3 Reasons Why Lists Are Good But Not That Good

I’ve noticed a lot of lists flying around the world of evangelicalism these days, especially in the area of ecclesiology and discipleship. Hey, I like lists and I like flying things, but lately I’ve been tempted to shoot a few of them out of the sky like a drone. If you are wondering what lists I’m talking about, I mean things like this:

10 Things You Should Listen For During A Sermon
4 Words To Say When Developing Leaders
3 Mistakes When Developing A Strategy
4 Ways to Attack Pride
5 Things Leaders Should Say To Their Followers

Those are but five examples of about a million that showed up in my Feedly account just in the past couple of weeks! Now listen, most of these articles offered some great practical advise for leadership development and I myself find it helpful to occasionally write blog articles using a list of objectives, observations, or calls to action (especially when I can do so in an incredibly ironic way, like this article). But I suppose I feel a little overwhelmed by lists here lately and for those who are prone to become stressed by things to memorize, here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t worry.

1. A completed check list does not necessarily mean you have landed in the realm of success.
Again, lists can be very helpful and practically beneficial for organizing thoughts and prioritizing ideas. But evangelicalism has rightly been pushing back against a list mentality when it comes to our understanding of the gospel. We don’t do a certain number of things in order to achieve salvation and growth in the Lord is never diminished to checking off item x, y, and z; even if x, y, z are terrific things. In fact, it is entirely possible to mark every box with a check and subsequently lose sight of the ultimate goal. For example, I have great experience with critically checking off boxes when listening to a sermon only to have missed the spiritual impact of the message due to my ferocious attention to the 10 things I was looking for during the delivery.

2. Lists are never as simple as they seem.
It can be exciting to read about 4 easy and effective things to say to a leader as a follower. But then you need to check off another list of 5 things. And then another list of 10 things. And before you can turn around, a simple exercise in leadership development has become an extraordinarily complex list of 2,498 boxes to check in a plethora of growth areas. It’s like a never ending powerpoint presentation. Thus, I am somewhat skeptical of the lasting impact of an overly saturated list based model for spiritual and practical development.

3. Too many lists can diminish the importance of the subject being discussed.
I would prefer to read an insightful article highlighting one or two aspects of leadership in ways that are more developed and deeper in content than I would a quick burst of several things to do. Lists can come across as a post-it note level of thought whereas digging deeper in a main idea can generate a more curious and engaged reading of the material. At least it does for me.

So, as someone who makes lists and find them helpful, I believe there is benefit to these kinds of articles. I also believe we could see less of them being written and benefit from that as well. At the end of the day, “success” in church comes down to preaching the word, loving on people, and enjoying the pleasures of God. It’s actually incredibly simple. Just not easy.

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