My Trouble with To-Do Lists

Ministry can be challenging, especially for somebody like me who values productivity. This is not to say that I’m the poster child for productivity – there are many days when I feel like I have done far too little! 

What I mean to say is that I am, in a way, addicted to productivity. I judge a day based on how much I get done. I put off rest so that I can achieve more productivity, thinking that present work will lead to future rest. Rarely, if ever, does this happen like I expect. 

If your goal in ministry is to complete a to-do list, you will never stop working. There is always one more lesson you can study for. One more event you can start planning. One more phone call you can make. One more note you can write. One more book you can read. So much more that, if you’re not careful, you begin to sacrifice the things that really count. 

As somebody who prioritizes productivity, I find myself gravitating towards the things in ministry with tangible results. Things like, giving a lesson that demands students’ attention (and by this, I obviously mean giving a lesson and never seeing a student looking down at their phone). Planning an event where everything goes as planned. Having a groundbreaking heart-to-heart with a student on the fringes. Things that we, as ministers, file away on our mental wall-of-fame that we look at from time to time when we need a pick-me-up or reminder that we belong in ministry. 

All of these things are great, but if this is where I find my sense of belonging in ministry, I have “rejected my first love,” to quote the words of Jesus in Revelation 2. 

The hard truth that I’ve recently had to come to grips with is, the most important task of a minister is not one with tangible outcomes. It’s not one that many people can – or will – hold you accountable for. It’s not one that offers instant fulfillment or satisfaction for a productivity fanatic like myself. But it is the ultimate purpose of mankind, not only for somebody in ministry, but for all people everywhere. 

We MUST take care of our hearts. We must carve out a place for Jesus that faces competition from nobody or nothing. We must devote ourselves fully and passionately to his purposes for our lives. Finally, as somebody in ministry, I must find my sense of self-worth in my relationship with Jesus, and not from any status or accomplishment that ministry has to offer me. 

Most of us know the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman at the well in John 4. Jesus compares the Christian walk to the process of seeking water when thirsty: some draw from a well that offers temporary fulfillment, but eventually leaves one feeling empty and thirsty. He presents himself as the better alternative, as one who offers lasting satisfaction. 

Truth be told, many of us know this passage and fail to apply it. We may not have had five husbands, but we look for fulfillment in all the wrong places. Because of this, we never find true joy or happiness. Jesus’ challenge is for us to not only give up sin, but to give up our own sense of satisfaction. What he has to offer, he assures us, is far better. 

If I look for a sense of meaning in productivity, I’ll find disappointment. If I look for my self-value in ministry, I’ll have bright and happy days, but I’ll also have dark, gut-wrenching days. If I find my purpose and status in my relationship with Jesus and as a child of God, I’ll be drawing water from a well that will never leave me feeling thirsty or empty. 

And although it will never be an item I can cross off a to-do list, it is the most productive decision I can make. 

2 thoughts on “My Trouble with To-Do Lists

  1. I totally agree. I get too busy with the busyness of my life & forget to spend time with Jesus! Thanks for your wisdom
    Aunt E


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