Theology of workflow connects dots between spirituality and efficiency
Promptly replying to emails can be just as missional as working in a soup kitchen, say advocates of a theology of workflow and organization.
By Jeff Brumley
As assistant executive director of the Virginia Baptist Missions Board, Glenn Akins is charged with all kinds of big-picture kingdom work, including keeping churches up to speed on cultural trends and demographics.
âItâs important for churches to recognize changes so they can keep reaching new people for Christ,â he said.
But there is another â and just as important â way Akin says he does the Lordâs work every day: by keeping on top of his emails.
âI donât like my inbox getting any bigger than my computer screen.â
How does Akins equate helping churches survive a post-Christian culture with answering emails in a timely and friendly manner? By viewing both as a way to help others get their jobs done.
And that, he added, is being a living witness of Christ, whether in big or small moments and tasks. Thatâs huge in an era when everyone â from pastors to I.T. techs â is extremely busy.
âOne of the ways I can honor them and acknowledge how harried they are, how thin their margins are, is by responding on a timely basis to their requests for help.â
âNarrow view of workâ
That may seem odd to some, but not to Matt Perman. Instead, hearing another Christian connect the dots between efficiency and spirituality is music to his ears.
âI think this is a huge gap in the church,â said Perman, a Minneapolis resident, Baptist and author of Whatâs Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.
That gap, he said, keeps Christâs followers from seeing the importance of the seemingly mundane, day-to-day work they do on Godâs mission in the world.
Permanâs mission, like that of his book, is to present a theology of labor and organization that pushes Christians to put the needs of others first â and not only by feeding the homeless or building houses in Haiti.
âPaul says âabound in the work of the Lord,â and that means be productive,â Perman told ABPnews/Herald. âBut we have this narrow view that âthe work of the Lordâ means working in a soup kitchen or going on missions to Africa.â
More than retreats
There has been some push back to Permanâs theology of organization, including his critique of the practice of some Christians to treat the stress of life and work with spiritual retreats.
Retreats, whatever their form and length, can be useful in giving the faithful a time-out and a wider perspective on their challenges, he said.
âBut to me, retreats are not the answer to everything.â
They can even be problematic if they keep people retreating from challenges instead of facing them head-on.
âGod calls us to solve our problems,â he said. âLetâs stop making retreats with Jesus the solution to every problem we have.â
Perman said tackling big or small chores, at home or at work, can be just as spiritually refreshing if a person sees those tasks from a Christ-like perspective.
âA lot of times we donât see our work as service, but just as something to get a paycheck,â he said. âYour work takes on a whole new meaning when you see it as an avenue through which to serve others.â
âBe fundamentally groundedâ
But just as important as not running from or minimizing tasks like email and organization is not letting to-do lists become task-masters, said Jayne Davis, minister of spiritual formation at First Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C.
âI never got the idea that Jesus got up in the morning and had a to-do list,â Davis said. âHe had one item on his list, and that was to make God known to the world.â
Davis said she agrees with much of Permanâs conclusions, especially because sheâs âa to-do list kind of girl.â
Yet, she must remember not to fall into the trap of equating her identity with her accomplishments or job. Also, she must remember that to-lists are never completed.
âWe have to be fundamentally grounded in the idea that we are acceptable just as ourselves before God,â Davis said. âSo make sure you know the ultimate goal of your list â which is making sure all those [items] have a God-given purpose.â
âBlows them awayâ
Thatâs the view Akins has of his to-lists and email inbox, and it transforms any task into a work of service.
âI might be responding to some admin that needs a piece of information so she can do her job,â Akins said. âBecause if I am holding her up, it holds up something else down the line.â
Akins said he knows the world needs more of that attitude because, often, people are shocked that he replies in a timely manner to requests for help or information.
âThey are not expecting that,â he said. âIt just kind of blows them away.â
That is much better than the alternative, he said.
âBut if all I do is blow them off and fuss over the administrative stuff, I am discounting them â and that just wounds me.â
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