For several weeks, I have been crafting a list of the most common shortcuts we take as leaders. (This growing list now stands at 24!) I realized, finally, that our lists will vary, depending on our particular vulnerabilities and shadows. So I decided to list the top ten shortcuts that I have struggled with over the years. In each of these I have discovered J.R.R. Tolkien’s words to be very true: “Shortcuts make long delays.”
- Not leading myself first. To clarify our goals and values in the midst of the innumerable demands and pressures around us is a great challenge. The easier route is to get busy, running around and checking off our to-do lists. I’ve discovered it takes a lot of time to get clear within myself on how God intends that I steward my gifts, time, energy, and limits.
- Rushing. Rushing is an oil light in a car dashboard indicating something is wrong with the engine. When we find ourselves rushing, we need to ask ourselves: “What difficult thing might I be bypassing? What anxiety am I carrying that I need to bring to God?” Vincent de Paul described the shortcut of rushing best: The one who hurries delays the things of God.
- Cheating on your time with Jesus. The more skilled, gifted, competent, and experienced we are, the more easily we can take this shortcut without apparent consequences. The reality, however, is that when we skim on our time with Jesus in Scripture, prayer, and silence, we hurt ourselves and those we aim to serve.
- Not giving thoughtful preparation to meetings. Like many pastors and leaders, I find it easier to prepare sermons than prepare for a staff meeting. It is easier to take the shortcut of riding on my gifts of speaking and “big-picture” vision to avoid the hard journey of prayerfully reflecting on God’s purposes for a particular meeting. And in so doing, I have wasted a lot of people’s time.
- Spending too much time preparing a sermon for others and not enough time applying it to myself. Great illustrations, memorable one-liners, and well-crafted messages become shortcuts when we don’t take the more difficult route of silently marinating in a text until it becomes fire in our bones and truly transforms us.
- Not seeking wise counsel soon enough. Most of us seek counsel – from mentors, consultants, therapists, spiritual directors – when things are really bad. But unless things are going poorly, we often don’t want to invest the time, energy and money for this longer journey. Who wants to hear about potential problems when all seems okay?
- Ignoring elephants in the room. This shortcut is when we don’t ask hard questions when something is wrong, or don’t enter a difficult conversation when one is needed. I avoided elephants for years because they take so long to remove. The problem is that little elephants become big ones. And we can’t build Jesus’ kingdom on pretense and illusions.
- Trusting in a quick fix. How often have I said to myself: “If we can only make this one key hire, or if we can just solve this one problem, everything will be amazing.” That is not true. The kingdom of God has always been small, little and slow – like a mustard seed. There is no shortcut. Just look at Jesus and his discipling of the Twelve.
- Underestimating how long things take. The shortcut is to live in an illusion of how long something will take (e.g. starting a new ministry, finding a key volunteer) rather than do the painstaking work of thinking and actually breaking the process down into steps with our calendars before us.
- Not paying attention to God’s will in and through setbacks and losses. Taking adequate time to process our painful experiences and pay attention to what God is doing is a long journey. The shortcut of medicating ourselves with busyness, social media, or distractions is much easier. The result, however, is that we limit the depth of God’s work, in ourselves and others, when we take this shortcut (See Heb. 5:8).
What might you add to this list?
P.S. We are not the only ones who need to avoid the shortcuts to maturing in Christ. Those we serve need to avoid them as well. Join me at our next Live Stream to be trained on how to bring The Emotionally Healthy Discipleship Courses to your church/ministry.
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