The “TO-DON’T” List

I am considered a “driven” person . . . I am “driven” to do things…to get things done. It’s my personality. It’s in my DNA.

To keep me on track, I have “To-Do” lists that I create and use to give me a sense of boundaries – of doing what I should be doing to be and remain effective in my time and ministry. There are quite a few things that populate my “To-Do” list; reminders of deadlines to meet or planning to be done; of meetings to attend and projects that need to be completed. My personal computer and phone are “synced” – they are tied together electronically so that what I may write on one shows up on both. To make sure I accomplish things orderly and in a timely fashion, I even will set “alarms” to go off as a reminder to remain on track.

As important as my “To-Do” lists are, there is another list that I have to create and keep track of as well – my “To-Don’t” list. Bill Tenny-Brittain, from “The Effective Church Group” describes the thinking this way in a recent blog post:

“Simply put, there are probable – almost certainly – a lot of things you’re doing in the church that others could do…that others should be doing. And there are probably a number of things you’re doing that no one should be doing, but you’re doing them because you’ve got to keep the fiddler on the roof (that is, Tradition!).”

As a guide for pastors, Bill included the words from Ephesians 4:11-13 in his blog:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

In others words, as a pastor, my job description is to “equip his people for works of service,” not be the “do-all” or “end-all” for the people I serve. As much as there is “to do,” there are also things that need to be listed on a “to-don’t” list.

            Similarly, churches often find themselves running around doing all kinds of things that are identified as “ministry,” but really don’t serve legitimate, kingdom outcomes. We plan our days around activities that keep us busy, but do not connect with or engage people in our neighborhoods or communities in way that helps people “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Like the pastors who serve them, churches need to write out a “To-Don’t” list, too.

In the “busy-ness” we call “ministry,” what is the reason…what is the purpose? If it does not help to connect people with Christ and help them (and us) mature as believers and followers of Jesus, then why do them? There are things we do in churches that no longer work, but we do them simply because “We’ve always done it that way.” Some of the things we honor from the past no longer work, but we keep on doing them because… They are “sacred cows” – that is, they are “untouchables” in the hearts of some; it doesn’t matter whether they work or not, it’s simply the way we have done things and will continue to do things. To quote one of my favorite books on the subject of church leadership – Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burger (written by Bill Easum).

In your personal life, as you reflect upon your personal “to-do” lists, what things are on it that need to be carefully examined? Are there things that (a) don’t need to be done by you, or (b) don’t need to be done at all? Get rid of them: put them on your “to-don’t” list.

And as a congregation: Are there things we do that simply don’t work…that are not effective? It may be that the purpose is valid, but the way we do things is no longer; what is getting in the way of Jesus? It’s time to put such things on our church’s “to-don’t” list, and see where God may be leading us in a different direction. In his closing thoughts, Bill Tenney-Brittain gives this advice:

“The list thing is to engage your Don’t Do list by Not Doing them. You may not be able to stop everything at once, but every week put your Don’t Do list onto whatever planner you use to remind you. Keep these Don’t Do’s in prayer, asking God to send you the people who can take the tasks off your plate…but at the same time, take the time you’ve saved by engaging points in your Don’t Do list and invest it in growing your church. Spend more time with those outside the church…so you can find those people. Stop doing…for the sake of your church. It’ll bless those who step into ministry. It’ll bless you by giving you time to do more effective ministry. And it will bless God by more effectively furthering God’s mission to make disciples.”

I would submit that “what’s good for the goose” (pastor) “is good for the gander” (everyone). Challenge on…