In my experience, pastors are known for having a strong sense of urgency. After all, they’ve felt the call of God to pour out their lives for others. They often have a conviction that every minute matters for reaching those who don’t know Jesus. Some take it too far and become workaholics, but the fact is, urgency is in the DNA of a lot of lead pastors, and in most cases, it’s a positive thing. It can keep a church focused on the right things. It can keep a church from getting stuck.
That urgency doesn’t always transfer to the rest of the staff, though.
We recently worked with The River Community Church in Marion, IN on a ministry health assessment and strategic planning. In the process, we were impressed by how the whole staff seemed to be on the same page with a healthy sense of urgency for the work they do.
I caught up with Pastor Matthew Trexler to get his thoughts on how he and his team have built that culture and maintain it.
TIFFANY: How have you built a healthy staff culture of urgency?
MATTHEW: At the root of it, urgency comes from a focus on broken and hurting people. If the general attitude of the staff is “I’ll get around to it,” that will trickle down to how we respond to people in the world. People are our business. When we see hopelessness and brokenness, we have to realize we are stewards of eternal life and a better life here. That’s urgent. Staying very intentional about that focus has helped us build a team that doesn’t waste time.
TIFFANY: Can you give me some practical examples of how that plays out?
MATTHEW: We made strategic moves to keep our eyes on what’s important. When we looked for a permanent facility, we chose a central location in our town. Instead of building new, we rehabbed an old school in a hurting part of the city. The urgency is all around us.
We also make it a point to have the hard conversations about the urgent issues in our culture. That means we try to stay ahead of the questions people are asking so the Church can be the one providing answers instead of the Internet.
TIFFANY: How have you, as the lead pastor, equipped your staff to carry the vision with urgency?
MATTHEW: The vision you have as a lead pastor will never be carried with the same intensity by your staff. What strategic planning did for us, though, was help everyone own the vision. It helps us keep the urgency by focusing us on the right things. For instance, what’s urgent for us right now is building a clear discipleship path for people in our church and evolving our approach to ministering to families.
If everything is urgent, people just get overwhelmed and nothing actually happens. Focus makes urgency possible. A river flows faster where its narrowest.
TIFFANY: What advice would you give to pastors who are struggling with this?
MATTHEW: The way I see it, there are two possible scenarios for that question: 1) The pastor feels urgency to reach people and needs to motivate his staff, and 2) The pastor has lost that drive, which is why he’s built a team without it. So, I’d answer it in two different ways.
If you’re the first pastor and you need to build a culture of urgency on your team, you have to focus the vision and get everyone on the same page. People waste time when they aren’t sure what to do. People run with the vision when they have clear priorities and a sense of their role. Also, as I said before, the vision has to matter. It has to be about reaching people. No one will act with urgency for a vision that is small or meaningless.
If you’re the second, realize that urgency is an issue of character. Are you asking God to send you hurting people? Can you tell me your neighbors’ names? You can’t have integrity as a leader in asking your staff to handle the Gospel with urgency if you have lost that passion yourself.