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The gospel transforms all of life, and that includes how we get things done, according to Matt Perman in What’s Best Next: “Being productive is about doing good for others—creatively, competently, and abundantly.”
Perman argues (well) that productivity matters because it’s part of our sanctification process and our means of glorifying God. He merges a rich theology of work with business and time-management principles. His main principle for getting things done is to decide what’s best next and just do it, or at least schedule it.
I appreciated his thoughtful, gospel-focused view of work, even the everyday tasks, whether as pastors, engineers or stay-at-home-moms. I’m motivated and equipped to budget my time, pre-allocating slots for the most essential things (the things that do the most good) while saving space in my life for the little things I know will come up—embracing the unexpected interruptions as a chance to serve others.
However, his section on defining your life vision I found to be less than helpful. I can see how knowing your mission, vision and core values helps in prioritizing tasks. But the idea of deciding my life goal—something big that would take my whole life to accomplish, but that is different from my mission and something unique to me—while it sounds nice, is a little overwhelming. I was disappointed that the only examples he gave were the apostle Paul (bringing the gospel to the Gentiles) and William Wilberforce (ending the slave trade). I would have appreciated more ideas, including his own.
In the end, I decided I was OK with not having a life vision, as long as I keep my mission (to glorify God, love others and make disciplemakers) forefront in each of my specific contexts—whether youth ministry, my family or my neighborhood.
Overall, though, I highly recommend this book, so that we might learn to maximize our time and be abundant in doing good—for the glory of God, for the life of the world and for a lot less frustration for us all.
Jennifer M. Kvamme is student ministries coordinator at Centennial EFC (Forest Lake, Minnesota) and mom to two beautiful daughters, ages 3 and 1.
Is there really a gospel basis for productivity practices? Unfortunately, What’s Best Next fails to make the case. Perman’s treatment of the theology of gospel-driven productivity lacks cohesion. His theology section is a collection of loosely related ideas, an over-abundance of quotes from Piper and Jonathan Edwards, an overly simplistic exegesis of biblical texts (is productivity really a fruit of the Spirit?), a superficial handling of the doctrine of vocation, and almost no discussion of rest.
Where Perman does excel is in his analysis of the problem facing knowledge workers in today’s economy. Ambiguity, overload and mass connectivity have made it harder for today’s worker to answer, “What’s the best thing for me to do with the time I have?” Perman offers an excellent system for finding clarity, one I am eager to apply in my own work.
I recommend reading the first two chapters, where Perman diagnoses the problem, then skip ahead to the practical system in parts three through six. If you don’t already think about your work as a calling, read Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor for a much more robust and contextualized theology of work.
Joey Woestman is pastor of student ministry at Faith Church (EFCA) in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The surprise in this book was the constant focus on serving others. That’s not what you would expect in a book on productivity. But Perman’s specific emphasis on love, the insights from Jonathan Edwards and Charity and Its Fruits, and his concluding focus on global missions as the end goal of productivity were all high points mentioned by the group of young men with whom I am reading this book.
The primary weakness is that he tried to do too much. The focus on vision and values could have been reduced or eliminated in order to spend more time on the nuts and bolts of productivity, where Perman is strong.
Perman’s blog, whatsbestnext.com, is the go-to resource for this topic, and the hub for countless other tools and resources related to gospel-centered productivity. I would highly recommend this book for ministry leaders to read together, both for church-related application and for application to the work world.
Craig Johnson is an EFCA-ordained pastor and ministerial association member presently serving as pastor for parent and children’s discipleship at the nondenominational Cow Creek Community Church in Palo Cedro, California.