Action vs. Waiting

By Scott Beda  |  February 12th

Earlier in my career, a colleague told me that we need to read the Gospels with an understanding that in between all the miracles and signs that Jesus performed, there would also be long stretches of routine, uneventful days. I blanched when my colleague said this; what about that verse in John 21:25 that said there wouldn’t be enough books in the whole world to contain all the miracles that Jesus did? In recent years, I have heard speakers note the distance that Jesus would have traveled between towns, all by foot. We know that the Bible references on many occasions how Jesus withdrew to lonely places to pray and find seclusion. I have reconciled in my mind the fact that Jesus’ ministry years would have indeed included times of action and events worthy of the highlight reel, along with seasons of quiet routines, ordinary moments, and waiting.

As you think back on recent months and years of your leadership journey, can you see the same ebb and flow of intense “action and activity” interspersed with “quiet routines and waiting”? You can probably identify specific days, weeks or moments that were more intense, centering around conflict, challenging decisions, or times when there was more on the agenda than hours in the day. Alternatively, you hopefully can identify some weeks where the pace was slower and you could find time to informally connect with staff/students/parents, work on a pet project, or plan for the future of your school. Both “action/activity” and “quiet routines/waiting” would have been a part of Jesus’ leadership journey. He seemed to navigate seasons of action and waiting seamlessly. May we as leaders in Christian education find this same balance!

When the days of “action and activity” come, a leader needs to be both courageous and decisive. I have often wondered what are the best practices to ensure that decisions are not being made in haste. Here are a few helpful practices:

  • Consult with other leaders and trusted staff members to gain understanding and perspective.
  • If a decision can hold for 24 hours, sleep on it.
  • Draft an email in the morning and send it out in the afternoon after you have a second look at it with fresh eyes.
  • Document the facts; sometimes seeing something in writing helps to give clarity.
  • Brainstorm all the possible outcomes.
  • Pause for prayer; as it says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

It is interesting that each of these practices incorporate a little bit of “waiting” before imminent “action”. In his Harvard Business Review article, How to Act Quickly Without Sacrificing Critical Thinking, Jesse Sostrin promotes the need for “reflective urgency”. Sostrin writes, “An unbridled urgency can be counterproductive and costly. If you’re too quick to react, you can end up with short-sighted decisions, or superficial solutions, neglecting underlying causes and creating collateral damage in the process. But if you’re too deliberative and slow to respond, you can get caught flat-footed, potentially missing an opportunity or allowing an emergent challenge to consume you. To balance these two extremes, you need reflective urgency - the ability to bring conscious, rapid reflection to the priorities of the moment - to line your best thinking with the swiftest course of action.”

Even as leaders cultivate “reflective urgency” there will still be times when our actions bring unfavourable results. A few times in my career, I feel I have stared into the eyes of a ‘no-win scenario’. Even after I weighed the options, sought counsel, and prayed diligently, none of the possible outcomes seemed satisfactory. Whatever course of action I chose to take would lead to varying levels of pain and hardship. In those situations, we need to encourage each other as leaders to take action and have faith that God will work in the midst of brokenness.

Here are two final encouragements to Christian school leaders regarding seasons of “action” and seasons of “waiting”:

  • Don’t forget that you are shepherds! Take actions and make decisions that grow your capacity, care for your students, and deeply impact your community.
  • Don’t forget that you are sheep! Take time to wait in the presence of the good Shepherd. Listen to his voice and enjoy the quiet routines that He blesses you with each day.

Scott Beda is the Upper Grand Region Cohort Leader for Edvance, and Principal at Cambridge Christian School.