I am a little bit sick of the Getting Things Done (GTD) evangelists pushing GTD as the only way to live. GTD does not fit with my personality type. And it’s not something that is Biblically mandated. At the very least it falls into the category of wisdom. But it’s possible to be productive without having a “to do” list with the methodological ticking off of checkboxes.
Here’s a Mark Driscoll sermon on the barren fig tree. Now, I don’t want to get into the finer points of Mark Driscoll’s preaching here, but I think it’s fair to say that what he does with the figs borders on allegory, and if he’s preaching as though he’s speaking God’s word to God’s people, then this is just wrong. I don’t need to conform to the GTD view of productivity to be doing good kingdom work. Here’s the passage he’s preaching from:
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’
It’s bizarre that he opens up this sermon with this quote:
“That being said, I want to give you a few principles for interpreting parables in general and then we’ll look at today’s parable in particular. Now, when it comes to interpreting the parables, one thing I will say is that they are frequently abused and misunderstood. They are mistreated, misinterpreted, misapplied. So we have to be careful with them.
One way that this happens is that people will use the parables to teach doctrine. The parables are simple stories. They’re not intended to introduce new doctrines. They illustrate, illuminate existing doctrines, they’re extended analogies. So the Bible teaches a propositional truth claim and the parable illustrates it. It helps to expand it, illuminate it. It gives us new perspective on it.”
Now. Here’s where he starts veering into the “you must GTD” territory that I find pretty harmful, and based solely on what has worked for him, in his circumstances, with his personality. Here he starts with his conclusion, and then essentially begs the question. He defines fruitfulness before he says that God cares about fruitfulness. But who says his definition of fruitfulness is right?
“Here’s the question that is seeking to be answered by the parable: Does God care about results, yes or no? Yes, God cares about results. God cares about effectiveness. God cares about performance. Here the word that encompasses all of that is “fruit,” “fruit.” God cares about fruitfulness. Fruitfulness here is good works. Good works, obedience, a changed life, living a kind of life that makes a difference, that when your life on the earth is done, people miss you because you were a gift to them. You were a channel of God’s grace to them. You provided wisdom or generosity or help or service or rebuke or encouragement. That you were giving. That you were fruitful. That your life counted. That you weren’t just a consumer, you were a producer. You didn’t just take from everyone and everything, but you gave and they were blessed by you.”
He doesn’t tie salvation to fruitfulness – in fact, he explicitly says that we’re different from traditional religion that does do that, and that we’re saved by grace, but his exhortation to live wisely borderlines on mandating his personal approach to life as normative Christian behaviour.
“It’s not about just belonging to Jesus and going to heaven. It’s about belonging to Jesus, living a fruitful life, and then going to heaven for an eternal reward. Your life counts, your life counts, your life matters. God has fruit for you to bear. He has good works for you to do. He has things for you to accomplish. Not so that you can become a Christian, but because you are. Not so that you’ll become pleasing in his sight, but because through Christ you already are.”
Ok. With you still.
“And so, to extend the analogy, Mars Hill is a vineyard. He’s a tree, she’s a tree, you’re a tree, I’m a tree, we’re all trees. This is God’s vineyard. We’re all fig trees. And it’s a good time for us to look back on the previous year and celebrate and rejoice. Say, “You know what? Insofar as a vineyard goes, what a great vineyard Mars Hill Church is. So much to celebrate, so much to rejoice in. Biggest harvest ever, praise God. Look at all the figs.”
Hmm. Ok. So fruit is how big your church gets. One thing I will say about Driscoll is his opening, middle, and closing statements about Mars Hill are always on message and reinforcing the brand. They do this so well. Have a look at some transcripts. Somehow joining the City, the social network they use, signing up for a small group, and getting your life in order so that you can contribute to church life, is an application of every passage. Be part of us. Join us. Serve the community. That stuff is great. But before the end is some more middle – and we’re now being asked to hold two truths central to our interpretation of this passage. We’re building a syllogism baby. One – God wants you to be fruitful and effective, two we are to identify the figs that weren’t appearing in this parabolic man’s vineyard as our own works and productivity.
Here’s where we get a little bizarre. The application, well, one of them (and this is the tip of a pretty deep iceberg)…
“Some of you, your big problem is you don’t count your figs. You’ve got to measure, count. Some of you are naturally administratively gifted and organized. You’re so freakishly tidy, you actually need to calm down, okay? But some of you need to get a label maker and you need to get a plan, right? You need to put some plans together.
Let’s say, for example, you want to lose weight this year and you want to be healthy. First thing you need is a scale. “How many figs do I weigh? Okay, how many figs do I weigh? I got to count my figs.” And then you got to read the boxes and labels. “How many calories, how many figs am I eating?” You’ve got to track it.
Some of you say, “I don’t like numbers. I’m not good with numbers.” You got to learn to count your figs. You won’t make changes in your life unless you’re tracking it, keeping an accounting and a reckoning of it. That’s the point of the parable. He’s got an idea of where his figs are coming from and where there is fruitlessness.
And some more…
Number four, measure fruitfulness, not busyness. This one’s huge. Some of you say, “I’m busy! I’m active! I’m so busy, I’m committed to every—” but are you fruitful? There’s a big difference between busyness and fruitfulness. Some people, they are filled with coffee. They’re returning e-mails, talking on the phone, texting while they’re driving, doing their make-up and their hair while doing Pilates on their way to work. I mean, they’re multi-taskers, they’re busy, they’re active, they’re rushed. They’re always late, they’re not emotionally present when they’re there with you. They’re taking calls over dinner, I mean they—stuff’s falling through the cracks. They’re not sleeping enough, they’re stressed out and shaking. “I’m so busy!” And what they want is compassion. What they need is fruitfulness. Some of you need to learn to say, “I can’t do that, I can’t do that, I can’t do that. I need to see three things through to completion rather than seven things through to incompletion. I need to be fruitful, not just busy.
Then you have to get a mentor, like the guy in the parable did. And use your manure. Like the mentor in the parable said to – and the whole way through Driscoll is peppering his talk with examples from his own life.
GTD is the new prosperity gospel
If you order your life it’ll be better. That’s the line we’re being fed by those who’ve read and conformed to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Mark Driscoll is a disciple, and one of his points of application in this sermon is basically the “capture everything” mentality of GTD. I can’t imagine spending my life trying to write down everything I think and do. So that I’ll do it better next time. Here’s my tip “Just do it”… it worked for Nike. All this reflection seems bizarre. And I don’t think Jesus spent each evening meditating on his day. He just kept doing the stuff he had to do. I’m not sure he was ticking off a list either. Because he was happy enough to change his plans and be distracted when people came up to him in crowds.
“So I spent a little time working on my life, not just in it, putting together my schedule for this year, my travel schedule for the next eighteen months, my preaching schedule for the next twenty-four months. Plans for Mars Hill, plans for my family, trying to tee it all up. Yeah, there will be adjustments, nothing’s perfect. I sat down with Gracie and we took a whole day, just us, laptops, paperwork, put it all together.
What’s an ideal week look like? What do you need from me? What’s working? What’s not working? How can we help? How do we need to adjust the kids’ chores? How did the holidays work? What do we need for vacations this year? What are we going to do for the kids’ birthdays? What about sports? You know the complexity of life. And Gracie and I spent a whole day putting the year together. We made a plan. We made a plan. And by the grace of God, we’ll take notes along the way and we’ll make adjustments and next year will be better than the year that we’re looking forward to right now, I hope and pray, by the grace of God.”
It’s great that GTD works for some people – but preaching it, from the pulpit, without any alternatives, is just a little too “conform to my way of thinking” for my liking. It’s wisdom, it’s not an imperative. There’s no 11th commandment.
This quote is pretty cool though, it may contain traces of ninja:
Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who was a Christian, he had a great insight regarding parables. He said that parables sneak up on you. They’re like ninja stories. All right, you don’t seem them coming. Because if you’re confronted with the truth—let’s say for example you’re in sin and you’re confronted in the truth, you may bristle and fight and defend yourself, and a story, a good parable, sneaks up on you because you don’t see it coming.
I don’t think Jesus was a GTDer – what are your thoughts? Should I be breaking out the label maker and starting to systematise my life (my wife isn’t allowed to answer this question)?