Gospel-Driven Productivity


Our job as pastors is a mixture of cruelty and humor. The cruelty part of ministry popping up its head when we pause long enough to realize the pain of the "already and the not yet." It's the "not yet" part that keeps me up at night praying "Come Lord Jesus come." Humor, because if we aren’t laughing at these realities on a daily basis we’ll lose our minds.

There must come a point in every pastor’s ministry when we realize our work will never be completed this side of eternity because we are working with the clay of the Spirit. The final piece of art never seen until the new heavens and the new earth. The sooner these realities set in the better for our longevity and health.

Once we come to grips with the impossible nature of ministry we now must determine how we are to work until Christ comes again or takes us home. How do we steward our time, energy, gifts, and churches for God's glory?

This brings us to the theme of productivity. To open up the productivity question I need to ask a couple heart questions, diagnostic questions, to help us move forward in our ministries:

  1. Are we lazy?
  2. Are we overworking?

You might be surprised that laziness and overworking can essentially be the same thing. Laziness doesn’t necessarily mean (although it can be) sitting around and doing nothing. Laziness is often doing many things without prayerfully examining if these are the best ways to use our time. In ministry, it’s easy for us to be busy doing the wrong things.

The other diagnostic for our productivity is overworking. Overworking can actually be a form of laziness for us in ministry. Overworking assumes we can finish everything on our plate today. Instead of getting help and learning how to shut things off, we simply work longer, and not smarter. Instead of seeing the long view of ministry, we succumb to short-term successes at the expense of our spiritual and physical vitality.

Where do we see ourselves swaying between the poles of laziness and overworking? What do we need to change today?

Now that we have examined our hearts, let me share a couple principles for being driven by the gospel in our productivity day to day.

First, we need a robust eschatology. Of course you knew eschatology and productivity go together, right? We need to understand, as pastors, our hope is beyond the moment. Our work is not as urgent as we might think when we understand a more cosmic scope.

In Romans 8:24-25 Paul reminds us of our hope, "Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." Our patience in ministry is directly related to our future hope.

Second, we need a robust identity in Christ Jesus. The opening of the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us of this beautiful truth, "Our only hope in life and death is Jesus Christ." I know in the hustle and bustle of ministry it’s easy to forget who I am in Christ. Instead of living out of a soul-stirring confidence in God, I operate out of insecurity looking to people to validate my worth.

When we keep our identity rooted in Christ we actually will begin to be more productive for the glory of God and not the praise of man.

Third, we need to keep a Sabbath. Pastors who want to make it the long haul need to rest. This means building in at least one day every week where we shut it down and focus on the Lord. This may also mean building in other seasons of rest: vacation, retreats, and conferences to be built up in the Lord.

Taking a Sabbath reminds our hearts God is in control and we are not. It points us to the day when will enter an eternal rest and our work will cease on this side of eternity.

Last, we need to remove distractions. We need to figure out what we are gifted for and delegate the rest. Removing distractions is about focusing our limited time and energy on the things that matter most for our ministries.

What is one principle you need to implement into your life in regards to productivity?

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Ryan, this morning I was reading from the passage in Matthew 7:21 that says there are many who will say "Lord, Lord" and yet will not enter heaven.   They prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles, and yet God will say, "why were you not obedient?  Get away from me!"  

Productivity is an economic term, but obedience is what God is asking for.   God makes us productive when we are obedient, not by the number of sermons, services, songs, miracles, conversions, healings, visits.   Our productivity will never replace our disobedience or our lack of repentance. 

However, I appreciate your practical suggestions about patience, hope, trusting in Jesus daily, sabbath, and focus, are very useful in the right context. 

Thanks John. I know productivity is an economic term, but I think it captures the idea I was trying to express. Thanks for the reminder of obedience, because that is the way we show our love for Jesus.