The Danger of Being Productive

I answered the phone, and the first sentence I heard was “Hi Vaughan, sorry for calling, I know you’re busy…”. It was one of the godliest and most servant-hearted ladies in our church, calling with a cracker of a question about theology. And for some reason, she was worried that I was too busy to be bothered with ‘these kind of things’.

What was it about me that gave people the impression that I was too busy for them? I discovered the answer while I was on holidays.

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On my supposed-to-be-relaxing fortnight with the family on the coast recently, I read What’s Best Next? by Matt Perman, and I was smacked around the head. At one point in the book, I was overwhelmed by what he said about real Christian productivity – he quotes John Wesley, who says “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

This, Perman says, is the definition of true, Christian productivity – simply, to do good.

This brought things into stark light for me. It’s not like I thought that I shouldn’t do good things, but I had previously taken an approach to my work which was, in a sense, value neutral. It didn’t matter to me what I got done, as long as I was (if you’ll excuse me) getting things done. Fulfilment was ticking things off the task list and having a “mind like water”, while the value of the things I was completing wasn’t something that I actively reflected on.

This might have worked for a while, but in the end, it meant that my work was always filtered through a subconscious matrix. I was finding that it was easy to tick administrative tasks and sermon preparation off my task list, while neglecting or postponing opportunities to do good for other people. This gave others the impression that their pastor was ‘very busy’ doing ‘very important work’. When really, I was doing no such thing.

Why is it that I fell into this trap? Well, simply put, it was because people are difficult. As a pastor, getting involved in peoples’ lives and doing actual good for them is part of the job description. It’s not easy to get caught up in the mess and the hurt of other peoples’ lives. It’s much easier to fill up your time with administrative tasks and meetings.

Part of the solution offered by Perman in What’s Best Next? is to sit down at the beginning of the week, and lay out all the roles and responsibilities that you have in your life (these correspond pretty well with David Allen’s “Areas of Focus and Accountability” from Getting Things Done). For each of these roles, ask the question “what 1-2 things would make the biggest impact in relation to each of my roles?”

This might result in small things which add immense value to the lives of others – like buying your wife a bunch of flowers, making a phone call to someone you haven’t seen for a while, or grabbing lunch and reading the Bible with someone from church. Or it could result in a new project that brings about big changes in your own life and the lives of those around you.

Question: Can you think of an opportunity God has given you today to do something good for someone else? What’s stopping you from doing that now?

The Danger of Being Productive

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