Productivity - do more

Reframing Productivity for the Church (4 Ways We Need to Think Differently)

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Productivity is a massive buzz word these days, but how do we keep our desire to produce more healthy?

You can get lost in the shelves of your local book shop (if you have one still?!) or trapped in the endless YouTube algorithm just by searching for productivity. It would seem everyone is seeking to be more productive.

Every second article on the web is about “Quick Hacks” or “Shortcuts to Success”. Every second article or video promises the world.

I’m as likely as anyone to click on that video titled “4 Productivity Tips That Will Change Your Life”. Despite knowing it’s a massively overstated promise I find myself drawn in. Personally I love the topic. Perhaps it’s my Software Engineering training or maybe it’s just my personality but I just love to learn. If there is a way I can do something simpler or faster I love to know.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this quote from Abraham Lincoln. He is quoted as saying that if he had 6 hours to chop down a tree he would spend the first 4 hours sharpening the axe. It’s a reminder that sharpening our skills is often more important than applying brute force. I’m all for learning that will save me time or energy or future frustration.

I use tips I’ve learnt over the years in all sorts of areas of life, including in ministry. Times of busyness and stress have often caused me to reach for tools that make it easier to achieve more when time is lacking. I think if you want to increase your leadership capacity there comes a point where you need to approach tasks more intentionally and get time, energy and priorities working for you.

Having said all that I think for those of us trying to follow Jesus, productivity sometimes needs reframed in ways that are healthier. Productivity as it is so often portrayed in our culture can be unhealthy and take us away from the abundant life Jesus modelled for us. So how can we reframe productivity, keeping the best of all it has to teach us, whilst staying healthy and keeping Jesus at the centre?

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1. Choose Fruitful Over Productive

Now some of you might think I’m splitting hairs here. Surely fruitfulness is a form of productivity? Yes, well, at least kind of. At least for me these two words form very different images in my mind.

Productivity forms an image of a more mechanical process. It makes me think of factory production lines with people churning out monotonous and soul destroying tasks that, yes are productive but are also somewhat unnatural and forced.

Fruitfulness is a picture of a natural process. Fruit is produced by a tree or plant after what is often a lengthy process. It is the culmination of all that that plant or tree is designed to produce. It reveals that the conditions were right to produce a harvest.

Fruitfulness also happens to be the metaphor that Jesus used. We are designed to make an impact, to contribute, to make the world a better place. The process we follow is one of growth. We tend to the soil of our lives, we harness the conditions and stay connected to the source of life. The result is natural and the fruit is the result of a process.

Growing Abundant Fruit

In our first flat we had a communal garden, and in that garden was a plum tree. It was very well established and it had that slightly gnarled look that suggested it had seen many tenants come and go over the decades. Boy was that tree productive. It produced so many plums that hundreds of them would end up simply falling to the ground and rotting. I’m not sure anyone particularly tended to it (as is often the case where ownership is vague!) and yet the conditions were clearly there for this tree to produce an abundance of fruit.

If as followers of Jesus we become more focussed on the conditions for growth than the actual growth, I think over the longer term we will find ourselves more fruitful, as Jesus defines it.

Such conditions in our lives could include:

  • fostering a personal relationship with Jesus, where we increase our awareness of Jesus with us throughout the day.
  • learning to love others, by practically sacrificing our time, talents and money.
  • having our hearts and minds shaped by the bible

Our ultimate purpose is not to simply achieve more for Jesus but rather to produce fruit in relationship with Jesus. Fruit that is in keeping with Jesus’ values and life. Sometimes we may need to learn how to do a task faster or more efficiently but ultimately our first call is to be fruitful not productive.

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2. Choose Relationship Over Task

In my experience, people tend to be naturally wired towards one of these. Either a person is highly relational and achieving tasks are a secondary concern. Or they are extremely focussed on getting things done and less interested in the relational component.

I personally, often have found these two aspects warring within me! I really like to get tasks done and sometimes purely relational approach can be frustrating. I’m happy to be together but can we please do something!

We all know that ultimately the things that matter the most in our lives are the relationships around us. The thing that often makes a job good or bad, are the people we work with. Jesus also encourages us to make sure that we get our priorities right.

The Productivity of Love

Love is what matters and so often love is not very fast or productive. It takes time, it interrupts. In our desire for productivity we need to ensure we don’t lose sight of the people around us. Sometimes the best thing to do is cancel everything in your calendar and spend time with those you love.

Sometimes being unproductive is actually the best thing we can do.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are times to simply: GET THINGS DONE. For some people this is actually built into their wiring and us prioritising relationship with them actually looks like creating space for them to get through their to-do list. However it’s vital we remember we are not machines designed to function efficiently on our own. We are relational beings and relationships are what ultimately matter most.

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3. Choose Acceptance Over Striving

One of the challenges of our culture is the desire for more. Marketing everywhere is designed specifically to invoke a feel that we are not enough. Without their specific product, that is. Social media bombards us with filtered and curated lives that provoke us to jealousy and comparison. Productivity content reminds us that we are not as efficient as we might be.

As followers of Jesus, and healthy contributors to society, we are called to live differently.

We are to realise that our approval and acceptance is not found externally, in the culture around us. Neither is it found internally, as the post-modern, non-religious, attempt at salvation would have us believe.

Our acceptance is based on the love of God, shown to us on the cross.

You are accepted.

You are enough.

You are valued and loved. God gave his life for you. He requires nothing extra added to his sacrifice for you.

In our culture it can be easy to buy into the lie that we are not enough, that we are not accepted. Much of the desire for productivity that surrounds us comes from a place of lack. A place of never feeling good enough. An emptiness that people seek to fill with long hours or a seeking after money and fame and success.

We are not striving to be something more. We are enough.

Approaching productivity (a sharpening of the axe, so to speak) from this perspective, of being accepted, keeps it healthy. Our approval is kept separate from our performance. We are accepted and that is never in question.

Our personal worth is unhitched from our performance. Instead we grow excellence of heart, a desire to improve our skills from the bedrock of perfect acceptance.

We have nothing to prove, yet we serve the world with all that we have. Insecurities falling by the wayside.

We choose acceptance over striving.

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4. Choose Process Over Speed

Sadly achieving things faster is rarely the answer. We have all heard the stories of the over night millionaires who quickly spend it all and end up back where they started, or worse. Sometimes when we attain something really quickly, it is really hard to maintain it.

The process is important. It is in the process of growth, that we gain the strength to carry our future load. When it comes to the important things in life if we seek to skip steps or fast track ourselves we often arrive at a destination we are unprepared to handle.

So much productivity I see is about “getting rich quickly” or “build your business overnight” or “improve your life in 30 days”.

We are all tempted by the idea of speed. No one likes waiting. No one enjoys the pain in the process. And yet the process is a huge part of our stories.

Most people offering quick fixes to hard problems are usually only sharing with you their highlight reel. Most things that really matter in life take time. They grow, like fruit, over seasons.

So if we want to keep productivity healthy it’s important we don’t buy into the lie of overnight success or the temptation to shortcut our process of growth.

Healthy productivity embraces a process. It recognises improvement takes time, and that the process is key. It requires grace.

What Else?

These are the things that spring to mind for me as I’ve sought to embrace the journey of productivity in a Jesus centred way. What else has helped you keep a healthy perspective on productivity? What helps you? Let me know in the comments below.

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