“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Jesus
Wisdom is appropriately applying truth to a situation. It is knowing what to do and when to do it. We, as Christians (and especially church leaders), lean towards either being wise or being innocent – but Jesus has called us to be both. Next week, I’ll be touching on how we need to fulfill Jesus’ call to be innocent, but for now, let’s look at how being “wise as serpents” can apply to our daily lives.
At the end of the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward, Jesus says, “The sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8).
The word “shrewd” has so many negative connotations with it, but here’s what it is defined as: “Having or showing sharp powers of judgment; astute”
It is actually good to be shrewd. It shows good judgement and wise decisions. The parable as a whole is meant to remind us of this: The servant used his current ability to better his upcoming situation.
A shrewd and wise person looks beyond today, and searches to find how he can work today to have a better tomorrow.
Often, we can find ourselves stuck in the urgency of today rather than what will create the best longterm result. This is a rut that only we can choose to leave, but it will take the grace of God to rewire our priorities and to press on in faith.
5 Ways You Can Walk In Wisdom
1. Simple Prioritization
It doesn’t have to be complex. Things should be as complex as necessary, and no more. One way you can prioritize your things to do is a simple quadrant method task list like the one below. (NOTE: I made this specifically to fit on a letter sized paper if you choose to print it out.)
By separating what is important, unimportant, urgent, and not urgent, you can get a clearer picture of what needs to be done by you, what should be put off, what should be delegated, and what should be forgotten about. I’ve labeled each section below:
I have seen the quadrants in different places, but I prefer them in this order because we naturally read left to right and then top to bottom, so you first focus on things you will do, and then see the things you need to pass off to others.
This method is not meant to replace other options. I don’t actually use this particular formatting for my tasks, however, I always have this concept in my head while I’m prioritizing and choosing what to do with my tasks, and then again when I review things I’ve done and am planning to do in the future.
2. Know the Price of Time
When I took economics in college (yes, I got a business degree, not a Bible one), one of the things we talked about at length is the cost of our time. As a culture, we drastically devalued our time when the popular phrase “time is money” came about. Time is simply not money. You can make money inside of time, but you can not make time from money.
“Time is not money, time is life.” -Pastor Daniel Williams
The reality is: how you spend your time is much more important than you realize. The prioritization method shown above is helpful to choose the tasks we do inside of time, but it requires our realization that we only have so much time available and can only do so much. Not only are we limited in the total amount we can accomplish, but we are also physically limited on being at one place, at one time.
As David wrote, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
We need to realize that our time is valuable, which will affect our decisions. What is on your priority list? Hopefully, it includes prayer, study, and family, as well as the top priority things in your ministry roll. Many things have potential to grab at our attention, but it is our job to filter through these and so that we can say no to good things, to say yes to better things.
3. The Most Bang for Your Buck
Realizing that our time is a scarce commodity will either leave us frantic or paralyzed. To break through this requires a still mind and clear thinking. What helps me occasionally think through these things is using the 80/20 rule. Now, I don’t believe the statistics on this rule are ever as accurate as people spout it off. However, this concept can still help us.
80/20 refers to either 20% of people doing 80% of the work, or 20% of the work produces 80% of the results. Using the concept from the latter, we can be reminded to “get the most bang for our buck.” Essentially, find what is it that you’re doing that produces the most results, and then focus on that.
For example, if you spend 10% on your time/budget on an event that consistently sees more results than the event you put 20% of your time or budget into, then you should focus more energy on the former and less on the latter.
Although this seems obvious, we can easily fall into a trap of merely “keeping the machine going” and listening to the people we should be leading rather than leading them. It’s important to take weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly reviews of what has worked well, and what needs to be cut. Doing this will help remove sideways energy and will help us refocus our limited time and ability to better things.
4. Long Term Focus
One of the problems I see with people, especially in ministry, is a lack of long term focus. We can so easily get caught up in the weekly routine, and understandably so! We have to put on a service, and possibly multiple Bible studies, every single week in addition to all of the other work to be done throughout the week.
However, we need to push beyond the week routine and look a little further down the road. Many ministries fail or get burnt out because they fail to see the long term cost of both time and money, and also because they do not see the long term benefits.
Long Term Focus: Time
“People overestimate what they can do in a week, and underestimate what they can do in six months.” We, as Christian leaders, need to have a long term focus when it comes to time. We need to ask ourselves daily what will have the most long term impact. We need to live as though today was our last, but we need to plan like we’re living until we’re 100 years old. Obviously, God doesn’t desire us to become ridged against His guidance, but we are called to plan and be wise with what we can see, and then adjust based on His leading. This means that we need to seriously consider the long term time investments we are choosing on a daily basis. My suggestion is to never agree to a weekly, or even monthly, commitment without serious thought about if that time could be better used elsewhere.
Long Term Focus: Money
Most pastors are not business men by trade, but we all need to learn how to wisely use money. In a time when church leaders are seen as thieves and as being “all about the money”, we need to be extremely wise with how we handle the church finances. The best lesson on long term expenses comes from the printer industry.
Companies that sell printers will choose to break even, or even loose money, when selling you their printer. Why? Because they plan on making loads of profit off of the ink cartridges. They know the value of locking you into their system long term and they are willing to loose money today in order to gain even more tomorrow.
What we can learn from this is that we need to be aware of the longterm impact of today’s decisions. In the case of printers, we need to be aware of the cost of ink cartridges before we choose a printer. Other examples could include the purchase of a church vehicle, building, staff members, carpet, chairs, sound equipment, and the list goes on.
As a web designer, one of the traps I see pastors fall into most often is with technology. It is a difficult field to navigate and there are so many options and opinions. Regarding websites, I’ve seen pastors turn to cheaper upfront cost options that will cost them far more in even as little as one year.
As Christians, and especially leaders of other Christians, we need to always be aware of how our decisions today will affect our position tomorrow.
5. Keep Growing
Although your focus as a church leader isn’t one of business and productivity, each of us should be reviewing both our knowledge and application of these topics. God has called us to be wise, and we cannot walk in wisdom without reviewing how we are spending our resources (both time and money) and using them to further the kingdom of God.
As you take a little time to review how you have spent your time, money, etc, I leave you with the encouragement to do so often. Keep learning in this area, keep growing in how to best apply this knowledge to your life, and may you receive the reward of Jesus saying “well done my good and faithful servant.”
(Checkout this post’s followup: “Pastor: 3 Ways to Walk in Innocence“)
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