The Problem with Priority Lists

by Caleb French

hand holding pen over a list

I imagine that you, the typical Christian-dad blog-reader, are working hard to prioritize your God-given responsibilities as a husband and father. But why is that so difficult? One reason is because God has also called you to fill other roles and callings. Here are a few (in no particular order):

  • As a Citizen, you are called to submit to governmental authorities and contribute positively to your community (Romans 13; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Peter 2:13–17).
  • As a Family Member, you are called to a whole network of relational responsibilities that vary by role and life stage (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:21–25; 5:22–6:9).
  • As a Member of the Church, you are called to reflect God’s character, as a community, to the world and use your gifts and resources to serve your brothers and sisters in love (Matthew 5:13–15; Ephesians 4:1–16; 1 Peter 2:9).
  • As a Worker, you are called to subdue creation on God’s behalf for others’ benefit (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:15).
  • As an Embodied Soul, you are called to care for and steward your body as you relate to God (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:7; 21–25).
  • As an Employer or Employee—a modern application of the master-slave relationship—you are called to certain behaviors and operations in the workplace (Ephesians 6:5–9; 1 Peter 2:18–20).

Add to these the many sub-roles God has called you to fulfill (e.g., Project Manager, Bible Class Teacher, HOA Council Member, etc.), and it becomes clear we need an apparatus for prioritizing.

A Problematic Paradigm

We usually assume that’s a number-ordered list, something like this:

  1. God – Child of God
  2. Family – Husband/Father
  3. Church – Member/Minister
  4. Work – Employee/Employer
  5. Fun – Fun-Haver (?)

The operative question of this paradigm is, “Which responsibilities should always win over others?” According to the Priority List paradigm, God should win over Family. But then does God have anything to do with family life? Yet also, Family should win over Church. So if we haven’t had a family outing this week, we put “family first” and skip church, right? But then poor Number 4 (Work) is always in the doghouse. And so on.

Though we keep using the Priority List paradigm, its tacet presupposition is that your roles and responsibilities conflict—that they’re always in competition. In this way, we’re always doomed to fail (or feel we are failing) in one calling whenever we are investing energy in another. I can’t feel like a good dad when I’m at work; and I can’t feel like a good Church Member when I’m enjoying recreation.

The Lordship Paradigm

Let me offer an alternative paradigm for prioritizing, starting with a more biblical presupposition: You can obey God regarding every role, simultaneously. Put another way, God’s callings never conflict. Obedience to all of God’s callings is always possible.

How can I say that with such certainty? The principle is contained in Paul’s gentle counsel regarding charitable contributions in 2 Corinthians 9:8. “God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work” (CSB).

Every good work. Every role God has called you to (and there are a lot). You have all you need to excel in Dad good works, Church Member good works, and Employee good works, etc. He hasn’t set you up to fail. You don’t have to disobey Him in one area of life to obey Him in another. He is Lord (or should be) over every area of your life, and you must (and can) obey Him in each one.

I like to think of this priority paradigm like a wheel hub with a variety of spokes. The hub is our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. As His disciples, we have made His claims and life-changing words the foundation of our lives (Matthew 7:24–29). We submit every area of life—Work and Family and Ministry and Recreation—to His Lordship.

In this paradigm, the Lordship Paradigm, our operative question is, “Which calling should I be fulfilling right now, and how would God have me to fulfill it?” This mindset regarding life balance rightly assumes obedience to God in every area of life is always possible.1

Putting it to Practice

It’s freeing. I often consciously consider the Lordship Paradigm when I leave work to go home for dinner. Of course I leave some tasks at work unfinished, but that’s not failure as a Worker. I’m pivoting to another role the same Lord has called me to, being a Husband and Father. The same is true when I leave the breakfast table to head to work. I’m pivoting roles, not failing as a father to succeed as a teacher. And so on.

So armed with a more accurate priority paradigm, we’re done making real-time decisions, right? Wrong! While the Lordship Paradigm is more accurate to the nature of God’s multiple callings on our life, there is no easy formula for balancing these multiple roles. We’ll need daily biblical wisdom, studied clarity on the responsibilities our Lord has assigned to each role, and a continual submission to the authority of Christ over all of life.

But rest assured in the promise of God: You can honor Him in every role at once. So throw out the Priority List and submit every area of life to your Lord.


  1. This hub-spoke visualization is also helpful as a diagnostic for idolatry. Is there some other functional center for your life, driving the decisions in all other areas? Is there another god bossing all other callings into submission? Do beware, men: our jobs and the sense of purpose they provide so easily creep onto this throne and give orders we should only take from our Lord.

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