Thursday, May 01, 2008

Strategic Thinking

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38).

Michael Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas-Nelson Publishers. In the world of Christian publishing Thomas-Nelson (TN) is the 800 pound gorilla, holding the largest share of the market. Over the past couple of weeks Hyatt has announced three decisions that have sent shock waves through the industry. Remember the old joke about where does the 800 pound gorilla sit? Well, TN has announced exactly where it plans to sit. Here’s the quick-take:

Decision 1: TN will no longer participate in Christian publishing’s largest annual trade show for booksellers et. al.

Decision 2: TN will cut by 50% the number of new titles released every year.

Decision 3: With the cut in titles there will be a cut in TN’s work force. This has been the controversial decision in that TN has done well lately, seeing modest growth.

Mr. Hyatt’s decisions are complicated by the fact that Christian publishing is a quasi-ministry. It’s one thing when business is business. It’s an added wrinkle when a business claims religious-spiritual aims. The decision about lay-offs has evoked plenty of how-can-you criticism from other Christians. Of particular interest to me is Mr. Hyatt’s explanation of the decisions as “strategic thinking” about the mission of Thomas-Nelson.

Even if some take issue with the decisions (and plenty do), the effort to think strategically is to be applauded. Some of you do the same thing every day in your work and even in your home. In fact, strategic thinking is necessary if “my95” is to be a way of living and not clever idea or churchy buzzword. Living your 95 well won’t happen by accident.

In Mark’s gospel we get a glimpse into an important strategic moment in Jesus’ ministry. Crowds are seeking Jesus, soaking up the teaching, aching to be healed. Things have gotten to the point where Jesus can no longer openly enter the towns. He stays out in the lonely places, but the people still come from everywhere. One morning, in the midst of all of this activity, Jesus can’t be found. The disciples look for him and when they find him they’re surprised that he’s alone and off in some remote place. With a touch of rebuke they remind him “everyone is looking for you.”

Jesus essentially ignores their reprimand. “Let’s go somewhere else,” Jesus says. And then he adds, “For this is why I have come.”

The clamoring throngs of people have endless needs. The disciples seem anxious and stressed, trying to be responsive to the crush of need and popularity. But Jesus is neither anxious nor overwhelmed. He responds with clarity and direction and a firm sense of purpose.

And here we note that Jesus was found in the place of prayer. Up early, finding a desert place, Jesus didn’t go running breathless back to the demands being made of him. He prayed his way to a strategic decision. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

In the example of Jesus we see strategic thinking done well. We see a decision rooted in the deep place where the soul keeps company with God and hears God speak. We see the link between strategic choices and prayer.

Some of you have some decisions to make today – professional decisions, parenting decisions, maybe both. Remember, there’s a very thin line between strategic thinking and prayer. Find a desert, pray and think strategically, and then live this day with bold humility.

Gracious God, in these quiet moments grant me a stillness that hears something more than the demands around me or the fears within me. Let my thinking and deciding be done in your presence and guided by your spirit so that thinking and prayer become one. Grant courage for today’s decisions and faith for today’s living, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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