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?
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 that are not shared by the world.
All philosophies of productivity, at bedrock, contain a theology. Therefore, there is a genuine need for 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 of 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.
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?Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art (Kindle Locations 754-758). Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.
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.
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 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 is 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)