Skip to content

Capturing wild commitments

Being a Christian is about responding to God’s love for us by loving other people. Loving people involves being committed to them. And being committed isn’t just a nice feeling–it involves all sorts of commitments, at all sorts of different levels, to do things for people. These commitments arise out of our relationship with God, our relationships with others, our ministry roles, our promises to others, and our particular desires and motivations to see Jesus honoured in the world.

Running tigerThese commitments should be a joy. But so often, they can become a major source of stress, particular for Christian ministers. This stress arises especially when we don’t have a good system for managing our commitments. In that case, we can feel overwhelmed by them. Instead of rejoicing on our relationships and opportunities, we can view the commitments like wild animals, prowling around, and we’re never sure when they’re going to pounce on us.


(This blog series is about habits and personal organisation structures I’ve developed over the years for “sustainable sacrifice” in Christian ministry. They’re specific to my own situation, so if you think any of them are worthwhile you may have to adapt them. For more information about the purpose of this series see the first post: Slip, slop, slap for sustainable sacrifice.)


Sleeping TigerI’ve found a system for managing commitments to be incredibly helpful. The first step in developing a system like this is capturing commitments. That means getting the commitments out of your mind (where they’re wild and scary) and into a system where they can be tamed, organised and dealt with. In the past, I’ve used various tools to do this, such as paper-based folders or note-taking tools. More recently, I’ve found Omnifocus to be an excellent tool for commitment-management. Omnifocus makes it easy for me write down my commitments, move them around, link them together, organise them into folders and structures, modify them, and then use them as the basis of day-to-day tasks. And every day, as more commitments come in or come to mind, I can easily adapt the system to cope with them. Cf. David Allen on “stalking the wild projects.”

Types of commitments

There are two types of commitments.

Firstly, there are projects. In GTD terms, a “project” is “anything you’re committed to complete that takes more than one step”. Projects can be big, like writing a book. They can also be small, like getting the car serviced (this takes more than one step because I have to book it first then take the car in on a specific date).

Secondly, there are also just general spheres of life or people you’re committed to, but which aren’t exactly “projects” that are going to be “completed”. Omnifocus calls these “single-action projects” (although the term “project” is a bit unhelpful). Examples include household chores, commitments to be a loving spouse or parent or friend, etc.

Commitments and stress

Getting all your commitments down in one systematic place is a really good idea. It helps me to love people, it helps me to be less stressed, and it helps me to be more creative (because I’m less worried about all the niggling bits and pieces in life).

But there’s a possible objection: you might feel that seeing all your commitments together might increase your stress. After all, if you wrote all your projects and spheres of life down, you might have a list with a hundred or more items in it. Wouldn’t that be overwhelming? Well–it might feel overwhelming. But if it does, you’re probably already quite stressed anyway. It’s just that the stress is under the surface. Writing all your commitments down doesn’t create stress. It just brings it to the surface. More importantly, though, it gives you an opportunity to organise and deal with the commitments.

My commitments

I thought it would be helpful for me to write out all the various kinds of commitments I have captured in Omnifocus in the moment. Obviously it will be different for you. But my list might give you some ideas if you want to try to list all of your commitments. I won’t list every individual project and sphere of life here, but I will list the various areas the commitments appear in.

General commitments

My general commitments fall in the following areas:

  • Relationship with God: Personal prayer and Bible reading.
  • Family and friends: Prayer and Bible reading with family, loving individual members of my family, extended family, friends, sharing the gospel with others, schooling.
  • Household: pets, household chores, car maintenance, holidays, family health, finances, giving / charity
  • Church: relationships with people, speaking God’s word at church, events, music, other rosters.

Moore College commitments

My specific commitments on the faculty at Moore College fall in the following areas:

  • Moore CollegePastoral care and evangelism: Chapel, preaching, leading chaplaincy group, meetings with co-chaplain, individual pastoral conversations, tutoring of individuals with particular needs, meals with students, preaching classes, running Moore College mission team, walk-up evangelism, “Mark Drama” evangelistic event, other student events.
  • Teaching (in a formal educational sense): Classes run in capacity as New Testament lecturer, conversations and emails with students, admin and setup of subjects, marking, syllabus revision, New Testament departmental admin, training and professional development.
  • Supervision (of research students, undergrad and postgrad): formal meetings, reading, written feedback, marking, speaking with potential supervisees, training and professional development.
  • Research and writing: Writing books, writing articles / essays, attending conferences, presenting papers at conferences, faculty presentations, keeping up language competency (ancient and modern), reading to keep up to date, chasing future ideas, advertising prior work.
  • Resourcing other Christians: Talks via Moore College Centre for Christian living, speaking at conferences for churches and larger conferences, helping to promote the work of others, dealing with requests to speak, blogging, radio interviews.
  • Ministry and mission partnership: Organising events for colleagues (my particular role at Moore), formal roles with particular ministry networks (currently ACL, ThinkingOfGod, Certainty for Eternity), prayer and support with fellow faculty members, peer support with ministry colleagues, ministry mentoring, relationships with supporters, relationships with missionaries, keeping future mission opportunities on the agenda, engaging online, college alumni, helping to promote Moore in the wider community
  • Other roles at Moore College: Administrative meetings, administrative roles, etc.

I also need to keep up my general support structures: health, gym, recreation, and keeping my system up to date. And of course, there will be things I’ve forgotten or haven’t yet realised I’m committed to.

Your commitments?

Having all these commitments captured in Omnifocus helps me to deal with them and not to get too overwhelmed by it all. It’s not a perfect system, but it helps me a lot. This list might help you to create your own. It’s worth it. Capturing your commitments in a system is the first step to getting them under control.

Some people have asked me how the list of commitments I outlined above relates to my Omnifocus setup. By and large, here’s how I’ve organised it:

  • Each dot point in bold text (e.g. “Household“) represents a folder in Omnifocus. That means I have about 11 main folders.
  • Each item after the bold text represents the kind of “projects” I have in Omnifocus. At any one time, I have about 100 “projects” going. Some of these “projects” are actual projects – i.e. they have a defined end-point. Others are just spheres of life or people I’m committed to. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, see above under the heading “Types of Projects”

How might you capture your commitments into a system like this? Set aside a whole day or two to try to write down and capture your main commitments. Get them all down in some sort of list, perhaps using a mind-mapping technique. Then organise them in a logical way in your trusted system. (If you’re using Omnifocus, it’s just a matter of typing in your projects and arranging them into folders). This will give you a good initial list of your main commitments. In the following weeks and months, it’s likely that more commitments will spring to mind. When they spring to mind, add them to your trusted system.

In future posts I’ll talk about structures and habits that help me to fulfil my commitments, day by day.

The posts in the series so far

  1. Slip, slop, slap for sustainable sacrifice
  2. Taming the phone 1: Minimising notifications
  3. Taming the phone 2: Putting apps in their place
  4. Building blocks of a trusted system
  5. Capturing wild commitments
  6. Living life in “the zone”: using zones to regulate life
  7. Inboxes. Getting all the stuff out of them. Every day.
  8. Who’s afraid of to-do lists? Making tasks that work
  9. The weekly review: Planning for sustainable sacrifice
  10. The trusted system: a week in the life

Published inMinistry

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • Walking past a telephone booth in OxfordThis love (Ephesians 2:4–5)
    “God loves you”: if I say just those three words, you may not hear what I want you to hear. This is because of a communication problem that arises whenever Christians try to talk about biblical concept of God’s “love”. When we say “love” we mean one thing—something wonderful and life-changing. But the word means quite different things to many English speakers. For example, the word “love” often means “strong desire”. So if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God has strong feelings for you”. Another, increasingly common, understanding of “love” is the idea of “unconditional approval”. In this view, the way to “love” somebody is to affirm and approve of everything they do. So if I don’t approve of your actions and actively affirm everything you do, then by definition I’m not “loving” you (in fact, by definition I’m “hating” you). On this common definition of “love”, if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God affirms everything about you and your actions”. But that’s not what the Bible means by God’s “love” either. Given this communication problem, how can I best explain the idea of God’s “love”? Well, it’s not actually that hard. The best way is to see how the word works when the Bible uses it. In Ephesians 2:4–5, Paul uses the word “love”. But he doesn’t just say “God loves you”. He explains and spells out what that love means. And he helps us to see what God’s love really means, and how amazing it is.
  • Entering a tomb in PompeiiWe too: the offenders (Ephesians 2:3)
    Judgmentalism. It’s a bigger problem than we think. Judgmentalism is certainly a danger for God’s people. That’s because God’s people have God’s word. God’s word helps God’s people to see how wonderful God is, and how terrible humanity is in comparison. But Ephesians 2:3 contains two highly significant, emphatic words: “we too”. We too, says Paul, were the offenders. We, too, were the disobedient. These words aren’t talking about all those horrible people “out there”. They’re talking about God’s people. And it’s something we, too, need to hear. These words tell us something incredibly important—something that we ignore at our peril.
  • Photo by Daniel Lienert on UnsplashThe root of the problem (Ephesians 2:1–2)
    I hadn’t visited the dentist for years. Then I felt a tiny amount of pain in one of my teeth. But I ignored it. I didn’t want to bother with a dentist. Anyway, I had my own solution: I’d always brushed my teeth quite thoroughly, and was proud of it. So I just kept brushing. But after a while, the pain came back. This time, it was worse. So I finally visited the dentist. That was painful, too. The root had become so infected that I needed root canal surgery. That was a while ago. But last year, it flared up again, as these things apparently do. And yet I chose to visit the dentist again, even though I knew it might be painful. Why? Because I’d learnt something. I’ve learnt that if I have a problem that goes to the root, and if I know someone who has the solution to the problem, I shouldn’t ignore it or try to fix it myself. I should face up to the root problem, and get help. So I got help. Now, I don’t have a tooth in that spot at all. In Ephesians 2:1–2, Paul seeks to go deep, to the root of the problem. The problem Paul talks about here is incredibly serious. It can be very painful to admit. But Paul can and does admit it—because he also knows the person with the solution. According to Paul, this isn’t a problem to ignore or try to fix ourselves. It’s not something we can educate ourselves out of. This is a problem to face up to, and get help.
  • Captivated by ScriptureCaptivated by Scripture: A personal reflection on D. W. B. Robinson’s legacy for biblical studies
    What made Donald W. B. Robinson such an inspiring and influential teacher for generations of students? His commitment to being captivated by Scripture. This is a paper given by Lionel Windsor at the legacy day and launch of Donald Robinson Selected Works Volume 3: Biblical and Liturgical Studies & Volume 4: Historical Studies and Series Index. Moore Theological College, Sydney, 16 March 2019.
  • The first thing to say about church (Ephesians 1:22–23)
    Here in Ephesians 1:22–23, for the first time in his letter, the apostle Paul uses the word “church”. He’s taken quite some time to get to this point. That might make you think that the church isn’t very important to Paul. But actually, the reverse is true. This is a climactic statement. So far in Ephesians, Paul has poured out his praise to God for his blessings and plans and purposes. He has told his readers how he is praying for knowledge and hope and strength in God. Now, finally, at the highest peak of this amazing prayer, Paul names “the church”. So what is the first thing Paul has to say about the church? What is the word he associates most closely with the church? What matters most to Paul when it comes to the church? The answer is, in fact, obvious. It’s so obvious that you might think it doesn’t need to be said. You might even wonder why Paul bothers saying it, when there are so many other more practical things he could say about the church. But while it might seem obvious, it needs to be said first. Why? Because it’s so easy to assume it. Yet without it, nothing else about the church makes sense.
  • Grave of John BunyanStrength to live (Ephesians 1:19–21)
    What do we do when we feel weak in the face of the powers that be? One response might be just to shut down, close ranks and find a bitter satisfaction in our identity as victims. Another response might be to try to fight as hard as we can to exert our power and dominance over others, seeking to turn the tables so that we become the conquerors instead of the oppressors. Both of these responses involve seeking strength and power in ourselves. They are often the way that oppressed individuals and groups in our world respond to the powers that are oppressing them. But is that the way God wants his people to respond to our weakness in the face of power? In Ephesians 1:19–21, the apostle Paul gives us a far better way to respond. Paul’s response involves looking for strength. But it’s not a strength that comes from within ourselves. It’s a strength that comes from God himself.
  • Christ, the Cross and Creation Care ConferenceConference: Christ, the Cross and Creation Care
    I'll be speaking at the "Christ, the Cross and Creation Care Conference", Sydney. 8.30am to 3.30pm, Saturday 22 June 2019. A conference run by A Rocha Australia
  • Palatine Hill from Roman Forum with contrails – Black and WhiteWhat’s the point of theology? (Ephesians 1:17–18)
    The full name of the college I teach at is “Moore Theological College”. That word “Theological” says something important about who we are. It reminds us about what we're on about. Yes, the Bible is at the centre of everything we do. Yes, we seek to train people for ministry. Yes, we're driven by the worldwide mission of Jesus Christ. Yes, we're committed to learning together, and having our characters formed in loving Christian community. But our careful study of the Bible, and our pastorally-motivated ministry and mission training, and our encouragement of one another in our community, all matter because of something more basic: theology. Unfortunately, the word "theology" can be misunderstood. It sometimes gets used to mean something like “technical details about spiritual things that experts argue about and isn’t much practical use to regular people”. But that's just a caricature. It's not what theology is. Theology is something far more profound, far more life-changing, and far more fundamental—not just for people at a college, but for everyone. In Ephesians 1:17–18, Paul prays for his readers—people who have come to believe in and live for Jesus Christ. It's a prayer for more theology.
  • Youth praying, Finchale PrioryPrayer: What are we actually doing? (Ephesians 1:15–16)
    “A Muslim, a Jew and an Anglican Minister walk into a classroom”. This was the advertising blurb for a local Community College seminar I participated in a few years ago. I joined a Muslim educator and a Jewish academic (who is also a friend of mine) to give a series of presentations on different aspects of our three religions to interested people from the community. When we came to the topic of ‘prayer’, I was fascinated to hear what my co-presenters had to say. Even though we were all using the same word, ‘prayer’, the word meant very different things in the different religions. As a believer in Jesus Christ, what did I have to say about what prayer is? What would you have said? Christians, too, can often be a bit confused or unclear about what prayer actually is. That’s where the Apostle Paul really helps us. In these verses in Ephesians, Paul starts telling his readers about his own prayers for them.
  • Photo by Danielle Macinnes on UnsplashThe Holy Spirit: Our security (Ephesians 1:14)
    The Stanford Marshmallow Experiments are a favourite illustration of motivational speakers. The lesson is this: If you can learn how to delay gratification early in life, you’ll do better in later life. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, like many popular conclusions drawn from famous psychological experiments, it doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. The more up-to-date study demonstrates something far more mundane: if you grow up in a secure home where you know there will always be food on the table, you’re more likely to be able to put off eating a marshmallow. This isn’t a particularly useful lesson for motivational speakers. But it’s a great illustration of what it means to be a child of God.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor