Triage. The word surfaces mental pictures of a disaster-populated emergency room. For some it means hope, but for others it signals despair.
In our saner moments, we objectively think on the scene of triage and acknowledge the wisdom of its implementation. But in other moments, we can be caught in the personal drama going on. The very idea of triage means some some patients will probably live and others will probably die. It means that a medical professional will accordingly choose who gets treatment and who doesn't. Failure to decide could leave the medical staff without the resources and energy to treat anybody. Morbid, don't you think?
Well, I am not a doctor and I don't have to think about medical triage very often. I do, though, face ministry times in which the dishes are stacked on the counter and manpower is stunted by illness, family emergencies or needed rest.
Those are the moments when, as a pastor, I must make tough calls. I must decide which short-range goal needs extension and which can't wait. I must choose whether to push the staff a little harder so we can enjoy a team victory. Or, is it time to delay or cancel something in order to maintain long-term staff health?
Our staff recently went away for a two-day offsite planning retreat. We prayed, worshiped, talked, laughed and -- before it was over -- cried. We made a tough decision which will cost significant time and energy for virtually every staff member. When we arrived back at home, I talked to one of three staff members who will pay the biggest price for the change we are considering. She shared her concern about another member of the team and whether our plan was just too much.
I told her that I am willing to lead us up this steep road. But I'm not willing to destroy the staff in the process. They need their health to face more challenges in the future. That means we may have to slow down some of our lofty dreams to do the dishes. We can't do everything (I hope some other pastors are reading this) but we can choose the best items on our agendas and make the biggest possible difference in the most lives.
In a way, it's ministry triage.