Monday, October 30, 2006

The Driven Life - Good or Bad?

I can't think of a better word for it. Gordon MacDonald calls it "drivenness." Many folks admire people that are driven. They get things done. They can often be found it key positions in successful organizations.

I used to think of drivenness as a positive thing. I remember reading a couple of books in the past with the word "driven" in the title, such as The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life, both by Rick Warren. However, the way Rick Warren uses the word "driven" is not the type of driven I am thinking of here. What Warren calls "driven" I would refer to as "called," because what motivates us should come from God. So I don't use the word "driven" in the same way. Here are some characteristics of drivenness:

1. Often gratified only by accomplishment. Sees life only in terms of results. Doesn't appreciate the process, only the product.
2. PreOccupied with Symbols of Success. These include things such as a "title," office size, special privileges, and other indications of notoriety.
3. Caught in the Uncontrolled Pursuit of Expansion. He want to "climb the ladder." Doesn't appreciate achievements of the past and is never satisfied. Always wants more and will leave if what he is a part of is not growing fast enough.
4. Limited regard for integrity. Since the driven person is so preoccupied with success and achievement, he will succeed by any means possible. He will spend little time with the inner self. Ethics slide and he can become deceitful, even deceiving himself.
5. Tend to possess limited or undeveloped people skills. Projects and personal goals become more important than the people around him. People are valuable to the driven person for how they can help the driven person fulfill his goals.
6. Tend to be highly competitive. Each effort is a win-lose game. Other successful people are seen as competitors or enemies to be beaten.
7. Often has a volcanic force of anger. He cannot take questions, constructive criticism, disagreement, etc. His anger can come out in ways other than violence, such as verbal brutality, insults, put downs, and general vindictiveness.
8. Tend to be abnormally busy. The driven person is too busy pursue relationships with other people, much less with God. He never thinks he accomplishes enough and is always attempting to do more. Sometimes he tries to impress people with the fullness of his schedule and will even complain about. But he will never accept a way to lessen his work load. His "complaining" is really nothing more than bragging.

When drivenness is described in this way, I can see that it is anything but positive. Even though many organizations value driven people (including churches) because they get things done, it is done at the sacrifice of relationships and other things that are important. It occurs to me that even though King Saul was a driven person and we typically see him as a dismal failure, most of the people under his rule probably saw him as a successful king. He had a string of leadership victories even after we begin to see the signs of drivenness. The call of God is not what motivated Saul, but his own drive to hold on to what he had and to accumulate more. As I look over the characteristics of drivenness in this list, and can point to events in Paul's life that can be placed under all eight of them.

I have spoken to people that worked long hours into the evening because they wanted to be successful. It is humiliating for your boss to indicate that he thinks you are not dedicated enough. I remember reading a book several years ago by Paul Faulkner entitled, Achieving Success Without Failing Your Family. It never really became a popular book in the business world because Faulkner makes it clear that you cannot have it all. Contrary to what others had been saying, you cannot be a huge success in your career AND a huge success in your family. You have to choose. If you are going to be a huge success in your career, it will cost you. I have also met ministers who were driven. I met a guy whose goal in ministry was to become a minister at the Richland Hills Church of Christ, one of the largest Churches of Christ in the country. It was all he ever talked about. Everything he did was geared toward that. There were signs of drivenness in his ministry. His family paid the price. I have known students who were driven by the desire to be better than everyone else in whatever they did. They chose their friends on the basis of their status. They dated people who would help their image. They fought tooth and nail for the lead parts in the play, or on the cheerleading squad. I have known a housewive who were driven by the desire to have the postcard house and the postcard family. This is what mattered more than the emotional well being of her children. And the list could go on.

There were those in scripture that were driven. In addition to King Saul, there was Peter, James, John, the Apostle Paul, and others. Out of these folks, we probably have a clearer picture of Peter and Paul. Both of them had agendas. Both of them were go getters. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees and had an immaculate record. He was sharp. However, Paul calls his pride and confidence in these things as putting confidence in the "flesh." Paul experience a transformation from being driven to being called. Paul's motivation was no longer the desire to accumulate success and notoriety, but the desire to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his suffering and be conformed to his death. There is no notoriety in these things. He endeavored to live as Christ did. He wanted to humble himself as Christ humbled himself. He wanted to become the least of these. This was the call of God. If someone tried to overshadow Paul and his accomplishment from self-centered motives, Paul could rejoice because the name of Christ was still being preached. The call of God is not about Paul's accomplishments, but about God's accomplishments, regardless of who God accomplishes them though.

It occurs to me that if I have the right attitude God can use me in a more effective way. But then again, he may choose not to. I don't want to be like King Saul with all his driven tendencies. I want to be motivated by God's call, not my desire for significance as the world defines significance. It seems that what this boils down to is a question of motivation. Am I motivated by the call of God, or am I motivated by the desire for my own significance and notoriety? Where is my focus?


Mark Williams said...

I appreciated your sermon and found myself compelled to agree with many of your thoughts.
However, having studied personality type theory and learning style behaviors, I would offer the following:
1. Some people naturally prefer to act and respond to situations differently and are not as "people oriented" as they are "task oriented." I don't know that it makes them "driven" as you describe, but there are clearly people who strive hard to attain goals they set for themselves. We in the military, in particular, often view our environment in these kinds of terms - mission-type orders, task and purpose, measures of success, etc.
2. God created us all and knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what motivates us, and He knows what scares us. While we should all strive to be sensitive to the needs of others (The Parable of the Good Samaritian), I do not advocate acting artificially and trying to be someone that is not who we are. that smacks me of hypocrisy.
3. As you rightfully note, it comes down to a question of motivation. I believe that IF OUR MOTIVES ARE PURE, God can (and will) use us to His benefit and glory whatever our individual personality may be.

Just my two cents worth......

God bless!
Mark Williams

Anonymous said...

I think the driven person you described in your sermon is an extreme.
I've met very few people, in my life, that fit that description. David was
as driven as Saul. However, David always came back to God with repentance
in his heart when he realized the error of his ways.
I don't think we have a problem in the church with driven people.
Quite the contrary, we could use a few more goal oriented people who work
hard to accomplish the things that need to be done.
I also think our society suffers from a lack of hard working,
dedicated, goal oriented people. It's my opinion that families suffer more
from lazy, selfish people that from driven people.

John Telgren said...

I don't think being "driven" as I have defined driven is about a people person vs. a task oriented person. However, a driven person will only value people for what a person can do to help them meet their personal goals. That is a huge difference.

Yes, the examples I gave are extreme. A driven person doesn't need to have all the characterstics listed in order to be driven, nor does he need to have them in the extreme. This is not just about workoholism, but It comes down to a question of motivation.

There may be more driven people that are Christians than we realize. I have already had several Christians tell me that they are driven, or have been driven, and still others that have said it is a real possiblity.

John Telgren said...

I wouldn't characterize David as "driven" in the way that drivenness was defined here. Saul's problem seemed to be that his mind was already made up, and he was willing to look anywhere for confirmation, including a witch. This demonstrates that Saul did not have a sense of God's calling in his life, nor did he wish do. In this, Saul is driven, not called. I would characterize David as called, but not as driven. The motivation that characterized David's life was God's calling, not the type of drivenness that we see in Saul. Thank you for the comments.

david said...

As usual with religious people, your religious perspective has made a sweeping generalization about people.

Being driven can be a good thing. What about the doctor that is driven to help people. the dentist, the nurse or mid wife? The safety inspector of the aeroplane your flying in or the pilot.

Would you not like these type of people to be driven when entrusted with your safety or the safety of others?

John said...

I am not sure you took the time to really read this post and digest it. Driveness as has been defined in this post is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Mediocrity is clearly something that is not in harmony with the Christian faith, as can clearly be seen with all the references to laziness in scripture.