Redeeming Productivity A Christian Approach to Getting Stuff Done

Why We Need a Distinctly Christian Productivity

What is Christian productivity? Is it really Christian or is it just a collection of practical tips & tricks we’ve commandeered from the business world? Is it simply popular wisdom with a Christian spin?

Why we need a distinctly Christian productivity header graphic.

With so many excellent and helpful secular books on time management and productivity, is it really necessary to try and “Christianize” productivity? Christian or not, we all need help in how we organize our schedules, keep up with email, and plan out our days. And so much of the guidance gleaned from Seven Habits, Getting Things Done, or The Power of Habit, works equally well in Silicon Valley as it does at Silver Valley Community Church. There are, however, foundational aspects of the Christian’s understanding of productivity which are not shared by the world. 

All philosophies of productivity, at bedrock, contain a theology. Therefore, there is a genuine need for a distinctly Christian productivity in the church.

Retrofitting Worldly Productivity Philosophies

If you take the time to read any of the secular productivity books I mentioned, it’s not long before you come up against some downright religious notions. Some of them may be shared by the Bible—like the promotion moral qualities such as diligence or integrity—but many are opposed to the Word of God. Whether it’s their pseudo-religious “Law of Attraction” or the lionizing of vain ambition as a legitimate and appropriate motivator for life, these epistles to businessmen are shot through with worldliness and false religion.

As a Christian reader, in order to apply the productivity systems presented in these books, you end up having to disentangle the method from the motivation. And while we may dismiss that as simply the task of Christian discernment, which we must always be doing, that untangling can get hairy fast.

Pinterest - why we need distinctly Christian productivity.

What’s wrong with a book suggesting that you should always operate with integrity in your business dealings because that will build trust with clients and in the end create more money for you?

Great, they are promoting integrity! Right? But why?

The problem is that this book is integrity not for the sake of glorifying God in whose image you were made—the God who always operates consistently with integrity in accordance with His nature. No, they are calling for you to act with integrity in service of Mammon. Being honest to get rich, is far less noble than it first appears. And it is a far cry from Christian integrity. And on the eternal timeline, while it may make you successful and well liked in your professional life, it does nothing to glorify God and store up treasure for you in heaven.

Dangerously Close to Religion

A few years ago a popular Christian blogger recommended a book called The War of Art which was purported to be a helpful book on how people in creative spaces can rely less on the whims of inspiration and work more consistently. I picked up this book on the recommendation of this blogger (who did note that he had not completed the book himself yet), and boy what a surprise!

The first half was pretty normal—I actually took away a lot of really helpful thoughts on how to be more consistent in my approach to writing. But at about the mid-point of the book, things got weird.

I mean really weird.

Here’s a quote from a section titled “Angels in the Abstract”:

The next few chapters are going to be about those invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us in our journey toward ourselves. I plan on using terms like muses and angels. Does that make you uncomfortable?

If it does, you have my permission to think of angels in the abstract.

Consider these forces as being impersonal as gravity. Maybe they are. It’s not hard to believe, is it, that a force exists in every grain and seed to make it grow? Or that in every kitten or colt is an instinct that impels it to run and play and learn.

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art (Kindle Locations 754-758). Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.

Uhh… invisible psychic forces? Journey toward ourselves? This is a far cry from Christian productivity, yet it is undeniably religious talk.

Not the Exception

And listen, I’ve read and listened to lots of books and podcasts on productivity. This kind of spiritual talk is not out of the ordinary. Many productivity gurus promote out and out Buddhism, spiritualism, self-deifying pep-talks, and other overtly religious activities and philosophies as the necessary basis for their approach to productivity.

But why is this the case? Why do productivity books and lectures gotta get all religious on us?

It’s simple: You cannot deal with topics so basic to the human soul like motivation, morality, or ultimate purpose without touching upon religion.  These are themes are the core of human existence—these are religious themes. This is why, whether presented overtly or not, all productivity books have a theology, and this by necessity.

Thus, we must approach worldly productivity methods with an ample helping of caution. We do not share the same religion or worldview as most of the authors of these books. Not by a longshot.

We can do even better than this.

Christianity Offers a Distinct Productivity Philosophy

The reasons behind how and why Christians implement productivity techniques ought to be starkly different than those of a secular businessman. If we can get these right—and we do that by going to the Bible—then we can better ensure that whatever methods we actually follow to track our task lists or calendar are not resting on a faulty philosophical foundation.

The businessman wants to utilize time-blocking so he can increase his company’s profits and earn a promotion for himself. But the Christian blocks out his time because he knows the hours belong to his Lord. He needs to make profitable use of time for God’s glory.

So, we need to be ever vigilant in our perusal and implementation of any productivity tip. We do not want to accidentally imbibe the errant philosophy which stands behind the technique. As Christians we don’t just want productivity, we want Christian productivity.

Christians have so much more in the way of productivity if we would just turn to the Scriptures first.

The Bible Offers a Distinctly Christian Productivity

Are we Christians only pragmatically rejiggering worldly systems to fit Christian aims?

No. I think the Scriptures have more to offer us than that. We must not be content to simply lay productivity techniques on top of our faith like a blanket. If we would glorify God, we must have a view of time, efficiency, motives, and stewardship that is organically integrated with a thoroughgoing Christian worldview.

Passages that encourage a productive life are strewn throughout the Scriptures. Take the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28), the mandate to work heartily unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23), to not waste time (Ephesians 5:15–17), to live with self-control (Titus 2:12), and the entire book of Proverbs, all point to not just the possibility but the necessity of a truly Christian productivity.

Why do we need a distinctly Christian productivity? I’ll give R.C. Sproul the final word on this question:

“… we think that because we’re…Christian…we do not have to be concerned about productivity. On the contrary, our calling as Christians is the highest calling there is, and the idea of being productive is not the invention of capitalism, it is the mandate of Christ.”

R.C. Sproul, John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary), 286)


About the author

Reagan Rose

Slave of Jesus Christ, husband, preacher-man, productivity nut, and Director of Operations at The Master's Seminary.

7 comments

  • Thanks Reagan for your helpful article on Christian productivity. I graduated with the first graduating class from TMS and am working on a DMin at SBTS on being “Zealous for Good Deeds” (primarily from the book of Titus).

    Any other helpful sources you have come across on productivity for the Christian including ministry in the local church and to the lost?

    Gratefully in Christ,
    Peter Smith
    Pastor of Hope In Christ Bible Church, Michigan

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the comment. That sounds like an exciting topic for your DMin! I would be interested in reading the final product. I doubt you remember this, but you and I have met before. I was serving in the US Office for SEND International when you came through to do chapel and I spoke with you about my plans for coming to TMS and you gave me some advice.

      I haven’t been able to find as many good resources on this topic as I would wish, but here a few books that may be helpful for you. Most of them are probably already on your list.
      – Do More Better – Tim Challies
      – What’s Best Next – Matt Perman
      – How to Get Un-Stuck – Matt Perman
      – Reset – David Murray
      – The Disciplined Life – Richard Shelley Taylor
      – Live Smart – Dan Dumas
      – Crazy Busy – Kevin DeYoung
      – Spiritual Leadership – J. Oswald Sanders
      – Zeal without Burnout – Christopher Ash

  • Really excellent. I gravitate towards the types of books that you’ve mentioned, but grow weary of using parsing out everything that’s of no value, or even detrimental.

    It’s in these areas the Christianity really is shown- as you said, it’s all about the “why”. I think this is a great part of the loneliness of the Christian in the world; while we may look similar on the surface, there is a gulf of difference in the heart.

    I can listen to as much Jocko Podcast, read as much Stephen Covey, etc. as I want, but it just isn’t at all the same thing. I have to remind myself that only one thing, or one Person, rather, is the source of everything I need. Why waste time and clutter myself unnecessarily?

    God is maturing me more and more to the point at which I recognize that, if I am not giving Him His due in all things, my main concern isn’t that I’m not being pragmatic or productive enough, but that I am not giving Him the glory He is rightly owed. And no philosophy of men can help me with that.

    • That last paragraph is a mess. My fault for typing in a hurry while busy. Better said, if I’m not being productive enough, my main concern isn’t for my lack of benefit, but for His loss of glory.

      • Wow, Allen. You hit the nail on the head. I like what you said about “the loneliness of the Christian.” So often we are doing the same things as others, but for radically different reasons. Then, when those reasons drive us to differ in practice from the world, it is revealed just how different we really are. And that is downright alienating. I have definitely felt that!

        And what you say about the main driving force behind our interest in productivity not being for ourselves, but for His glory. That is so key.

        I’ve also asked myself, “What would the perfect productive Christian life look like?” And the answer is obvious—it would look like Jesus Christ. So, the pursuit of productivity for the Christian shouldn’t be our primary aim, Christlikeness for the sake of God’s glory should be. I wonder then if “productivity,” however we define that for Christians, is really just something incidental to sanctification. Like if we really set God’s glory and our conformity to the likeness of His Son as our goal, then we would naturally seek out means by which we could make the most of our time, energy, and resources. Do you know what I mean?

        • Yes, I think I do, Reagan. I can’t help but think of Matthew 6:33 here (“seek first the kingdom”). You’re right- in Jesus’ economy, following Him is the most productive thing you can do, though it may seem a waste to the world (and to us at times, as well).

          It often seems that, when I chase productivity, effectiveness, etc., that I end up emphasizing form over function, and I soon grow weary. I think this says more about my heart and my rebelliousness than anything else, but perhaps it is a godly signal that I’m making things too complicated and burdensome.

          Maybe living as a productive disciple in the world is deceptively, unattractively simple. I have to remind myself that we follow a Man whose way of doing things is foolish to our hearts (1 Cor. 1:23). I love to be seen as wise, and to think of myself that way, but so much of my effort is vanity, when glorifying Him is so simple.

          • On the other hand, taken to an extreme, this can be a bit like the person who disdains theology and creeds because all you need is Jesus. True enough, but how do we know who Jesus is? How do we think about him, and how do we go about subsuming our lives under his authority? I guess there will always be a tension between these things- this kind of thought is necessary, but we need to examine ourselves.

By Reagan Rose
Redeeming Productivity A Christian Approach to Getting Stuff Done

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