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You are not just imagining it. Everything is moving faster.
Leading in these times is challenging to say the least, but one of the greatest challenges for leaders is the pace at which everything is moving. We are leading in an age of hurry.
Now this problem with speed is not unique to leaders in my experience. Everyone I’ve spoken to recently recognises the unsustainable pace of life.
A 2018 study showed that here in the UK workers work the equivalent of an extra 2 and a half weeks per year, as compared to the EU average. For all this extra work you would think we must be one of the most productive nations. Except the data trends reveal the opposite. The most productive nations tend to have shorter working weeks. It is a myth that working more makes us more productive. Yet it doesn’t seem to stop us.
Back in the 60s people imagining our lives today – predicted we would all be working less and spending huge amounts of time on leisure… it almost seems laughable now.
In some ways this past year has been unique in its leadership challenges, as our world has faced a generation defining, global pandemic. It has been exhausting for many seasoned leaders, never mind for those of us just beginning our church leadership journey!
It is still early days and yet most commentators conclude that one of the primary impacts of this pandemic season has been to accelerate trends that were already in existence.
I was listening to a Carey Nieuwhof podcast a while back and he was interviewing world renowned leadership and change expert John Kotter (Great podcast if you are not a subscriber). In it John remarked that this past year he had witnessed the fastest pace of change he had seen in his decades long career.
The problem is real.
Dallas Willard, pastor, theologian and author is quoted as saying this:
Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.
For him the problem goes beyond our productivity or how we avoid burnout (though both are vital!). The problem at its heart is a killing our spiritual lives. As those attempting to live spiritual lives and or those seeking to promote the spiritual lives of of others this is a serious challenge.
Pastor John Mark Comer, in his excellent book “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry”* takes a deep dive into this topic. I would highly recommend you get a copy if you haven’t read it. It has certainly been the foundation of most of my thinking on this topic this past year.
So what does this mean for us as leaders? My first thought is that as leaders the most important thing we can do is model something different.
I wanted to share just 3 things I’m trying to put into practice to ruthlessly eliminate hurry in my own life.
1. Intentionally Slow Down
This sounds so simple and yet it takes effort. Our lives so often become the sum of our habits and so if we want to shape our behaviour we must create new habits.
Here is one of those areas where we must embrace a counter-cultural existence. Once we recognise that our pace is too fast we must then design an alternative.
This involves the deeply practical work of reviewing how we spend our time. Not just the meetings and the commitments in our calendar but how we spend the unscheduled time.
Here are 2 ways I am trying to intentionally slow down:
- I turn off most notifications on my phone. If you haven’t already done so then turn off the majority of the notifications on your phone. Every time my phone buzzes or pings I get distracted, pulled in many unplanned directions and I can become incessantly interrupted. We are being discipled by our devices if we are not careful. Most notifications are not urgent, though as soon as we hear that ping it’s near impossible to avoid checking them. Decide what is genuinely vital you get told about immediately. Turning off notifications leads to a much healthier pace in my experience. Now you can check when it suits you and reply when it works, protecting your new slower rhythms. Most people also understand.
- Walk slowly. I naturally walk really fast but I’m trying to slow down occasionally. When we slow down our pace it encourages us to look around us, observe what we see. We can admire the views we walk past everyday and it lets our brains breathe. It enables us to be present. Having two young children has definitely forced me to grow my patience in this area. We are rarely getting anywhere fast but I am starting to realise, that perhaps that can actually be a blessing. Perhaps I don’t need to hurry them along the road I just need to leave 5 minutes earlier. Building extra space into our timings is massive here. Back to back commitments make this hard.
2. Remember What is Really Important
As things change so fast around us there is pressure that builds for us as leaders to explore every new idea. Try every new ministry model, every new piece of technology and read every new life changing book.
It is exhausting and simply not healthy. My personality naturally loves the new and the shiny things. I like learning about new things and trying out the latest leadership ideas.
However the thing I’ve been learning is to have a clearer sense of priorities. What are the areas of church leadership I need to put the most focus into in this season. For me I’ve been giving some serious thought to discipleship, how do people actually grow. How do I personally grow?
So for me that is one my core focusses right now. It is not to say other areas are unimportant it is just that it is a focus for me right now. I’m only one person, there is only so much I can do. Our personal capacity is also key in helping us make these decisions.
When it comes to our priorities it is important we don’t become stuck however. I don’t think as a leader it is healthy to be stubborn and unchanging in our world. If we still want to be leading in 10 years there is an element of change we must embrace. However we should pay most attention to the areas that are core for us in this season. There will always be new ideas, new software, new apps that promise the world but we need to ask if they will actually help with our core activities or will they simply distract.
Having a clear sense of mission, what is most important, should also help define both our yes and our no.
We can’t embrace every new idea we come across, but where there are ideas that fit with one of our priorities we should consider them. If you lead a team of people encourage them to consider some of the changes in their specific area of focus. I feel it’s important to remain agile without becoming unhealthily diluted in our focus. I’m learning to slow down by focussing on the important things. The key to my ministries future ‘success’ is unlikely to be in the latest shiny gadget, but it may be seen in the way I help the person in front of me grow as a disciple.
3. Create Cycles of Rest
My default strategy when it came to rest is, work, work work, crash, work, work, work, crash. Sound familiar?
I suspect most leaders rest simply because they have to. We too often bump into the natural limits of our capacity, emotionally, physically or spiritually. As leaders we are notoriously bad at rest because it is often our drivenness that makes us “successful”.
I’ve been trying to reframe rest this year. I’m asking myself how can I create a sustainable life where work and rest have a more regular rhythm and a more symbiotic relationship. This pandemic year has certainly added to this challenge!
Moving to live by the sea has, no doubt, been a big help in this area. Not just the ability to have refreshing walks by the sea that seem to revive the soul, but the simple reminder of the rhythm of the tide. It comes and goes in a way that is relentless and regular.
So I’m now thinking like this. I’m looking for and relishing the small moments of rest throughout the day. I’m ensuring my evenings don’t all fill up. I’m protecting a full 24 hour period of rest and enjoyment each week. I’m also embracing the truth that my apparent “success” or “failure” is not all on my shoulders. I’m learning fruitfulness comes from abiding not striving. So often, a rested Neil is a much healthier Neil. I genuinely produce my best work when I’m rested and I’m most creative when rested.
When I’m tired, I know I can grit my teeth and I can blast the work out (see my final university year) – but will I be as effective?
My area for improvement is definitely planning holidays, though I know that has been challenging this year for everyone. I heard someone I once worked with say they planned a holiday every 6 weeks or so whether they felt they needed it or not. I’m not there yet but that sounds like a great idea to me. A predictable rhythm, like the tide.
So there are 3 areas I’m working on. I believe the way we live as leaders will shape those who follow us. Whether we mean it to or not. Our slower lives will help our communities live slower. Our resistance to the endless striving of our culture will reveal a different way of living. A way that sounds incredibly inviting.
Before I leave the final words to someone who was both incredibly busy and rested, I’d love to hear your thoughts? How are you experiencing this age of hurry? How are you resisting it?
These words are also a great place to start…
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Jesus
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