the perils of productivity

there’s a great deal of talk on the blogosphere about church becoming like a business (the advantages thereof and the dangers therein).  while scripture is clear that the church should be administered carefully and skillfully, the road to church growth is fraught with danger.  i believe there are some business concepts–born in marketing–that the church must avoid at all costs.

i was in sales for many years and i was pretty good at it.  back then people used to say, “you should be a preacher.”  now they say, “you should be a salesman.”  but i digress…

once you kinda’ learn your product and how to present it, the focus shifts to productivity.  you start reading books on time management.  you begin to fixate on how many sales calls you can squeeze into one day, and you concentrate on making each call as perfect as it can possibly be.  productivity.  through productivity you can become the rising star…the darling of management…the top producer (and with it, money and accolades).  productivity is the currency of successful business.

but does business success translate to ministry success?

in the christian realm, there is no shortage of time management books and articles and seminars.  it looks to me as if a lot of churches are hiring “productivity  specialists”–people whose sole job is to maximize every ministry opportunity.  they have cool-sounding titles like “executive pastor” or “director of administration” or “experience coordinator” or “connections pastor” (i’m certainly not indicting all people with those titles), and their job is packaging, image management, marketing.

you might say, “what’s wrong with the church becoming more effective? more productive?”  nothing at all!  i am just apprehensive about the focus of our mission. pete wilson made some really good points in his message on the discipline of worship (see a snippet here) with which i agree.  he said,


we are wired to think on something bigger and better and richer than ourselves…i’ve got to bring my mind into the presence and glory and wonder of god.


as i thought about that i began to see my efforts at “managing the sunday experience” as futile and even counter-productive.  i began to wonder if my role as “assimilation pastor” was more about connecting people to my church (and, by association, me) than to god.  i asked myself, “who is the manager here?  who is the employee? (and here’s a terrifying thought) what is the product?”

i’ve been trying to “grow myself” into a place of reliance on the lord as my source.  in every area of my life.  i teach my people about the importance of silence and solitude, and yet i am the tasmanian freaking devil on the weekends.  can i trust god to make my ministry productive, or is he relying on my efforts in that area?  why does it feel like i am being lazy and selfish if i wait on god?  (is panic a virtue?)

i love what mark buchanan says on the subject (warning!  another your god is too safe quote!):


god doesn’t need to be invoked, we do.  we need to be called to our senses, to be as present to god as god is to us.  to stop running, stand still, breathe in.

the vast majority of our life needs not burning, but baptizing.  why can’t we read a book, build a house, cobble a shoe for jesus’ sake?  why can’t we just gather our whole lives into the divine embrace?  why have we such a ready impulse to see pastoring as a vocation and plumbing as a job?  why can’t we practice a different way of seeing, where god is honored as much in the well-spliced pipe as the well-spoken sermon?

our world has become full of gimcrack and gimmicks, haste and hustle.  god has become merely another appointment in a crammed day-timer.  when is there time for god?  there’s so much work to do.  oh yes, how we’d love to take a year off, live in a monastery, study in a seminary, hole up in a hermitage with just our bible.  but do and do, rule on rule, a little here, a little there; it eclipses worship.


its in times like these when i entertain a hope that my church does not grow.  i know me.  i am so easily swept up by (and addicted to) productivity.  i want success.  if a kid comes in, i go after her parents.  if a teacher comes in, i will visit the school.  let god send me one prostitute and i ask for the brothel.  is that bad?  evil?  sinful?  as always, it all goes to motivation.  who am i doing this for…really?

am i a hypocrite if i believe the “rely totally on the providence of god” stuff works for the people but not the leader?


5 thoughts on “the perils of productivity

  1. Randy…great read.

    “why have we such a ready impulse to see pastoring as a vocation and plumbing as a job?”

    I’d much rather the church impact business, than business impact the church.

  2. My mistake…apparently I was trying to steal your identity.

    Randy…great read.

    “why have we such a ready impulse to see pastoring as a vocation and plumbing as a job?”

    I’d much rather the church impact business, than business impact the church.

  3. I love were your heart is going and the post is amazing.

    For people like me that SUCK and earning it, God’s providence is the only thing I have ever had going anyway.

    For you this kind of talk is borderline psychotic so I am very impressed with your ability to change. Especially at such an old age.

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