Which do you live by: clock or compass?
If the clock dictates, your life is consumed with the immediate and pressing issues of the moment. Clock life is focused on short-term results. If the clock rules, you find yourself racing from event to event in a mad scramble to meet expectations and deadlines.
When the day ends, you are exhausted and dismayed to find that tomorrow has another long to-do list. Life that is dictated by the clock is high-speed intensity. It produces, but at a high price tag.
Clock life is the American way. Clock life accurately describes much of modern congregational and clergy life.
Compass life is about direction more than speed. Life that takes the compass seriously is focused on meaning more than the moment. It is life that sees beyond the immediate and seeks to anticipate rather than respond.
The compass is about trajectory before it is about efficiency, reflection rather than reaction. The compass life considers the journey, not just the daily agenda.
Far too often, the compass is forgotten in our rush to meet expectations and demands. Many churches and clergy have clocks at every corner, but seemingly do not own a compass.
Which did Jesus live by, the compass or the clock? From the beginning, he seemed to have a different orientation to time than others.
At age 12, he found it more important to remain at the Temple in deep conversation than to accompany his parents on their journey home. His first act after his baptism was to withdraw into the wilderness for 40 days of reflection and testing. Weren’t there needy people he could have helped?
What’s up with that stepping back from the limelight that pops up again and again in the gospels? Jesus seemed to withdraw from the crowds when most of us would have scheduled extra services to accommodate them.
He arrives late when someone is dying, only to bring unimagined healing and hope. He regularly interrupts his schedule to stop along the way to interact with people his disciples had rushed past.
He calls men out of trees and takes them to lunch when his handlers certainly had other plans for him. He cautions his disciples against their rush to coronate him and constantly downplays their desires to create a plan for his kingdom’s establishment.
Jesus lived by the compass. His life stands as an indictment of our race to do more, succeed more, make more, build more. Jesus was about living a life that mattered. The race to build bigger barns and accumulate more and more prestige, power or possessions held no interest for him.
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Jesus knew that if his followers were going to make any difference in the world, they would need a laser-like focus on a compass, not on a clock. He tried to tell us early in his greatest sermon: “Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be added…”
It is stunningly sad to see congregations and clergy abandon one of the central teachings of our founder.
Our aversion to reflection, planning, thoughtful conversation and a vision that casts further than next Sunday is an indictment of our addiction to the clock. We actually believe that we can build the kingdom, and we can do it by the end of the month.
How do we shift our attention from the clock to the compass?
Here are three critical moments when healthy ministers or congregations can vow to value the compass over the clock:
1. When there is a transition in leadership. In congregations, comings and goings of leaders are an invaluable moment to stop, take stock, recalibrate and refocus on our essential calling. For clergy, transitions are your chance to realign yourself with your call and your driving passion.
2. When there is conflict, it is the wise congregation or minister that moves beyond blaming to humble diagnosis. Find someone to help you make sense out of what has and is happening. Conflict is always more complex than we initially think. Pausing to learn from it will enrich your life and likely save you more pain in the future.
3. Strategic visioning or thinking is increasingly critical for congregational survival. Our identity, mission and vision were formerly dictated to us by denominational entities. No more. Every local church must come to grips with the hard but necessary work of discerning what God’s mission is for their unique setting and collection of believers. If you never pull back and thoughtfully address all of the opportunities before you, you will end up frustrated from being spread a mile wide and an inch thick.
The very last thing we want to do as ministers and congregations is spend our life climbing some ladder of success, only to discover that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall all along.
Can we be more like Jesus, and use our compass more than our clock? Pause, take a moment and carefully answer. Your future depends on it.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.