Zondervan has an incredible sale going on right now for the Kindle version of What’s Best Next. It’s only $6 through tomorrow (Sunday).
While you’re at it, I’d suggest getting the hard cover as well. I find that even when I have the Kindle version, some books are best to have in hard copy as well because that makes it easier to interact with them and refer back to them.
I wrote What’s Best Next with the aim that it would be of enduring usefulness to people, and hope that everyone who has picked it up so far has found it to be just that kind of book!
Jen Pollock Michel takes me to task on that over at Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog, which provides news and analysis from the perspective of evangelical women.
But the thing is: she’s right. And, she’s very gracious. She understands the book, enjoyed it, and found it helpful. The whole review is excellent and I highly commend it to you.
She isn’t saying that the book totally misses it on a woman’s perspective. Not at all. But she points to some important correctives. She argues that the first half of the book, where I give a theology of productivity, is right on. Her point is that when I enter into the second, more practical half, I tend to leave behind issues that are most specifically relevant to women. She summarizes this very well:
The first half of What’s Best Next demonstrates clearly that Matt Perman values all work. “Good works are not simply the rare, special, extraordinary, or super spiritual things we do. Rather, they are anything that we do in faith.” I only wish the second half of the book had made more mention of so-called women’s work. (In fact, upon closer examination of the book, I realize how “male” the book really is, not only in terms of its conception of time and work, but in its consultation. All 12 endorsers are male, and of the 20 books in the recommended reading list, only two are written by women.)
Thank you, Jen. You make very good points, and I appreciate that you pointed this out to me in such a gracious way. This is exactly the type of push-back that helps all of us grow — and we especially need it in areas like this, which is something that honestly was not on my radar at all (which is why I am especially thankful for her critique).
I will do better in the future, and will seek to think about productivity in a more holistic way that doesn’t end up narrowing in on things in such a way that areas that are especially important to a woman’s perspective are left out. And, I agree that it would have been better if more of the books I recommended and interacted with had been by women. I will try to broaden my perspective there as well.
This also raises a larger issue. I do think that women have traditionally been under-represented in Christian writing and leadership. And I think that, as men, we share significant responsibility for that because of being too narrowly focused on ourselves and own perspectives. I actually do try to do something about that (though I could do better); I make a special effort to learn when women speak up in the church, not out of some strange affirmative action thinking but because I consistently find it helpful. Everyone is better off when both men and women are encouraged to make all the contributions they are capable of.
The good news is that things are changing. Some of the most helpful and engaging books on leadership and the Christian life right now are more and more being written by women. As a few examples on the Christian life and productivity side, let me commend to you Jen’s own upcoming book Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith, which looks fantastic and much-needed; Gloria Furman’s new book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms; Aimee Bird’s recent Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Transforms the Ordinary; Melissa McDonald’s excellent blog The Cross and the Kitchen Sink, with its great tagline “because the cross changes everything
but including the kitchen sink”; and, of course, Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog where you can find more of Jen’s writings along with contributions from many other excellent writers looking at faith and news from the perspective of evangelical women.
And specifically on the leadership side, Jenni Catron is one of the best thinkers on leadership in the church right now, and I highly commend her new book Clout: Unleash Your God-Given Potential, with a foreword by Patrick Lencioni, one of the greatest management thinkers of our day.
So women are making an incredible contribution in the church today to Christian thought. That is an excellent thing that we need to celebrate. And Jen’s review of What’s Best Next shows how someone like me still needs to grow in this, and how easy it is to not even realize how often we unconsciously overlook the need to, as Jen puts it in her post, “understand a women’s perspective in the time management conversation” — or whatever else we are writing on.
So, thanks again, Jen, for your review.
Here is an absolutely fantastic and helpful review of What’s Best Next by David Leonard, assistant professor of philosophy and apologetics at Luther Rice University.
David first nails the essence of the book in the opening paragraph: how productivity is about putting the needs of others first. This is not something we often think of when we think of productivity, but it is both biblical and the way to become most productive and make the highest impact.
Then he gets into the specific angle of the review: how What’s Best Next is applicable to scholars and students. He relates it to Andreas Köstenberger’s incredible book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, writing:
Whereas Andreas Köstenberger, for example, has challenged scholars to pursue their work with excellence, in terms of demonstrating boldness amidst the pressures of “academic respectability” and displaying integrity in their scholarly activities, Perman highlights for readers the practical steps that might be taken to clear the way for such excellence to be achieved.
To put it differently, if an excellence is roughly identical to a virtue, then it seems the aim of What’s Best Next is to enable Christians to be virtuous stewards of their time and resources, a theme which overlaps nicely with Köstenberger’s emphasis. Christian scholars, no doubt, would do well to reflect on these connections.
This connection to Kostenberger’s book is right on. Kostenberger shows the importance of excellence; What’s Best Next gives some practical steps for making excellence happen in every area of life. And, as Leonard shows, this has great application for scholars and students, as well as those in the marketplace, leading churches, leading non-profits, and leading in their communities.
Leonard’s review also interacts with some of the most unique parts of the book as well, such as how allowing people to surf the internet for fun at work makes people more productive, not less.
How do you choose a career path? You shouldn’t decide it first based on what you are good at. You should decide based on what matches your values (assuming, of course, that your values are in line with correct principles). Sometimes, you may find yourself doing something you are good at but which doesn’t fit with your values. In that case, get off that path.
Peter Drucker nails this, with an excellent example, in his classic article “Managing Oneself“:
What one does well — even very well and successfully — may not fit with one’s value system. In that case, the work may not appear to be worth devoting one’s life to (or even a substantial portion thereof).
If I may, allow me to interject a personal note. Many years ago, I too had to decide between my values and what I was doing successfully. I was doing very well as a young investment banker in London in the mid-1930′s, and the work clearly fit my strengths. Yet I did not see myself making a contribution as an asset manager. People, I realized, were what I valued, and I saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery.
I had no money and no other job prospects.
Despite the continuing Depression, I quit–and it was the right thing to do. Values, in other words, are and should be the ultimate test.
And, note this as well on how knowing your values (and having them right) can be even more fundamental to success than hard work:
Successful careers are not planned.
They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person — hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre — into an outstanding performer.
On Easter, it is always good to refresh our understanding of the gospel so we can avoid the trap of being pulled away by additions to it that undermine our relationship with God.
Here’s how I summarize it in a call-out box in What’s Best Next, in a chapter where I talk about the relationship between the gospel and good works:
What is the Gospel?
The gospel is very simple: Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Paul states it very clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
It’s not enough to just hear the gospel, or go to church, or have been baptized. We have to believe the gospel. Believing the gospel does not just mean assenting to it intellectually, but relying on Christ crucified and risen for our acceptance with God and right to eternal life.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved….Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10; 13).
We enter a right relationship with God through faith alone in the gospel, not as a result of any works we do — before or after becoming a Christian. Good works are a result of having been accepted by God, not the means or basis of our being accepted by Him.
Further, you never get beyond the gospel. Once you become a Christian, you don’t “graduate” on to more important realities. The gospel is always “of first importance,” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:3). Christ died for the sins of Christians, too — that is, the gospel is not just something we point unbelievers to, but is something we continue relying on every day as Christians. As Christians, Jesus’ death and resurrection continues to be the full and complete basis of our forgiveness and righteousness before God.
In these final days before Easter, it would be a great idea to pick up my friend Justin Taylor’s excellent new book The Final Days of Jesus (co-authored with NT scholar Andreas Kostenberger).
His book goes through the last week of Jesus’ life, culminating in the crucifixion and then the resurrection. We often think we “know the story,” such that we take it for granted. But it is amazing how much more there is to learn, and Justin’s book is a great guide.
And, of course, the book remains extremely relevant after Easter, since the death and resurrection of Christ are eternally significant and the foundation of our faith.
You can see more of my thoughts on Justin’s book from the post I did a few months ago when I interviewed him.
You might also be interested in his recent article for Christianity Today on Five Errors to Avoid in Preaching Your Easter Sermon, which include:
- Don’t say Jesus died when he was 33 (he was probably 37).
- Don’t bypass the role of women as witnesses to the resurrected Christ (this is a theological reminder that the kingdom of Christ turns the world’s system on its head, and also great evidence for the truth of the resurrection, as the disciples would not have included this detail if they made it up since the testimony of women in 1st century Judaism was so lowly regarded).
- Don’t focus on the suffering of Christ to the extent that you neglect the glory of the cross in and through the resurrection (Jesus did not stay dead! He is off the cross and reigning today.)
As an aside, I liked Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus, but I like Justin’s book way more!
If you live in or around central Iowa, you are invited to a workshop I’m doing on What’s Best Next on Saturday morning, April 26, from 9:00 – noon.
I’ll cover things like these:
- What is productivity really, and why should we care about it? And how does our work connect to God’s purposes?
- The DARE process for getting the right things done, in all areas of life.
- Very tactical processes for staying on top of email, planning your week, delegating, and going about your day in a way that is not annoying or overwhelming.
The seminar will be at Zeke’s, at 3329 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50014. You can learn more about it and register here.
It would be great to see you there!
Traditional View (TV): Do more in less time.
Gospel-Driven Productivity (GDP): Do the right things, and you can care a lot less about efficiency.
TV: Use the right techniques.
GDP: Be the right kind of person. Then, use smart techniques.
TV: Seek peace of mind and fulfillment.
GDP: Seek to do good for others first, and make a contribution. Peace and fulfillment will follow (and so will suffering!—but of a different kind).
TV: Minimize work and maximize money.
GDP: Do hard things and find joy in your work as a fulfillment of your calling. Maximize meaning, not money.
It is a fantastic review with a superb summary of the book. And here’s something especially unique about Hugh’s review: he comments on the final section of the book, where I show how personal productivity connects to the productivity of our organizations and society, and therefore why it is important for us as Christians to understand economics.
That’s a very important section of the book to me. I almost had to cut it out due to length, in fact, but insisted that we keep it (though I still and to cut that section in half). I also show how a concern for the productivity and well being of all of society is not just a modern idea, but is clearly and significantly expressed by even the great 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards.
The bookstore is on campus in the Honeycutt center.
I’ll talk a bit about the book, answer questions, and I think some other things. Also, they will be giving away some copies.
So if you are in Louisville, and especially if you are a student at SBTS, it would be great to see you Monday morning!