One of the most fun parts of my work with Ministry Incubators is the opportunity I have to lead an “Innovator’s Cohort” through Hood Theological Seminary, alongside my friend and colleague Kerwin. The cohort is made of church leaders who are all looking to do something new and innovative in their communities. We work through our Starter Suite curriculum together, and leaders complete assignments each week meant to push them closer to actually launching their projects.
This past week, we did our session on healthy rhythms and spent some time discussing Stephen Covey’s concept of quadrants. The concept is to imagine a four quadrant grid, with the y-axis representing importance and the x-axis representing urgency. So the quadrants go like this:
- Quadrant 1 (upper-left): urgent, important
- Quadrant 2 (upper-right): not urgent, important
- Quadrant 3 (lower-left): urgent, not important
- Quadrant 4 (lower-right): not urgent, not important
Covey’s general observation is that those things in Quadrant 1 always get attention and those things in quadrant 4 rarely do, and that that is how it should be. He argues that we go wrong, however, when it comes to the middle quadrants. After finishing the urgent, important things, most of us default to doing things that are urgent, even if they aren’t important. These are things like email, newsletters, responding to social media comments, planning weekly events, etc.
Then we wind up never having time for quadrant 2: those things that are important, but not urgent. Things like writing thank you notes for volunteers, working towards five-year goals, and investing in your continuing education matter immensely to your long-term success but no one will notice if you get it done this week or next week, or next month, or…
For these cohort participants, they all came in with a sort of God-given dream for some new project, ministry, program or initiative. And for all of them, that dream landed squarely in quadrant 2. They came to the cohort the way that many MINC clients do: frustrated that they can’t get this thing – which they once felt so called to – even off the ground.
These big, beautiful, God-given dreams – for opening a community garden, for art studios, for feeding, housing and serving neighbors – all sit gathering dust on our shelf, while we fill our days with what?
Writing discussion questions for those small groups?
Figuring out who’s bringing donuts?
Because those are the things that are “urgent” – while our big dreams aren’t. But a question lingers in my mind:
Why do we think our God-given dreams aren’t urgent? Why do we think responding to the call of the Spirit can wait until next week, but the newsletter has to go out on Tuesdays?
This is a question that I am asking myself as much as I am asking anyone else. I just wonder when we became convinced that God didn’t mean that call too urgently. In scripture, we see the example of people who are called and who then drop everything to respond to that call.
Why do we, people who have made a career out of studying and living out those stories, have such a hard time following their example? Maybe it’s a constant failing of us Professional Christians that we wind up giving “Professional” more priority than “Christian.”
Because the reality is that if we embrace those quadrant 2 dreams as quadrant 1 calls, there are things that we are currently doing (probably quadrant 3 things), that we won’t have time for anymore. We like to think we can do it all, but the fact is that if we want to give our God-given dreams proper time and space, we’re going to have to clear some room.
Maybe that looks like delegating some tasks to volunteers who have been looking for a way to get involved. Maybe it means being creative with AI, maybe it means investing in a virtual ministry assistant. And maybe it means letting some people down. Maybe it means saying no to some things.
And maybe all of that is worth it. You have been called to build an ark. It’s going to take more than the margins of your time that you can manage to devote to it.
This week, track how you spend your time (the office suite and mac products have some built-in functionality for this, and there is software you can use as well). Then, plot the tasks you spent your time on on Covey’s grid.
- What quadrants are getting the most of my time?
- What quadrants are getting the best of my work?
- Where do I want to be investing more?
- Where do I want to be investing less?
- What would it look like if I moved by God-given dreams to quadrant 1?
- What time would I devote to it?
- What might not get done that I’m currently doing?
- How could I get those tasks accomplished another way?
- What tasks am I doing that could be done better or faster by someone else, or by a computer?
- What tasks am I doing that probably don’t need to be done at all?
- How would my life and work feel different if I made that change?
- How could my community be changed by that dream being made reality?
That last question is crucial. The move to prioritize our God-given dreams can feel selfish or neglectful because they may mean dropping other responsibilities. But remember: those dreams were given to you not just for your benefit but for the benefit of those who God would like to use that dream to serve.
God has called you to incredible things, and given you the gifts, resources, inspiration and connections to transform your community for the better. It’s hard work, but the work you’re already doing is hard. So embrace the urgency of the call on your life, and we can’t wait to see what you build.