usually doesn’t stop there, for Urgent is a terrible god. Leaders often stop caring for their health as well. They eat poorly. They don’t sleep enough. They stop having fun…of any kind. Family becomes another casualty. Kids are estranged, and angry, even if they don’t know quite why. (How can a kid expect to compete against God for a parent’s attention? Isn’t it wrong to even think such a thing?) Date nights with the spouse, if they happen at all, become little more than obligations on the monthly task list.

So…this is the compelling life that draws others to Christ? Not even close. And these leaders know it, deep down they do, even if they try to hide it, and even if they don’t have the slightest notion how to dig out of this pit, or even which way is up.

I wonder how many beautiful, courageous hearts have been taken out this way ~ not for lack of passion but for lack of Him?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

If what’s written in this post describes you, Leader, even if only in part, then here is what I would say to you, as a message from the great Lover of our souls: You haven’t lost Jesus, even if it feels like you have. He’s close; as close as your own breath, even now. His invitation is to courageously walk away from the Urgent, to drop the burden that serving the Urgent has placed on your shoulders, and to come away with him and become a learner again.

Have hope. There is another way.

How do you handle the battle between the Urgent and That Which Matters Most?

P.S. ~ Next week, I’ll post some practical steps you can take to get out from under the thumb of the Urgent Taskmaster.

Michael Warden

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5 responses to The Urgent is the Enemy, Part 1

  1. As I read this post, I am reminded of how present the Urgent has been in my own work as a pastor, and even now, as a coach. You wrote:  “It’s a deathtrap; a slow poison that chokes the life out of the soul and turns a leader impotent long before he finally burns out,” and how true that is! 

    It has taken me almost a dozen years (so far) to learn to discern and resist the draw of the Urgent as the soul sucking void that it usually is. The rhythm of running, up hill, against the wind, etc. has been the direct source of major burnout in my life twice. The first time it took 2 years of “wandering in the desert” for me to slow down enough to actually, really connect with God.  The second time, I saw it coming, and was able to make course corrections before it cost me my family, and my soul. 

  2. Thank you so much for this post. (and part 2) It changed the course of my life. 

    To describe the experience is like having someone take me into a helicopter and show me the forest of “Urgent” that I’ve been drowning in, and then showing me the way out. I’m a young childrens/youth pastor of 31 (going to be 32 next month). I have 2 daughters (11 month old and 2 year old). My wife and I made a commitment when we got married to never sacrifice our children on the “altar of ministry” … 

    I woke up a few weeks ago and went, “wow … I’m working 65-70 hours a week (there is a pull to work more because there is so much to do) … my children are begging me to come home all the time… my wife really misses me… I don’t see an end in sight … how did this happened?” 

    There has to be a way to pursue ministry, in the midst of such need … and still have a healthy home life, right?

    I am searching … What does it look like? 

    • That is so encouraging to hear, Jason ~ thank you for naming the experience I know is true for so many leaders out there. As to what this “other way” looks like, I hope the suggestions in “part 2” provide you some great places to explore and take first steps. And if you want to partner with a coach to help plot your escape route and design a new way to do life and ministry, drop me a line. I’d love to help. It’s always easier with two rowing the boat.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The Urgent is the Enemy, Part 2 | Michael Warden, Leadership Coach - November 12, 2012

    […] Last week, I wrote about how often faith leaders fall under the spell of the Urgent, and the devastating effects that seduction can have on their work and families, and even their health. So, what do you do if that describes you? How do you get out from under the thumb of the Urgent, and return to a life intentionally built around That Which Matters Most? […]

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