GRACE@WORK MAIL 16/08
[April 18, 2008 Edition]

Commentary: Being before Doing
By Soo-Inn Tan

They could have had a comfortable house in the suburbs. But his office was in the city. If he had a house in the suburbs, the after work commute would mean that by the time he got home, his children would already be in bed. So he opted to have a home in the city.

The above snippet of information came up in casual conversation. But it revealed the heart of a man seriously trying to be faithful to his duties as a worker and as a father. Here was a man who realized it was not an “either/or” decision when it came to work and family.

I have just finished a seminar on time management with my church. In truth I prefer the term “life stewardship.” One of my convictions is that our primary call is not, “how can I juggle the never ending items in my to-do list.” My primary call is to be clear as to the main roles in my life. And to be a good steward of those roles.

I first got the idea of focusing on roles rather than on things to do from a book by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks entitled How to Balance Competing Time Demands (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1989). The authors challenge us to see life as a “pentathlon” where we have to take seriously our responsibilities in five key areas. In their study of the New Testament they believed that we have to be responsible for our duties in the areas of personal life, family, work, church and community. They maintain that often life is not an either or, but a call to be faithful in all these areas. Sherman writes: “Given the range of responsibilities we have and the limited time in a day, trade offs are necessary. Nevertheless, the goal of the believer is to improve in and be more Christlike in each area.” (http://www.navpress.com/EPubs/DisplayArticle/1/1.60.5.html)

The picture of the pentathlon also reminds us that we “win” only when we give adequate attention to all the “events.” It is pointless to be good in only one or two areas. If we do not think “pentathlon” we will naturally gravitate towards the area that has the most developed system of carrots and sticks and often that is the area of work. A global economy puts an ever-increasing pressure on companies to be more productive. Hence companies will develop more and more sophisticated systems of rewards and punishments to get more productivity from their people.

By comparison, working on a tough marriage, or raising difficult kids, may not give any immediate emotional rewards. The temptation is to put in more time at work because we know that if we work hard at the workplace we will get rewarded. Working hard at home however, may not bring immediate results. But if life is a pentathlon, wining at work but losing at home means we still “lose.” Of course results at home or at work are ultimately in the hands of God but Sherman and Hendricks remind us that to be a follower of Jesus means we need to take all our key roles seriously.

Sherman and Hendricks’ approach is somewhat similar to what Stephen Covey proposes in his best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York, NY: Free Press, 1989). Covey encourages us to plan our life week by week. Pro-actively we look at an upcoming week through the lens of our key roles and decide what needs to be done for each of our key roles. Those items are to be put in before we allow our calendars to be filled up.

“Important items are identified by focusing on a few key priorities and roles which will vary from person to person, then identifying small goals for each role each week, in order to maintain a holistic life balance. One tool for this is a worksheet that lists up to seven key roles, with three weekly goals per role, to be evaluated and scheduled into each week before other appointments occupy all available time with things that seem urgent but are not important. This concept is illustrated with a story that encourages people to ‘place the big rocks first.’” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Things_First_(book))

We note that when Paul exhorts us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) he quickly moves on to talk about our key relationships: in church (5:21 cr. 4:1-16), in marriage (5:22-33), parent-child relationships (6:1-4), and at work (6:5-9). Paul then moves on to talk about spiritual warfare (6:10-20). It would seem that for Paul, the first mark of a spirit filled community is how its members are faithful to the call to live out their primary roles in ways that reflect God’s values.

Sherman & Hendricks and Covey are correct in their insistence that roles and responsibilities come before the things we need to do. We are “being” before we are “doing.” We need to be clear as to who we are before we get bogged down trying to juggle the many things we have to do.

So what are the key roles of your life? I am a husband to Bernice, I am a father to four boys, I am a child to my mother and to Bernice’s parents, I am a member of Evangel Christian Church, I run a company that does publishing and training, and I have responsibilities to my friends and to my community. These are my basic roles and responsibilities. Each week I ask myself: “What are one or two key things I need to do for each of my roles so that I continue to be a faithful steward of that role?” (Not all roles may require special attention in a given week.) I keep in mind that one day I will have to give an account for ALL I have done in this life (2 Corinthians 5:10) and that means giving an account for what I have done in all my roles. However I know that when I seek to be faithful to all my key roles, it is also a choice to live a life that is full, and full of joy — the abundant life (John 10:10).