Positively Urgent


Mike Bonem says a sense of urgency is necessary to propel change, but that urgency need not come from a negative sense of doom and gloom. Urgency can also be generated by a positive sense of hope and opportunity. Good leaders create positive urgency.

I have championed the value of urgency for over 25 years. It began when I read John Kotter’s seminal work, Leading Change (Harvard Business Press, 2012), and realized that to reach their full potential churches and ministries need to “create urgency” — the first step in Kotter’s eight-step change model. Urgency can sweep away complacency and get the organization moving again.

But there’s a problem with this concept. “Urgency” is often heard as a negative word. People don’t line up to have more urgency injected into their lives. A leader that uses the term too often might be pulled aside and encouraged to tone it down. That’s why leaders need to create positive urgency.

In its negative forms, urgency highlights downward trends and predicts the death of the church or ministry if these patterns are not reversed. While this may be accurate, and it may even generate an initial burst of energy, it can also produce blame, denial, and hand-wringing. Positive urgency doesn’t ignore these trends, but it focuses more on the opportunities that will be missed if change doesn’t occur.

Positive urgency …

  • Runs toward desired outcomes, not away from unwanted ones.
  • Emphasizes hope and opportunity more than doom and gloom.
  • Sees a community that can be reached, not the members who have left.
  • Highlights the potential of new outward-facing programs rather than the struggles of those that need to be canceled.

Positive urgency is not the same as dreaming. The latter often lacks specifics and a time line. Dreams tend to talk about “someday in the future” and can be disconnected from reality. Positive urgency is more concrete and is “now.”

In reality, we need both positive and negative urgency, as seen in Isaiah’s vision. The scene is frightening enough that the prophet’s first urgent reaction is, “Woe to me! … I am ruined!” But the positive experience of having his sin taken away prepares him to say, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:5-8, NIV)

Max Depree said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.” If your tendency in “defining reality” emphasizes the negatives, you may need to be positively urgent.

This article originally appeared as a post on mikebonem.com. Used by permission.

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About Author

Mike Bonem is a facilitator and consultant with Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF). Previously, he was Executive Pastor of West University Baptist Church in Houston. He is the author or coauthor of several books. He recently wrote The Art of Leading Change: Ten Perspectives on the Messiness of Ministry (Fortress Press, 2022), available from the publisher and at Cokesbury and Amazon. He blogs at mikebonem.com.