Wednesday, January 30, 2008

productivity and efficiency vs. mission; essay #1 "working"

Scheduled outage at 4:30PM PST; my blog was down for ten minutes today...what a fiasco...haha, we even expect blogs to be efficient, reliable and cost-effective (in this case, free).

I constantly struggle with the uneasy feeling that I am not accomplishing enough. At the end of the day, I would like to be able to summarize my achievements and accomplishments with a smile and leave my office or coffee appointment or small group gathering or class with my head held high and my mind at ease. Unfortunately, it is a very rare day when that occurs. Most days, projects are halfway done, volunteer goals partially met, phone conversations interrupted and blog entries are unfinished. But, there's another voice, a quieter, more reasonable one, that tells me that productivity and efficiency are not exactly the end-all of following Jesus.

Sure, the principles of good stewardship of resources apply to both my job as a pastor and my calling as a follower of Jesus. Absolutely, it's important to not sit around playing video games all day or spend my waking hours sleeping instead. However, for those of us in "ministry" or "regular (read REAL) jobs", most of our understandings of "a good day's work" come from the western ideals of capitalism and individualism, not from any sort of Biblical principle. Consider this: the Bible talks about working hard and not being lazy (especially throughout Proverbs) but when we consider a successful day of work we talk in the language of results and getting the most out of our time and money. Jesus told the parable of the talents to illustrate a point about not burying your gifts in the sand but rather taking chances and contributing your whole self to bringing about the kingdom of God. In contrast, we often consider things like, "is reading this book a wise investment of my time?" or "how do I communicate what I believe God is saying to our community without making anybody mad?" Many of us have embraced philosophies of risk-management and "bang-for-the-buck" in regards to our relationships as well. I might, from time to time, find myself asking "who should I spend time with that will do the best job of building more lives through relationships after I'm done with him/her?" Wrong question.

Jesus, though he was God and had an important job (redeeming the whole world), spent time eating and drinking and developing relationships with people who were less-then-productive. We know that not everyone he invested in became an Apostle or a disciple, at least I infer that because many who were following him eventually turned away. What does that make Jesus then, a bad investor? A waster of time and talents? Jesus didn't just sit around doing nothing either, he challenged the religious establishment, he healed the sick and raised the dead, he spoke to massive crowds without a sound system. He was balanced. He was moderate. And when he chastised his disciples, it wasn't because they weren't doing a good job bringing in offerings from people or getting their reports in on time.

I don't want to point the finger at anyone before I point it at myself. I am often out-of-balance. I have always been more of a "doer" than a contemplative. I have always criticized people who don't seem to try hard to accomplish tasks. I have laughed derisively at people who say "God is calling me to just abide in him." But the more I try to measure my efforts in terms of efficiency and productivity, the more I realize that those standards, though they can be helpful sometimes, are not the standards that God has for me, that he has for us. The truth is, I believe, that God is calling us to abide in him and to take his teachings and turn them into ACTION. But if I somehow think that putting in some extra hours on a video or spending more time sending/receiving emails is going to make God extra proud and speed the Kingdom of God on earth than I am mistaken. As a pastor, I often work hard because I know that people are ultimately more important than my numerical goals and programming ideas but even that kind of thinking has its limits. Because, I can't do EVERYTHING. I can only do what I should and I can only give it all I've got...but it's Christ in me that accomplishes anything worthwhile.

For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

- Isaiah 57:15-15


justin said...

great thoughts. great post. what a challenge to try to live in the balance of outcome and effort, especially when lofty expectations get involved.

Anonymous said...

Wow honey thanks for writing that. I appreciate what you have to say! Love you Bekah

Ryan Townsend said...

kind of like yoga actually, willful determination with lack of concern for results...except in this case it would be some concern for results???

Anonymous said...

weston here...great perspcetive... I have a greater understanding of what you were saying the other night...and I agree with all of it...It would be good to start up the same conversation sometime soon... see ya -- weston