The Power of Priorities

Many years ago, Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel Company, granted an interview to an efficiency expert named Ivy Lee. Lee was telling Mr. Schwab how his firm could help him do a better job of managing the company, when Mr. Schwab broke in to say something to the effect of, “Sorry, but I’m not managing now as well as I know how.”


He went on to tell Ivy Lee that what he needed wasn’t more knowing – but more doing. He said, “We know what we should be doing. Now, if you can show us a better way of getting it done, I’ll listen to you – and pay you anything within reason.”


Mr. Lee replied that he could give him something in twenty minutes that would increase his achievements by at least 50%. He then handed Charles Schwab a blank sheet of paper and said, “Write down on this paper the six most important things you have to do tomorrow.” Mr. Schwab did as requested. It took about three minutes. Lee then said, “Now number them in the order of their importance to you and the company.” That took about five minutes. Then Lee said, “Now put the paper in your pocket and the first thing tomorrow morning, take it out and look at item number one. Don’t look at the others, just number one, and start working on it. Stay with it until it’s completed. Then take item two the same way, then number three, and so on until you have to quit for the day. Don’t worry if you have only finished one or two items. You’ll be working on the most important ones. The others can wait. If you can’t finish them all by this method, you couldn’t have finished them with any other method either. And without some system, you’d probably take ten times as long to finish them – and might not even have them in the order of importance.


“Do this every day,” Lee went on. “After you have convinced yourself of the value of this system, have your men try it. Try it as long as you like, and then send me your check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”


The entire interview hadn’t taken more than a half-hour. In a few months Mr. Schwab sent Ivy Lee a check for $25,000.00, along with a letter saying the lesson was the most profitable that he had ever learned in his life. It was later said that in five years this was the plan that was largely responsible for turning what was then a little known steel company into the largest independent steel producer in the world, US Steel. It also helped make Charles Schwab several hundred million dollars.


One idea! The concept of taking projects one at a time, in their proper order of priority. Of staying with that project until it’s successfully completed before moving to the next. It is just such an idea that can turn the ideas of your evangelism planning retreat from dreams into reality.


But this concept must not only be applied to implementing new ministries and programs, but also to solving of problems and weaknesses. Perhaps you have read the legend of Horatius, the Roman hero who defended a bridge over the Tiber River against the Etruscan army. He encountered three giant, fierce warriors. Knowing that he could not defeat all three at one time, he ran. In time, the three spaced themselves out because each ran at a different speed. Then, Horatius turned and successfully defeated each one – one at a time. So it is with the problems that you are facing with your church. If you deal with them one at a time, you can win!


That is exactly the concept of the Departmental One-Year Plan.



The Departmental One-Year Plan


Last month we explored the idea of once a year having an evangelism planning retreat with your leaders to plan your annual evangelism strategy. Having this type of planning retreat is a powerful tool, but it does have one drawback. This problem comes as a result of its major benefits. When you return from your retreat and your directors are (A) very excited, (B) committed to involvement, and (C) full of new ideas – if you are not careful, this can spell trouble. Why? Because each of your leaders will have a dozen or so ideas that they want to put into operation – and they all want to put them into operation “right now.” Eight or ten departments doing half a dozen programs each – all at the same time – doesn’t bring growth. It brings confusion.


What you should do is have your various ministry leaders set priorities as to what should come first, then have them work one idea or project at a time. Each project or idea should be fully planned and implemented in a systematic fashion. When that particular project is completed, then – and only then – should they go on to the next idea or project. The best way to encourage this kind of step-by-step approach is with the Departmental One-Year Plan.



Developing Your One-Year Plans


At your Evangelism Planning Retreat, you should encourage your directors to take detailed notes as their department is being discussed. What they need or wish to do and when they are going to do it should be carefully recorded. The reason this is so important is because you are going to request that each director hand in a written one-year plan of their departmental plans and activities. A Departmental One-Year Plan should have three parts:


  1. Numerical Goals. These are any number-type goals that the department might have. For example: Sunday School should have a number goal each year for average attendance. Youth will usually have a number goal for fund raising. These are normally not discussed at the retreat. Rather, they are agreed upon by the pastor and the director at a one-on-one meeting either before or after the retreat.


  1. Quality Improvement Goals. This type goal refers to any projects to improve the quality or program of the department. No department is perfect. Every department can be improved. Each goal should have a starting and ending date.


  1. Department Activities. All annual department activities – meaning they are done most every year (for example, your annual Christmas Banquet) – should be placed in this last section.


This departmental one-year plan will become their “plan of action” which they will work upon each month and follow step-by-step.



Important Considerations


There are a few things that you and your directors should keep in mind when developing your one-year plans. You, as pastor, should explain these considerations when you give them this assignment:


  1. Give yourself plenty of time to complete goal or task. The basic rule of thumb is this: any project usually takes twice as long as you think!


  1. First things first. The quality improvement goals should be in priority order, the most important ones first. Your leaders will accomplish much more by keeping their efforts focused upon high priority items.


  1. Stay flexible. It is important that your leaders realize that plans and dates are not chiseled in stone. The one-year plan must be flexible. Sometimes, due to unforeseen circumstances, plans must be changed or abandoned.


  1. Evaluate regularly. Closely tied to the idea of flexibility is that of evaluation. Mid-course corrections are often necessary and might include changes in personnel, finance, or dates.





“For the first time,” one department leader spoke sincerely, “I know where I am going, what needs to be done, and by when it is to be accomplished. You don’t know how much that means to me.”


Most department leaders are sincere in their desire to work for God. They want to work for the Lord or they would not have accepted the responsibility of leadership. But few people know how to plan effectively. They work in spurts, start five projects at once, become bogged down, become discouraged, often quit altogether. This should not be.


Together we can make a difference in our world, but only if we work together, not against one another. With limited resources in the church, it is vital that all plans, projects, and ideas for improvement be coordinated together toward the ultimate goal of winning the lost. The Departmental One-Year Plan will help your department directors do this.