Urgent: thefreedictionary.com adjective
a. crucial, desperate, pressing, great, important, crying, critical, immediate, acute, grave, instant, compelling, imperative, top-priority, now or never, exigent, not to be delayed; b. Antonymns: minor, trivial, unimportant, low-priority, casual, apathetic, lackadaisical, weak, feeble, perfunctory, half-heartedI am not patient. Waiting in lines drives me nuts. I will schedule my entire day to avoid sitting in traffic. Waiting for things like Christmas or birthdays isn’t bad, but I have to work to muster a mature, adult attitude about things like long speeches, unending meetings and pontification. I know that patience is a gift of the Spirit, a personality trait that comes from God. I just happen to know that it’s one that I lack, pretty completely.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if I didn’t work in the church. In another walk of life, I could rush from meeting to meeting, eat sushi while driving, start meetings precisely on time, and aim always to end early. In the church, though, it’s frequently so countercultural that I end up being rude, breaking tacit rules about operating on “God’s time” … or at least that’s what we say. I wonder if we say we are working on God’s time to justify our own paralyzing fears about facing the difficult times in which we live.
We all know that this is not an easy time to be the church in the United States. We are called to be agile and responsive, not just for our own survival but in order to serve the world in the ways of Christ. I know I personally should work on patience, but how do we, as the church, become comfortable with a faster pace?
I will never forget a trick a designer taught me when I worked in the theatre. She said, “The director will always want impossible things—crashing chandeliers, helicopters, enormous puppets—and always at the last minute. So I teach them the “Triangle of Opportunity”: Fast, Cheap, Good. Those are the options, but you can have only two. If it’s fast and cheap, it won’t be good. If it’s cheap and good, it won’t be fast. If it’s good and fast, it will not be cheap. So, you can figure out what you want, and tell me how you want it, but you can’t have all three.”
In the church, time is not on our side: we need to do “Fast-Good” work. Interestingly, of the three necessary components for success—time, money and quality—time is the one least on our side. Oh, we may not feel rich, but some churches have great inherited wealth. In Minnesota, for example, several congregations sport Tiffany windows from their golden era. Other churches have endowments with thousands of dollars locked in funds for passé or irrelevant purposes. The money may not be liquid, but most are not without meaningful resources.
We know good work when we see it; we know quality ministry! We are the kind of Christians who established not only an educated clergy, but advocated for an educated public, shaping and empowering a key strength of our nation. We are the kind of Christians who founded hospitals and colleges, inspired great acts of social justice, great legislative and cultural triumphs.
While we may remember a day when there was more money and higher quality of life for the church, a good look at the triangle shows that we have precious little time. If we had unlimited time, we could move the world. Now, it really is a question of nerve. Do we have the nerve to embrace quicker more effective ways of being? Can we be good … and fast? Can we even be, dare I say it, urgent?
While we associate urgency with emergencies or pressure, at its root, urgency is about those things that are both time-sensitive and significant. In fact, the very opposite of urgent is trivial or insignificant, half-hearted. If there is one thing Christians are supposed to be, it is wholehearted.
The word “urgency” is used rarely in scripture, with one wonderful reference in 2 Timothy 4:2:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. … And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive. (RSV)
Timothy illustrates that to be urgent for God is to have a holy, whole-hearted productivity. Urgency is a way of being that honors the gravity of our tasks and moves us with speed and excellence; it’s even a whole heartedness that is demonstrative of all that our tradition calls us to that our habits may have smothered.
We often choose slow, unproductive, expensive ways of being church, and miss the chance to be not only fast or good or cheap (in the nicest way!), but also miss the chance to put our whole hearts, our entire being behind the cause of the Gospel. Throughout the scriptures, it is clear that God is pleased—and humans are fulfilled—when they act, live and trust with their whole hearts. It is when our hearts are burning within us and our gifts are matched up in one moment with the needs of the world, that we are fully alive—and, perhaps, more of the people God has hoped we would be.
Can we live our tradition with holy urgency? Can we be the church of today, mindful of the season, and not be cowed by the challenges and instability of the times? Can we be faster and better at our ministry? We can.
It is nothing new; we always have been called to live with fullness and to do our ministry with whole hearts. God has never been satisfied with the second fruits and the unpleasing sacrifices of the cheerless giver. Frankly, throughout the scriptures, God delights in our human whole-heartedness. God is joyous when we apply our full energy to divine work and seems most pleased when we let our light shine fully, in every season. God didn’t give us gifts so that we would polish them, admire them and set them on a shelf. God gave us gifts so that we would use them in a timely fashion with pure hearts and with hubris, regardless of detractors, and without apologies. We cannot let the bushels of resistance or frustration or resentment or stubbornness prevent us from holy urgency; instead, we must let our lights shine in our work, in our accomplishment, in the godly beauty of details well fulfilled.
The church of today must be willing to be urgent about our ministry. It is our call to care about God’s world and God’s people; we must take heart and say that ministry is crucial, perhaps the most important work in the world. We are doing nothing less than the work of our powerful and effective God for a hungry and needy world, and we always have been urged by God to live and love with our whole hearts. So, let us work for God, church and world with holy urgency.