The Normalization of Productivity
– Brian Lee
As the working world continues to figure out the life after the pandemic, a major issue that arose surrounds around the state of working from home: is this something to be adopted as a norm, or is this a major roadblock on productivity and company output. Those who support a return to the office believe that workers will only work to their fullness under a rigid structure and system under the guidance (or monitoring) of their supervisors; many of them believe that they will only get the full 40 work hours from their staff when they are present. Those on the other hand argues that they find much greater satisfaction in their work and produce the same work if not better in less time while working from home. The fundamental issue with talking about productivity is on what exactly we are trying to produce. Just because we are producing a lot of “something” doesn’t mean the product of our work is something of value. In fact, business studies have shown that despite their high number of weekly overtime hours, many companies in Japan produces a whole lot of nothing in those extra time (meaningless work you would say).
If efficiency is the goal of our pursuit, then of course having a high ministry output, a big turnout in praying or bible studies, or a high Sunday Service attendance would be greatly celebrated. However, in the kingdom of God, productivity is a measure of our hearts – how grounded are we to Christ, how much do we make room to let him be Lord, or even how much are we willing to give up in pursuit of Him. Often, many of these metrics are hard to measure and are very subtle in nature. No one highly spiritual person is alike and it’s difficult to compare across each of them. Moreover, many of the greatest works of discipleship are counterculture to the ideals of efficiency.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10
A relevant analogy to the present world would be the gradual return towards the celebration of artisanship and craftsmanship. We don’t devalue artisan foods or products because of its inability to be mass produced or cost-effective. Like the Chinese idiom suggests, “慢工出細貨” (the slow craft produces the intricate product.) It is the personal diligence and care put into creating each high quality product that we attach a high value onto them. In the same way, God sees us as his handiwork and his art as he give his utmost care in grooming us. Likewise, he desires to see the same manner in the people whom we disciple and have brought under our wings.
Similarly, much of Jesus’s teachings on Christian “productivity” surrounds gardening, from the famous parable of the mustard seeds to the parables of the good soil. Although modern day agriculture has adopted new technology and techniques to mass produce crops, the prized produces are often done in small lots under the special care of the dedicated farmers. (As seen in some of the most expensive $1000 melons in Japan!) To produce good fruits, we cannot rush the process and we cannot expect the same cook-cutter methods to work each time, as many different factors are to be accounted for. In our personal walk, we cannot expect the same 10-step guides or other shortcuts to work like wonders in our own life. We will need to practice some of the most mundane and subtle steps to deeper our longing and desires for God. Sometimes, this also requires us to drop everything “productive” that we do in order to dwell in rest and be attentive to our hearts. Equally we have to treat each individual we disciple as a valued prized possession in our walk and invest in them deeply with our attention and time in order to grow depth in their spiritual life.
May we grow into a church that focus not simply on the number of fruits, but also on the quality of fruits that we bear.