Monday, August 8, 2011

Book: "First Things First"

TITLE: First Things First
AUTHOR: Stephen R. Covey / A Roger Merrill / Rebecca R Merrill
PUBLISHER: NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

First Things FirstThis book challenges us to break away from old paradigms, which are no longer effective. It calls us to adopt a new 4th generation approach of using the compass rather than the clock. Putting ‘first-things-first’ is a neat little way to remind us that our priorities in life should be reflected in the way we manage our lives. It has very practical organizational models like the Quadrant II ‘way of thinking’, which forces one to put the more important things ahead of others (101). This is an important little detail, lest the reader assumes that following the method or using the tool is the way to achieve first things. Instead, it delves into one’s philosophy, which ought to underline one’s way of living and behaving.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Generally, I like the way the authors cast the importance of vision-mission; their practical help using Quadrant II organizing and the need to maintain one’s principles as well as responsibility to the wider community. The biggest benefit is the new paradigm of using the COMPASS rather than the CLOCK. For me, this is a very vivid picture of putting one’s priorities according to the direction and purposes in life, rather than creatively cramming activities into a space constrained by time and resources. The former adopts principles while the latter pursues inefficient work using ineffective old models as described in Generations one to three of the book’s tour de force on management tools.

While I agree with the compass idea, I am not comfortable with the zen-like form of balance and harmony with ‘true-north’ principle which is too new-age for my comfort. The Christian journey is one that commences with God, journey with God and to end toward union with God. First things first should thus be ‘letting’ God be first and over all our lives. Do not treat principles like an idol to be worshiped in the arena of life management. In practical usage, the values taught in the book is easily learned and can be usefully shared with church and fellow believers wanting to make a difference in their work and life. However, a good paradigm still needs a spiritual center. The authors, for the sake of inclusiveness, have chosen to keep the book as secular or as broadly spiritual as possible.

How Christians Can Benefit

Christians must read with an open mind but at the same time be alert to unhealthy focus on the self as or using principles as gods to be hallowed, or paradigms to be glorified. The risk of using this book in the church is that one might be accused of bringing ‘secular’ teachings into the church, especially when the latter is more conservative when dealing with non-Christian materials. Nevertheless, it takes a mature Christian leader or teacher to use this book as a supplement to the broader biblical teaching in the church. The biggest strength of the book is the adoption of ‘people paradigm’ rather than the ‘things paradigm’ (206).

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this people-first emphasis will appeal to anyone who calls himself human. Finally, the book that is devoid of Christian teachings can also be used evangelistically for people attuned to management principles and or individuals interested in spirituality. Use the book to whet the appetites of non-Christians. This way, the weakness I stated before, can be turned into a strength for opening opportunities to share the gospel.

But the fourth generation paradigm is people first, things second. It’s leadership first, management second. It’s effectiveness first, efficiency second. It’s purpose first, structure second. It’s vision first, method second.” (206).

I like this way of fitting together what is the important over the urgent. Of course, if the book is to be adapted for Christians, I would much prefer to see everything as God-first, and everything else a distant second. After all, what good is there for people to adopt first-things-first and gain the whole world through principles, but loses his soul. The way to God is through Christ, and while methods and principles help nudge one further along in the Christian pilgrimage, there is no substitution for that obedience of God’s Word in all of our lives, whether by paradigms, by principles or by first things first. We do not want the Church to become a place full of principled people. We want the Church to be full of obedient-to-Christ and devotees to the Word. Who knows, in the future, there might even be a 5th generation?


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