How Living In the Urgent Can Kill Your Creativity

And how to reclaim your life from the stress...

If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s excellent book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you’re missing out.  Out of the many helpful things in the book, here’s one I have found most useful:  Covey’s distinction between URGENT things and IMPORTANT things.

  • Urgent things shout at you – flashing lights, ringing phones.
  • Important things will not – maintenance, relationships, planning.
  • Urgent and Important things must be done or things will fall apart immediately.
  • Important, not Urgent things must be done or things will fall apart eventually.
  • Urgent and Important things are like filling up with gas when you’re on empty.
  • Important things are like changing the oil after 3,000 miles.

He draws a matrix like this:

Quadrant 2 graphic

As you can see, Quadrant 1 is Urgent & Important.  Quadrant 2 is Important, but not Urgent.

Now, think about your life in terms of this diagram.

I think of Sunday as a Quadrant 1 day.   If you don’t lead worship, don’t preach… if you fail to do whatever your core activities are, there will be an immediate negative effect.  Some activities eventually change quadrants.  For instance, sermon prep is a Quadrant 2 activity, but Saturday night… it’s moved up.

Here’s why it’s better to do activities while they’re still in Quadrant 2:

1. Living in Quadrant 1 is exhausting.

Living your whole life in Quadrant 1 means you’ll be like Mario, leaping from crisis to crisis, barely escaping destruction at each turn, always inches from disaster.

It means not being able to sleep because of the stress of upcoming deadlines.

That’s exhausting.  Better to live in Quadrant 2, where you do important things before they move into Quadrant 1.

2. Relaxed thinking is better than crisis thinking.

You do better quality thinking when you’re relaxed.  Research is clear: You make better quality decisions when your stress is lower.

In his ground-breaking book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells of a study where college students were brought to a snack table, and offered a choice between healthy snacks (fruit, etc) and unhealthy snacks (cookies, cupcakes).  Half of the students were given a phone number to memorize and repeat back after the snack.  Those students were much more likely to choose the unhealthy snack.  Why?  They defaulted, under even that mild stress, to choosing what was immediately rewarding, instead of what was smarter.

3. Creativity flows better when you are not in urgent mode.

Ever think that your creativity goes up right before the deadline?  It doesn’t.  Your desperation does.  You may produce, but it’s not your creativity that gets your sermon finished!  It’s shame, and the potential embarrassment of having nothing to say.

It’s not more creative, it’s just… finished.

Instead, take time and focus early in the week to get in a creative flow.  (I’ll be writing more on this soon.)  You may not think of yourself as a particularly creative person, but I bet that you’re more creative when you aren’t “under the gun.”

4. Creativity is useless when you have no time left to execute.

In Quadrant 2, when you think of a really creative way to present a sermon, you can do it.  You can find that prop, create that Powerpoint, locate that great historical story, find that song that complements, think of that person whose testimony should be shared.

But in Quadrant 1, even if you think of it, you often don’t have enough time to do anything about it. I’ve been there too many times, finishing up a sermon on Sunday morning, when I realized – “You know what would be GREAT?!… ah, never mind, I don’t have time to do that this morning!”

Don’t do it.  Commit to living in the Important, not Urgent.

One final thought:

“What if I’m already overwhelmed?  How do I get into Quadrant 2 when Quadrant 1 is already so full?”

I’m glad you asked.  You can’t just stop doing Quadrant 1 activities.  Everything would fall apart, because they really ARE important!  There are only 2 places that you can find time to do Quadrant 2 activities at first: Quadrants 3 & 4.

Here’s what that might look like:

  • Turn off the phone.
  • Block Netflix.
  • Shut off talk radio.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Use Stayfocusd to keep off Facebook.
  • Get off Youtube.
  • Turn off your wireless access altogether for 3 hours.

And do something Quadrant 2.  Like this:

  • Prepare for NEXT week’s message.
  • Prep for a series that’s a month away on your sermon calendar.
  • Invest in a key relationship.
  • Learn something new.
  • Do that item you’ve been putting off.
  • Check your calendar for tomorrow.
  • Schedule lunch with someone.
  • Pray.

I think you’ll find that if you’ll do this for a week, Quadrant 1 will be slightly smaller, and Quadrant 2 will be slightly larger.

Now, imagine 6 months from now, if you did that every day!

9 Action Steps for Burned Out Pastors

Steps toward healing and recovery from pastoral burnout

Surveys say that most pastors have felt like quitting in the past 12 months. If you feel like you’re about to crack wide open, drop in your tracks, or get a Pez dispenser full of Tums to keep your stomach calm…You may be feeling as though God is angry with you, and would push you to keep going, do more, try harder… and you’re dead wrong.

Pastor burnout - 9 action steps you can take to recover and heal

Give me a chance to prove it: Check out how God responded to an exhausted prophet.

Four Starter Steps to Fight Porn In Your Home

Pornography is big business in America.  Approximately $12 billion annually is spent on pornography.  To put that in perspective, the 100 largest missions organizations in America received 3 billion in a recent year.  Porn is about equal to the energy drink market in the US.  Close your eyes and visualize all the energy drinks in all the gas stations, grocery stores & Walmarts in America… there you go.  (If you haven’t read my last post on porn, and how pervasive it is in our culture, there are more stats there.)

In the last few weeks, a study on pornography among young people by the Barna Group commissioned by Josh McDowell was completed.  The results were startling.  76% of young people who identified as Christians sought out porn regularly.   Perhaps even more shocking were their views on it.  To quote the news story: “…while 52 percent of young Christian adults ‘would say that not recycling is morally wrong, only 32 percent would say watching pornography is morally wrong.'”

In that kind of world, how do we protect our families, our hearts, our churches?

Here are four beginning suggestions:

1. Build technological walls between your family and sin.

No one in today’s world — NO. ONE. — should have an unsecured, unfiltered internet connection. There are multiple tools available to do this, at reasonable cost (or no cost!). Invest the time. Get them. Learn them. Use them. Here are my favorites:

  •  OpenDNS – this software lives on your wireless router (not the computer), so it filters every device connected to your network. Invaluable, and free. Slightly more complicated to install than other programs. Very dependable in blocking. Not as powerful in monitoring and reporting.
  • Covenant Eyes. Filtering program for computers and phones. No child should have a smartphone or tablet without it. Not free, but excellent.
  • K9 Web Protection – Good, and free.  Custom lists, forced SafeSearch, time restrictions, reports… I’m impressed they can provide this much horsepower for free.  Multiple platforms available.
  • X3Watch – Free phone reporting app, sends your browsing history to an accountability partner. Somewhat weak on what it catches, but free. Barebones option. Also has a paid version of filtering software for computers.
  • Purify – this web service (and Chrome extension) shows Youtube videos, and strips away all the sidebars, comments, suggested videos, etc. Excellent idea for those who need to use Youtube, but dislike the abundance of sensuality & vulgarity in the suggested video thumbnails.
  • Mobicip – A free version & paid version.  Mobicip has apps & filters for all platforms.  I’m currently test driving this one on my Android phone and my PC.

2. Pray like crazy.

While we may fight with digital means, the protection of our homes is fundamentally a spiritual battle. Fasting and prayer for your family simply can’t be replaced.

3. Communicate often.

Cultivate honesty & willingness to share about these things by starting early. Talk about it with your children.

Discuss it with your spouse.  Men, share this parable with your wives:
Imagine that the Scripture condemns eating chocolate. Not only does it condemn it, but it condemns looking at it, and wanting to eat it. Then imagine that everyone ate chocolate. There were books about it. 12% of all websites were about chocolate. TV shows featured it, celebrities discussed their chocolate lives on talk shows.  Popular songs discussed chocolate openly.  Magazines and billboards featured half-unwrapped chocolate bars. Now, how hard is it not to think about chocolate?

Ladies, “Is it really like that?” is a question you need to ask of your husbands. If he’s honest, he’ll say yes.  But the conversation you have after he does will be important.

And you’ll need plenty of this next principle:

4. Create an atmosphere of grace.

I’ll be honest. You can’t build walls high enough to completely solve the problem. You can’t have enough tech tools. You can’t check up enough to prevent the possibility.  Odds are extremely high that your husband, your child, will see something impure.  Perhaps even intentionally.  What then?

Be very careful how you respond.  You have two choices: Law and Grace.

Paul says the law is clear that “the person who DOES these things shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5, NKJV). But the opposite is also true. The person who doesn’t — will die by them. And if the atmosphere of your home is one of law; if you’ve created an atmosphere of law, fear, condemnation, ultimatums… then the threat of condemnation will add to the guilt of their conscience and keep them from coming to you.  They may try to repent & seek forgiveness from Christ, but they won’t seek you out.

Please take it from me as a man who has struggled deeply in this area, received grace from others, & come thru to victory: Grace is more powerful than sin. Law is not… but grace is.

Someday I’ll share my story.  For now — grace, my friends.  Grace.

The Porn Pandemic: Is Purity Possible?

I admit it — I love the Internet.  I liked it from the first time I heard the beep beep boooop of our first dial-up modem, and saw how information came streaming into our home.  Anything I needed to know, type it in… and there it was.

Today, it’s better, smarter, and way, way faster.  My smartphone is always connected.  Google Now learns what I like and search for, and automatically shows me news stories connected to my interests.  Google Drive syncs all my files, so I can retrieve any picture or document from anywhere and send it instantly to anyone.  Amazon lets me order & ship things directly to my door.  My sermons on Youtube have been viewed 5,000 times as of this writing.  I can find the lyrics to almost any song in seconds.

A friend told me once (and I’ve repeated it many times) “Without the internet, I am like any other mortal.”

So you know I’m pro-internet.

But… I have to say this:  Be cautious, friends.  The internet is like nuclear power.  Harnessed, it’s great.  Without proper controls, it’s deadly.

No phenomenon shows this more, or is more pervasive in our culture than internet pornography.

Consider the following statistics:

  • Porn is a $60 billion industry per year worldwide – $12 billion in the USA. ($32.8 million per day!)
  • Pornography brings in more than pro baseball, basketball, football & hockey combined… more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS & NBC.  Statistically, sports is not “America’s favorite pastime.”
  • Porn sites comprise 12% of ALL sites on the internet.
  • 25% of all search engine requests are porn-related.
  • 28000 people view porn per second.
  • 372 users every second type words to search for porn.
  • In the year 2014, one of the largest pornography video sites reported 78.9 billion video views — 11 for every person on the earth.
  • 90% of kids by age 18 have seen porn on the internet.
  • Average age of first exposure for a child is 11 yrs, usually inadvertently.
  • #1 consumer of porn: boys 12-17.

Now, after you pick your jaw up off the floor, let me hit you with one more: A university attempting to study the effects of pornography, attempted to locate a control group of men who had not been exposed to it, so they could compare them with men who had.  They cancelled the study; they were unable to find men who had not.

In that kind of world, is it even possible to be pure? 

I imagine there were those who felt the same way when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…” (1 Cor. 1:2, NKJV)  I imagine they stopped, shook their head, and looked out the window at the towering mountain fortress of Acro-Corinth above their city.  The ancient writers say 1,000 temple prostitutes engaged in “worship” at the temple of Aphrodite.

How does anyone follow Christ and be holy in the shadow of the 1,000 prostitute temple?

But while it may seem challenging, He calls us to holiness nonetheless.

How do we protect our homes? Our children?  Our own hearts?

Filters?  Rules?  Make sure our kids never have computers?  Or visit anyone with computers?  Get rid of the internet?  (What?! How would you read my blog?!)

In my next post, I’ll be sharing 4 starter steps to protecting the atmosphere of your home against the rampant spread of pornography.

For now, I’d like to hear from you in the comments below, or on my Facebook: What are you doing to protect your home from the pornography epidemic?

What to Do When Life Punches Your Goals in the Nose

My morning routine, which I wrote about recently, was going so well.  Life was starting to hum along again, after the birth of our sixth child.  He was sleeping through the night, I was able to get some sleep & get up and rock my to-do list before dawn.

Then, the baby got a cold.  And started waking up every night.  Twice.  And my 4th child spent the night throwing up. And… you get the picture.

My morning routine for the last week (plus!) has been completely nuked.  I’m sleeping later than I want to.  I shut my alarm off and almost missed an appointment this week.  I’ve accomplished less than half of what I want to on an average morning.

Not cool.

Holding high ideals while still allowing yourself permission to fail is not an easy thing.  Some people have a hard time doing both, so they get rid of ideals.  Or they get a case of perfectionism and make everyone around them miserable.  I’ve done some of both.

I spent years beating myself up for not being better about this or that.

But I’ve adjusted my attitude.  Here are the three things I tell myself.  Hope it’s an encouragement to you, if you’re in a tough season:

How to Build a Morning Routine – Part 2

How I Capture the Most Important Part of the Day

There isn’t one “right” morning routine.  It’s built on your values and realities.  My reality is self-employed (pastor) and 6 kids.  Yours might look totally different.  But for some ideas and encouragement, here’s a walkthru of my morning routine, from start to finish, with tips of what makes it work better for me.

If you want to read the first post I wrote on this, you’ll need to go here: How to Build a Morning Routine In 7 Steps.

First 90: Getting Started Right

How to Thrive In A Tough Season

I know that title is pretty broad — I can’t do anything about some of the frustrations in your life.  I can’t do anything about that guy whose trash blows in your yard.  Or the guy on the interstate who cuts you off with no blinker.  And you really can’t do much about it, either.  Just get over yourself and get over them. 🙂

But there are some larger, enduring frustrations that I’ve experienced that I bet you have too.  And THOSE, I can teach you something about.  It’s the frustration that comes with seasons in your life.

I know you’re familiar with the concept of seasons of the year, but you might not have thought of life in terms of seasons.

3 things you need to remember to keep from being frustrated about seasons:

1. Seasons come in a micro- and a macro- version.

Here are some examples of micro-seasons:

  • Recovery from a medical procedure.
  • Bouncing back from a very busy project
  • Adjusting to a new neighborhood after moving

Examples of macro-seasons:

  • Raising young children
  • Old age
  • Teenage years

For micro-seasons, you just need to wait them out, and take some short term actions — medication, rest, etc.

For macro-seasons, you’ll need to adjust your attitude, check your values, and engage in personal growth.

2. Seasons are not something you can control.

You can’t just decide you’re not going to participate in this season any more.  You can’t stop most seasons of life any more than you can stop spring or winter from coming.

So the solution to the frustration can’t be found in how to change the season… it’s got to be found in how I respond to it.

3. You can’t control seasons, but you can choose your attitude.


The old saying “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what happens IN you,” applies here.  Author and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said,
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom….When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

So here are some ways that I have dealt with seasons, while trying to keep my attitude positive:

1. Watch your words.

Early in my ministry, when we were frustrated about a season we were facing, Liz and I would often say to each other, dramatially, “Well, in the grand scale of 30 years of ministry…”  It was usually good for a chuckle, but it did more.  It became a tagline that allowed us to “zoom out” and see the season from the larger perspective.

Be careful of your words.  They don’t just reveal your perspective — they help create it!  And your perspective helps create your reality… Create wisely.

2. Find the funny.


Kids have been probably the defining season of this part our life.  I have a saying my wife and I have laughed over for the last few years: “Someday, I’m going to change the world, but right now I have to change this kid’s diaper.”  It helps me laugh, and remember the delicious irony of a young kid that thought he was going to change the world through his career in ministry — then had 6 kids, and discovered that he needed to change himself first.

3. Grow.

Sam Chand says, “A leader can only grow up to the level of his tolerance for pain.”  Seasons can be full of pain.

But they are also prime places for “the growth that happens before the growth.”  You know what I mean by that, right?  It’s what Steven Covey calls the “private victory” that always precedes “public victory.”

I know what it’s like to be dealing with a season while wishing to be out “kicking behind and taking names.”  But while you’re waiting, don’t waste the time.  This is captured beautifully in John Waller’s song “While I’m Waiting” from the movie Fireproof. Check it out if you need some encouragement:

These are some behind the scenes areas where you can grow during tough seasons:

  • Attitudes
  • Personal Discipline
  • Family habits
  • Reading
  • Personal devotional time
  • Working on a new skill
  • Improving an old skill
  • Investing in a relationship
  • Seeking out coaching
  • Developing teamwork in your church/family
  • Creating better systems
  • Creating morning and evening routines

Choose your attitude.  Watch your words.  Create your plan.  You’re going to get through this.

Who do you know that’s in a tough season right now?  Share this with them!

How to Be Less Overwhelmed in 20 Minutes

The Christmas season is wonderful — and incredibly busy.  The programs, the gifts, the family time, the sermons, the special events, the dinners, the last-minute details… it can all add up to a huge stress load.  What if you could take 15 minutes and lower your stress level — feel less overwhelmed, more in control, and ready to get something done?  Would that be attractive?

how to be less overwhelmed in 15 minutes

I’m not talking about a massage, a medication, or the proverbial ‘stiff drink.’  Those are attempts to escape stress.  I’m talking about looking that giant hairy stress monster in the face & cutting it down to size.

Is that really possible?  Don’t doubt me until you’ve tried these 5 simple steps:

Can Thanksgiving Make You Happier & Healthier?

4 Surprising Benefits of Giving Thanks...

Tomorrow across America, families will gather, turkey will be eaten, football will be watched, holiday shopping will start… and in places, gratitude will be expressed.  Zig Ziglar famously said, “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.”  Sounds nice… but is it really true?

Researchers are discovering that Zig really wasn’t that far off!  Here are 4 benefits of being thankful that surprised me:

A Pastor’s Thanksgiving List

10 Things I'm Thankful for this week

It’s that time of year, where our hearts turn toward things we are thankful for.  Thanksgving is far too important a habit to only do once per year.  Zig Ziglar was right: “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”

Sounds like something we ought to cultivate year-round!  So here’s my list of 10 things I’m thankful for as a pastor:

1. Thank you, Lord, for saving me, and for your sanctifying work in my heart.

The day I feel like I’ve arrived is the day I stop leading people deeper into Christ.  Don’t ever let me get over the shock of the Gospel, or the hunger for more holiness.

2. Thank you, Lord, for calling me into the work of a pastor.

It’s a privilege to help the Great Shepherd care for His sheep.  Thanks for inviting me to participate in leading your people.  Don’t let me use them, resent them, or mislead them.  Let me be patient with them like you are with me.

3. Thank you, Lord, for my wife.

Darrell and Elizabeth Stetler

My wife Elizabeth and I

She could have done anything.  She could have had a safe house and life in a small town.  She could have lived where the helicopter doesn’t circle.  But she was willing to live in an exemplary way, in the “fishbowl” of a pastor’s home, and serve God’s people in that way.   Thank you for her unselfish commitment to the Kingdom… and me.

4. Thank you, Lord, for my family.


Grace, Darrell III, Heath, Caleb, Gideon and Will

They take the benefits and sacrifices with grace and sweetness.  Please help me be faithful to them, and to pastor the little church in my home first.

5. Thank you, Lord, for my spiritual heritage.

V. O. Agan and Darrell Stetler II

Granddaddy Agan – a great man and preacher

Four Stetler Generations - Kenneth Stetler, Darrell Stetler Sr, Darrell Stetler II, Darrell Stetler III

Four Stetler Generations

I remember today that I stand on the shoulders of those before me.  Thank you for their prayers, their example, their faithfulness.  Thank you for the stores of wisdom and prayer that are there for me to draw on.

6. Thank you, Lord, for my successes… & failures.

My successes keep me trusting that I’m making a difference.  Thank you for giving me enough hits to have the courage to keep swinging the bat.

My failures keep me humble, and learning.  Thanks for helping me not be destroyed by them.  Thank you that I’m not always right.  When I fall, help me learn to pick up something while I’m down there.

7. Thank you, Lord, for the volunteers who serve with me.

They lift the load in so many ways.  Bless them today, and make their reward great.  Let them feel my gratitude and Your smile.

8. Thank you, Lord for the people who willingly follow.

It’s such a blessing to have some who gladly do right.  Sorry I sometimes forget them in the rush to go after those who stray.  Thank you that everyone is not wandering or resisting… that some let me do my worth with joy & not heaviness of heart.

9. Thank you, Lord, that my self-worth is not wrapped up in what people think of me.

I rest in what you see.  I rest in your definition of success.  They don’t have to like me… or my preaching… or vote for me… or give in the offering… or support my latest idea… for my ministry to be acceptable in your sight.

10. Thank you, Lord for strengthening my resolve.

When I think that I can’t go on, you step in and strengthen me.  I’m grateful.


What things are you most thankful for?  Share in the comments or on my Facebook page.