We live in a world of shortcuts. And I love it. Let me explain. 

Modern technology – particularly the internet and mobile devices – have made so many tasks easier, faster and better. 

Instead of writing down a phone number or address, we say “send me your contact information” or “call me real quick and I will store your number.” Or . . . when heading out to make a fast food run, instead of taking time to listen to people explain their order, look for a pen or pencil, look for paper, we simply speak the two magic words of the 21st century . . . “TEXT ME”.

Need to listen to a song? I will email you the file and you can pull it up on your phone. Same thing with the printed music or any other document . . . click . . . send . . . read (and absorb?) on the run. 

Shopping, travel, finances – the list is endless – can now all be accomplished with your phone, if you choose. I find myself ridiculously frustrated with any task that can’t be completed “online.” I know . . . it’s an illness of sorts. 

Think about the power of an internet search engine. What used to require getting dressed, driving to the library and looking for hours is now down to stumbling out of bed, picking up my phone and finding the answers I want – literally – in seconds. It really is a new world. 

We are becoming increasingly conditioned to thinking that EVERYTHING should take LESS TIME and require LESS EFFORT from us. And therein lies the problem.

It’s a problem because if we want to achieve excellence in our lives, there really are no shortcuts. It doesn’t matter what area of life we consider: Excellence, growth and transformation will require a lot from us.

If we are unfit and unhealthy, there really are no shortcuts to becoming fit and healthy – there is a price to pay and it may take months to achieve your goals.  If you have a “pretty good” business but your dreams are to become an influential global leader in your field – it will require more of you than you can probably know or imagine at this point in the journey. Talented artists – singers, actors, dancers, writers, designers – are everywhere. But the ones who become truly outstanding and make a lasting impact spend hours and hours isolated in a practice room or studio – away from the applause – struggling to become better at what they do. The same is true for world class athletes . . . the success we see and cheer on the field was actually achieved in hours of training on a practice field . . . often alone . . . when everyone else has called it a day. 

Malcolm Gladwell, in his 2008 book, Outliers, delves into this with great detail as he explains what he calls “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” He examines the world’s most successful business leaders, artists, and athletes and asserts that research shows that more important than natural talent and gifts , these highly successful people (Bill Gates, The Beatles, Steve Jobs to name a few) spent 10,000 or more hours practicing and refining their craft before breaking through . . . 20 hours a week for 10 years, on average.

However, pop culture tells us – and our children – that if you can “break out” on America Idol or The Voice,  you will have made it! In an instant! (By the way . . . where are all those American Idol winners now . . .) Of course, now you don’t need a network TV show to become a star – just a viral video! 

I am blessed to be around lots of high school students as they prepare for their future. As you listen to them, you begin to realize that it has now become so competitive to get into college and there is so much pressure to become “successful” that a great deal of energy is invested not only in discovering “what” I should be doing, but how quickly -and easily – I can achieve this “success”. In other words, I want to be successful – RIGHT NOW. They don’t understand what Gladwell discovered – it may take ten years or more of repetitive, mundane effort to truly break through.  

What does this have to do with ministry? So very much. 

I heard this statement once and it has stayed with me for over twenty years: “Churches stop growing when the cost gets too high.”

When more money, more time and more effort are required to reach the next level, many choose to stay where they are. The problem is, you are either moving forward or you are moving backward. And of course, the statement is not just true of churches but of people . .. we stop growing when we are unwilling to pay the price to grow. 

This past Sunday, the Worship Choir & Orchestra did a beautiful job with the presentation of AMAZING LOVE. And I know that one of the reasons it was such a rewarding experience was because of the additional hours that were spent in preparation. It really is simple – the choir rehearsed twice a week rather than once a week for three weeks and the results were clear. We doubled our rehearsal time. And I have done this long enough to know that if we had rehearsed more often, or for a longer period of time . . . the results would have been even better. The challenge is finding the time and getting people committed to the task – and I am very proud of how our people rose to the challenge. 

The simplicity in this formula is reassuring. If I want to be a better spouse or parent, then I must spend the time investing in those relationships. If I want to grow spiritually, then my prayer time and service must move from casual and inconsistent to persistent and focused. If I want to become healthier physically, then I must make the right choices and set aside time to exercise. And – no matter how talented I may be as an artist, educator, business leader – it doesn’t matter – I cannot only merely rely on my talent or ability – I must spend the time and be willing to make the effort required to reach the next level.

Whatever dreams God has placed in your heart for yourself, your family, or your church – remember – there really are no shortcuts.