Some time ago, I was watching The Biggest Loser and the teams faced a ridiculous challenge. They had to push an empty railroad car along a length of track. As you can imagine, it took quite a bit of energy to get the approximately 286,000 pound object moving. Once the train started to move, everything went okay for a while. Pushing became much easier. It took significantly less energy. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that momentum isn’t always a good thing.
The teams were so focused on going fast enough to win the challenge that they forgot a train car was big enough to pull them once it built up enough speed. Suddenly, they were fighting against the train. Some of them couldn’t keep up with the pace and their feet scrambled underneath them until they had to let go. The single-minded focus on speed blinded the teams to the inherent danger in building up too much speed to control.
Momentum can be a leader’s biggest blessing because it minimizes obstacles, makes the impossible seem within reach, and is often the difference between winning and losing. John Maxwell (a much wiser person than I am) says that a leader shouldn’t do anything to get in the way of momentum; however, I think momentum can quickly turn into a disaster if it is uncontrollable.
We can blind ourselves to the dangers that lie ahead if the only thing we want is more speed. Sure, a train can plow through huge objects in its path with enough speed, but it can also derail itself, spilling its cargo and killing the people on board. It can go a long way in the wrong direction. As leaders, we need to have our eyes on several different factors to lead well.
I recently read of a time that Bill Hybels realized Willow Creek was growing numerically very quickly, but was failing to create the “fully-devoted followers of Christ” their mission statement envisioned. Instead of plowing on ahead, he slammed on the brakes. He knew that it wouldn’t matter if Willow Creek was the largest church in the world, yet failed to truly bring anyone to Christ.
I pray for the energy and wisdom to know when to push hard, building up momentum, but I also pray for the wisdom and courage to slow down when it’s time.