Volume 7 Number 3

Time to break the silence on this blog re: David Allen's "Getting things done". This book is a wonderful blessing in personal organisation.

It is the kind of book that if you are already fairly organised you can flip through and get lots of hints and tips from to include in your own way of doing things, such as:

  • For any job, goal, meeting, plan, chore always ask 'What is the next, actual, concrete, physical action I need to do to get this done?'. That can be quite a difficult skill to master. We tend to gloss of the next actual action to the overall outcome. For example if I want to get my car fixed, my first action is to find the mechanic's number. In a meeting, when a problem gets raised, the next action may be simply to talk with the person who raised the problem and then re-evaluate next time, rather than devoting 10 mintues with everyone giving their opinion on the problem.
  • Make your filing system as uncomplicated as possible. Don't bother with hanging files in your filing cabinet. Just let the manila folders sit in the filing drawer. If you are going to use hanging files, restrict it to one manila folder per hanger, so that you don't complicate the system by having to find the right hanger then the right file.
  • Whenever a job, task or chore requires more than one action to be completed (even writing aletter, buying a stamp and posting it), consider it a 'project' and keep track of it on a separate 'projects' list. That helps you break down even the most mundane of jobs into do-able actions... rather than seeing 'write to Grandma' on your TODO list, and getting a gush of all the things you need to do to get that done.
  • Keep separate TODO lists for each sphere of activity: @ Phone, @ Computer, @ Home, @ Office, Errands etc
  • Have an INBOX. One INBOX. Regularly flush it clean. Don't even put anything back into the INBOX. You don't need to necessarily do everything in your INBOX. Just get it into your system so it will be done later.
  • Have a series of checklists on your overall goals, things to remember for various levels of life:
    1. Runway items: things you need to keep being mindful of day-to-day
    2. 10 000 foot items: things to be aware of in your various projects
    3. 20 000 foot items: things to be aware of in your overall areas of responsibility
    4. 30 000 foot items: 1-2 year goals
    5. 40 000 foot items: 3-5 year goals
    6. 50 000 fot items: life goals
  • Do a weekly review where you scan over everything, to capture any outstanding items. Plan for the future week. Do this early afternoon of the last day of your working week, so that you enjoy your day off and start the next week well.
  • Keep your calendar free of everything except those things which must happen on that day. Never put the things you'd just like to do on that day.
  • Change anything in your personal organisation system that makes you resist getting organised: never have a filing cabinet more than 2/3 full, have your INBOX within reach of your computer/desk, get a stapler that makes a satisfying 'thump'.
  • When ideas or possible actions come up along the way, write each new idea on a separate piece of paper. This means that each separate piece of paper can be filed away immediatley, rather than being re-written/crossed off etc.
  • There are three ways to decide what you should be doing:
    1. By first asking what context your are in, then by time is available, third by asking how much energy you have and lastly by asking what is the greatest priority.
    2. By considering the three types of work you could do: Predefined work, Defining the work you have to do, Doing work that just turns up.
    3. By consider your higher-level goals.
But I think there is probably a large mass of us who would most benefit from putting the whole system into practice. It's threatening to read a book on personal organisation, because most of us take some degree of pride in our self-discipline. But because of this it's very hard to hear the suggestions of a different approach. I think that even to get the most out of the book, it is worth reading it as if you are going to implement the entire system.

So what is the system? Well it means having 10 buckets that capture your life:
  1. INBOX: Everything goes into the inbox. If you can't fit it in there, write a note about it. You must regularly (daily/weekly), flush your inbox item by item. Start from the top and work your way day. Never put anything back into the inbox. Never get more than one thing out at a time. You don't need to do each thing, but you need to put it in the system. So your email inbox should always be getting to empty. It is not a reminder page. Archive emails you won't answer immediately and put a reminder in your system.
  2. Rubbish: If you are not going to do anything about it, if you don't want it for future reference, then get rid of it.
  3. TO DO lists: Have separate lists for each different context. These are all single-action items. If you need to do more than one thing to complete a task, it is really a project (see below).
  4. Calendar: Only for 1. Things that are going to get done and have to get done on that specific day. These need to be actions not just topics (eg 'call David', 'brainstorm conference'); or 2. Reminders of things that will be happening on that day (eg 'preaching at Montrose').
  5. Waiting for: The list of things you have asked others to do, that you may need to return to and follow-up (eg 'Bernie send me Kevin's email address', 'Beckett return my encyclopaedia').
  6. Remind me later: A filing system or part of your calendar that contains things you definitely want to start thinking about again at a later date. I have a page inserted in my diary (it's a binder-style diary so i can insert pages), that lists actions I need to address each week/month of the coming year - 'start planning sermon on Acts 20'.
  7. Someday/maybe: List of actions that you don't need to do now, and you don't necessarily want to do in the forseeable future, but you want to keep record of (eg Learn Chinese).
  8. Project support material: The various checklists, information and other items relating to the more-than-one-action items you are doing at the moment.
  9. Checklists: Those things that you want to make sure that you remember in a certain area of task (eg things to do when packing for a holiday). Can be kept in reference file or project file.
  10. Reference file: Stuff that requires no immediate action, but that you want to keep to refer to later. Books, Bible studies, letters, brochures. File in one A-Z system, only have one extra level (eg Conference/Church Conferences)
Each of these are very clear and distinct buckets. Everything needs to go in one of them. They should never serve more than one purpose. An INBOX shoudl not also be a reminder list. A calendar is not also a general TODO list. A project folder should not contain general reference info or ideas for next time you do that action.

As you flush your INBOX, then you ask the following: What is it? What is the next action?
  1. If no next action... Dump it? Put it in the Reference file? Put it in the Someday/Maybe file?
  2. If next action... Either Do it (if it takes less than 2 mins), Delegate it (and put into Waiting for list) or Defer it (and put it into TODO list, Calendar or Remind me later system) - simple to remember: Do, Dodge, Delay or Destroy.
Ok that's enough. John 14:31.

Volume 7 Number 2

Sorry about not posting for a while.

1. Thinking about our how our job is an expression of our worship of Christ is a challenge. There a three levels we need to think on. First, we need to think how we conduct ourselves morally. Individually, we should strive to be godly, dilligent and kind in our work.. But also professionally, many of us have job which is itself a godly activity. A mother or a doctor are actually doing a godly thing for their employment.

Second, there are the spiritual activities that we can be invovled in because of our work. We have opportunities to love individuals we meet through work, we may be given opportunities to speak about Christ to our workmates, we all have the opportunity to pray for our workplace and workmate. Moreover, if we are earning money, then some of this is given to the church, some to those in need, and the rest is used to stop you being a burden on others.

Third, we should remember that every part of our lives are an offering of worship to Christ. This should drive us to constant prayers of thanks, as well as prayers that what we do may be pleasing to him. This should surely motivate us to do everything we do with excellence.

2. I have been thinking how we might improve on our 'newcomers nights'. Have we been pitching these evenings in too much of a 'program-church' way? Can it be more personalised? This might involve some of the following:

(a) Make the invitation to be an invite from me (as the pastor), even given by me and held at my house? This would provide more of a sense of getting access to the pastor... rather than just to the institution.

(b) Pitched as an occasional thing, rather than an official, organised program that they may plug into. So rather than:

"'Crossroads' (some nebulous insitutional consciousness) is organising this program that isn't specifically for you but you may like to come"

Make it:

"Mikey would like to invite Tom, Dick and Jane around to get to know you and share with you a bit about what it means to be a part of the Crossroads community"

(c) Don't have generic fliers... especially not general-info fliers as they currently are. Rather, have letters, or at least invitations with 'Dear ____' on them.

3. Reasons why we might apologise for a public statement that causes offence:

(a) Because we were factually incorrect

(b) Because we were unkind or unwise in when/how/where we said it

(c) Because we

4. Some logistics of using email in ministry organising:

(a) Realise it has a low grab-rate. It may seem more efficient, but in some ways it is less so. Many people are more likely to forget an email or not feel they have to worry about what it requests.

(b) Realise that you are sacrificing the opportunity for valuable face-time/phone-time. You can use email to organise ministry but it seems to have less relational value. Most people tend not to feel like they've caught up with you if they receive an email, whereas an organising phonecall can also give a bit of a social dimension.

(c) If organising something, never send an open-ended email to a group list like:

"How shall we do lunch? Who wants to bring what?"


"When shall we meet? What's a good time?"

This tends to freeze people up... it's a diffusion of responsibility. Noone responds so then you get crabby and complain to the email list's inaction. As a result people either feel guilty or resentful.

Far better to propose a time/venue, or propose who should bring what things for lunch. Then you can always re-negotiate as you go.

5. I have heard that some hospitality staff think of the post-church crowd as one of the most nightmarish customer-groupings of the hospitality week. They take over several tables, often people don't order anything, they assume the waiting staff realise that all these separate tables are together, they always want to split the bill, they move chairs and even move tables after placing orders, they don't listen to the waiter/waitress when he/she is trying to ask who ordered the skinny capuccino...

Surely an area of godliness we need to grow in.

6. It is hard for blokes to welcome new blokes into the church. Blokes are less likely to go out for a coffee and 'chat' together. This is a reason why it's good to be on the lookout for shared activities. If you discover that a blokes is doing up his car or building a shed, this is prime getting-to-know-you material. Sheds are to guys what cups of coffee are to girls.

7. Covenant and creation: I read an article in the Reformed Theological Review (P. Williamson, "Covenant: The Beginning of a biblical idea" 65:1) arguing that it was incorrect to think about Adam and Eve being in a covenantal relationship with God. Three things:

(a) The writer said that we shouldn't define 'covenant' too broadly. We must retrict ourselves to the biblical usage. I don't think this is quite fair. I think of the covenant with David, which doesn't appear to be characterised by much formal ratification.

Theological categories, if helpful in describing biblical truths, can often be broader than the specific uses of the word in the pages of Scripture. For example, the category 'prophecy' is helpfully used, even if situations where someone is not specifically called a prophet. That's why we can call Joshua-2Kings 'the Former Prophets'.

Do we need to find proof that Scripture uses the word 'covenant' to describe the Trinity's commitment ot redeem the elect? Do wee need to find Scriptural use of the word 'covenant' to describe God's relatoinship to Adam and Eve? I don't think there is anything theologically misleading in using 'covenant' in broader cases, as long as you think through the reasons why God chose not to use that word all the time.

(b) One reason the article gave for not using the word 'covenant' for God's relationship to Adam and Eve is "Rather than establishing or framing such a divine-human relationship, a covenant seals or formalizes is. The biblical order is relationship, then covenant, rather than covenant, hence relationship."

I would want to clarify this. Even if a relationship already exists before a covenant is made, a covenant creates a new relationship: a covenantal one. It brings a new type of relationship into being. Think about marriage. More than that, when God initiates a relationship with someone, and then makes a covenant with himself, then it is right to see the whole relationship as being covenantal. The relationship was initiated with the purpose of establishing the covenant.

In fact, it is probably right to take this a step further, given the character of God as the faithful God. All God's dealings are in accordance with his good plans and intentions and God remains faithful to his plans and intentions.

In all of these ways, it is right to see the historical and concrete examples of 'covenant', often tied to cultural conventions of the ancient world, as being more concrete expressions of God's promise-making-promise-keeping character.

(c) The article sees covenant as an idea that was introduced by God after the Fall of man. It doesn't represent the way things originally were, and therefore it doesn't represent the end-goal that the whole world is moving towards:

"Rather than allowing creation to be subsumed under covenant, covenant must be understood in the context of creation. The priority of creation over covenant has important ramifications for salvation history. The latter is concerned not merely with the restoration of the divine-human relationship establsihed at creation, but ultimately with the renewal of all things, including the creation itself."

I don't think that by emphasisng the covenant-nature of God's dealings with himself and the world necessarily subsumes creation under covenant. In a sense it does, in so far as God's prior intentions in creating the world are more important than the sheer fact that he did create the world. But more generally the relationship is a bit more mutually supportive than that.

Further, I don't think that a focus on covenant limits our view of salvation to the restoration of divine-human relationships. As far as I can see, the biblical covenants always carry with them humanity's responsibility over the earth, and God's commitment to bless humans with a place of rest.

Volume 7 Number 1

1. A guy called Myka articulated the problem with postmodern/relativist tolerance quite nicely: It reduces the power our beliefs have over ourselves and others.

2. An important thing to prepare people for when they go to Bible College is that godliness for them will look very different, serveing God as full-time Bible College students, rather than active church members/ministers.

3. The incarnational model of mission seems to place the stress on us imitating the incarnation, by incarnating ourselves in the culture we are trying to reach.
I think a slightly different emphasis would be helpful: James 1:21 tells us that God has already incarnated his Word in us. We are already in the world/in the flesh/"in-carnate". The challenge is not so much becoming more in the world, the challenge is for the Word that is planted in us to have control over every area of our lives.
If we take seriously the call for us to humbly submit to the word planted in us in every area of our lives, we will find ourselves thinking throuhg all the 'incarnational-mission' questions: how does the word of God planted in me affect my reaction to sport, or art?
But I think it is important to recognise that it is not being in the world that we need to strive for, rather it is the Word being incarnate in us that is teh miracle.

4. "There's no secret to x (fill in the gap: preaching/church planting/cultural engagement)... you just gotta get on with it. You gotta put you trust in the gospel, not in some methodology".

That is the evangelical cliche in the circles I move in. Intuitive, pragmatic, just-get-on-with-the-gospel. The intuitive approach has many benefits. It releases you from having to have the perfect model. It recognises that you learn through doing. It allows you to incorporate exceptions to the rule. It can help you put your trust in God and his gospel, rather than the latest technique.


There is a hidden tyranny of the intuitive approach. Let me list some of its dangers:

a. It can be naive: all of us have certain assumptions and models of doing things that shape what we do and how we think. Our intuition is informed by millions of examples and ideas that contrict what we think is normal/natural/right.

b. It can be impervious to criticism: if you define clearly what principles and plans shape your ministry, you are open to having these points assessed, questioned and challenged. But if you say that what you do is just an intuitive application of getting on with the gospel, you may subtly imply that those who disagree with you are disagreeing with the gospel.

c. It can be slow to change: there are certain big-picture assumptions that shape everything we do. If we don't lay them out clearly, we may never see them.

d. It can be arrogant: there are so many things that we can learn from people who have gone before us. Failing to take the time to think through the practical wisdom of others, and to learn from the mistakes of others is putting a lot of faith in our intuition.

e. It can be unfair: the intuitive thinker and just-get-on-with-it approach acutally does borrow plenty of theoretical ideas from here there and everywhere. In practice it recognises the value of the critical, analytical and theoretical thinkers. But if someone is in our church and has these gifts, they would not receive the encouragement and support to develop them. The intuitive church praises insightful analysis in books, but rejects it when it appears in the church.

f. It can be unbalanced educationally: There are some people who are more theoretical/analytically minded. They will better learn how to do x (preach/church plant etc) if we explain these things with a more sturctured model.

g. It can be unbalanced criticially: It is very common to hear:

"Now don't get me wrong, we can learn a lot from church growth manuals... *but* we must never ever put out faith in those things...".

It is not so common to hear:

"Now don't get me wrong, we must not put our faith in church growth manuals.... *but* if we want to serve God in our generation, we must learn how to grow and improve in even the practical elements of ministry."

The assuption is that our danger is always corporate, managerial, program-driven stuff. I doubt this. I think that sometimes our danger is to put our faith in hackneyed, un-thought-through, derivative, intuitive models, rather than having the dilligence and humility to think how best to do ministry in our context.