August 13, 2022

The Speed and Efficiency Mindset

The Speed and Efficiency Mindset

Dr. Kyle Essary

7 Minute Read

How the Pandemic Changed Me

Let me confess from the start that the Covid-19 pandemic changed me in ways that I’m still growing to realize. Before the pandemic, I was quite concerned about efficiency and progress. I was the type of person that would log my calories, pay close attention to my exercise minutes, keep a habit tracker for tasks like taking my daily vitamins or drinking enough water. I would time block my day to maximize my study and work—30 minutes for studying Chinese, 30 minutes for studying biblical languages, 2 hours for writing, or whatever else would help me achieve my goals that week. I was so meticulous that I would schedule my lunches, rest time, showers, and when I would spend time with my family. If my schedule was thrown off by a meeting going longer than expected, I became frustrated and mentally thought of ways that I could politely leave. I had things to do and goals to accomplish after all. I daily logged how many words I wrote on various projects, so that I could compete with myself from the previous day. I was efficient. I maximized every moment. I could do things quickly and I could do them well. But there was always more to learn, to accomplish, to do. Was I truly making progress? So I tried harder to maximize speed and efficiency.

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, things changed rapidly. My environment changed. I could no longer exercise outside—the pathways around our condo were blocked off for over three months. I could no longer schedule meetings away from home. My four children were now studying in the living room. I had to schedule times to shop for groceries since only one member of the home was allowed to leave. And things like grocery shopping took longer time. There were queues and safety protocols.

At home, my projects all changed. In-person lectures became online lectures. In-person worship services became online worship services. Some writing projects were put on hold. And so much of my life now revolved around Zoom. Former ideas of productivity and efficiency had to be thrown out the door—they weren’t possible in the new normal.

The Early Joys Quickly Faded

At first, the challenge of these changes invigorated me. I could figure out new ways to communicate online. I could purchase and play with new tech devices to maximize my online meetings. I could work through tough theological challenges about what was acceptable and not acceptable in online ministry. But those early joys quickly faded. As things stabilized in the new normal of the next few months and years, I realized how limited I was. My former ideas of efficiency had been limited by the constraints of space, time, and availability. My former ideas of speed and success quickly shifted in my mind into doubts about whether God was pleased with my lack of productivity under my old paradigm.

I began to miss things that I hadn’t prioritized during my years of maximal efficiency. I missed spending time with close friends over a cup of coffee. I missed setting up and cleaning up after a worship service. I missed hearing the voices of my brothers and sisters singing praise to our Lord in the same room. I missed taking the Lord’s Supper in an embodied context, where I could look around the room and see visual evidence of God’s grace in the lives of my friends.

In a world of projects, efficiency, and speed, these things were less important because they had little economic value. What mattered was getting things done. Did I have the meeting? Check. Did I sing the songs? Check. Did we take the Lord’s Supper? Check. Did I write that article? Check. But my checklist never had a to-do that said, “Linger with friends after church to hear each other’s stories and pray for one another.” My checklist never had a to-do that said, “Enjoy the sound of brothers and sisters singing praise together.” My checklist never had a to-do that said, “Reflect on the fact that setting up chairs before service each week isn’t a given—in the Lord’s providence, things might change yet again.”

Jesus Did Not Rush

Our Lord didn’t rush around during his first advent. In fact, he didn’t seem to prioritize efficiency or productivity according to our standards. For instance, he didn’t often take the most efficient roads or even the most efficient means to reach his objectives. In Mark 9, Jesus and his disciples are in Capernaum on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. Mark 10:1 begins, “He set out from there and went to the region of Judea and across the Jordan.” In Mark 10:46, he and the disciples arrive at Jericho. And in Mark 11:1, Jesus and the disciples approach Jerusalem from Bethpage and Bethany—both to the east of Jerusalem.

The ups and downs, as well as the route’s circuitous nature were not optimal or efficient. There was a much more efficient route to Jerusalem that would have involved less exertion on Jesus’s part. There were roads from Capernaum that went directly south to Jerusalem without first going East, down along the Jordan river and then back up to Jerusalem through Jericho. But Jesus didn’t choose his route based on efficiency—he knew he needed to come upon Bartimaeus in Jericho and upon Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. He chose a different route for a different purpose than maximized efficiency.

What’s more is that Jesus didn’t take the most efficient means of travel either. Roman protectorates had roads that allowed for horses, donkeys, carts, carriages, and chariots. The route Jesus could have taken would have only taken half a day by horse. In what was known as a fast carriage, the route could be made in a few hours. But Jesus walked. And his indirect route would have taken at least four or five days.

The Speed of God

Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama provocatively called Jesus’s walking speed, the “speed of God.” Jesus didn’t rush. Jesus didn’t maximize every moment according to our standards of productivity. Jesus walked. Jesus woke up to pray and would take so long that the disciples wondered where he had gone. Jesus ate meals that went late into the evening. Jesus took the time necessary to have the conversations needed. And it all led him to the cross, where modern ideas of productivity and speed came to a rushing halt. Koyama considers this with relation to speed when he writes, “Jesus Christ came. He walked towards the ‘full stop’. He lost his mobility. He was nailed down! He is not even at three miles an hour as we walk. He is not moving. ‘Full stop’! What can be slower than ‘full stop’ ‘nailed down’? At this point of ‘full stop’, the apostolic church proclaims that the love of God to man is ultimately and fully revealed. God walks ‘slowly’ because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed … It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is ‘slow’ yet it is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love.”1

Do I Need To Move Faster Than Our Lord?

The pandemic has receded. Our new normal slowly returns to the old normal. Productivity and efficiency are once again the constant aim of many people. But before we jump back into that old routine, maybe we should take the time and ask that if Israel needed forty years in the wilderness to learn discipline, seventy years in exile to learn repentance, and our Lord has tarried for two millennia between his advents, do I really need to prioritize speed over love? Do I really need to move faster and more efficiently than our Lord?

1 Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God (London, UK: SCM, 1979), 4.

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Dr Kyle Essary is currently a lecturer at the Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a PhD in biblical studies and focuses his research on Old Testament narrative, cultural identity in Genesis, and biblical theology. He is originally from Dallas, USA, but has lived in China, the Middle East, and Malaysia for most of the past decade.

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