Negligence is a virtue, its mastery a worthy endeavor. Most of us use this term in a negative sense, such as, “oops, I’ve let the mileage roll on without an oil change”, “when did I power-wash the back deck last?”, or discover a beloved tool out in the rain in permanent disrepair, totally rusted, and useless.
It may be hard to believe, but we are commanded frequently in Scripture to practice negligence. Pharisees are chided for choosing to obey smaller laws while major principles of justice, mercy, and love for God go by the wayside (Mt. 23.23; Lk. 11.42), a principle repeated in various forms in Prov. 8.33, 15.32, Heb. 13.16, and most notably in Acts 6.2 where the new church leaders of a newly expanding Jerusalem church declare it is in the best interest of the church for them to exercise mindful negligence.
Wait, you say; those verses invoke “do not neglect this or that” and speak in the negative. Reread the passages and a positive interpretation emerges to guide our lives and our ministries. The 12 apostles in Acts 6.1-7 elected to invest their time in preaching and prayer instead of potluck suppers. They made a conscious choice to prioritize their time according to their Kingdom values. They did not minimize providing for widows, nor did they say they were unimportant. They looked at their time (they had 168 hours in a week just like we do) and made a decision on how to best spend their time for the most Kingdom impact. They delegated the work to the first deacons, and look at the church’s continued increase in v.7 as a result. In the 2 Tim. 2 classic passage on disciplemaking the soldier foregoes everyday chores and duties for those orders given by a commanding officer in v. 4. Everyday life is not depicted as bad or disposable, just subordinate most of the time to the direct orders of a superior officer.
In both biblical instances something worthy/good languishes (or in other words, is neglected) in order to achieve something else deemed needing one’s time more. The entity in charge of rating your priorities---who/what is it? The Sunday answer (where everything can be answered with God, The Bible, Jesus) often refers to some vague deference to Deity instead of a compelling vision of following Christ, and making everything in your life subject to His Lordship and His commandments (John 15.10).
Yes, there are times when the urgent becomes all encompassing (illness onset, loss of job, loss of a loved one) and well planned agendas go out the window. But even that confirms the principle of planned negligence. Our lives are not a patchwork of happenstance occurrences dictated by circumstances beyond our control, nor are we automatons with puppet strings attached to a universal Master.
Not surprisingly, neither your author nor the sum of all the poets, philosophers, or theologians has ever found the magic formula that explains free will of man and sovereignty of God to the satisfaction of all. As an appointed leader within my sphere of influence I am responsible to lead, serve, and work with each decision born of principle, not convenience or personal preference. Each decision means attention given to one thing and less to another, a church visited on a given Sunday means 39 others weren’t, each hour spent with a pastor or other church leader is an hour I could spend otherwise. If our churches are to grow, if our association is to grow, if we are to experience personal growth as believers in Christ, we have to constantly make decisions based on neglect of some things to the benefit of others.
Our pastors cannot be everything to every person all the time. “Leaders find ways to own, not just rent, decisions (Learning Leadership by Kouzes & Posner, p. 209).” Mindful negligence is the most compassionate and Christ-like use of your time.
What will you neglect today to the glory of God?