September 29, 2005

The Epidemic of Busyness Among Christian Leaders

Reprinted from Regent Business Review. © Copyright 2005. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

ep·i·dem·ic (ĕp-ĭ-dĕm´-ĭk) n. An outbreak of a contagious disease that spreads rapidly and widely.

1541 exclusive capt?s no overstatement to say that legions of Christians are infected by ?an outbreak of a contagious disease,? a disease that seems to be spreading ?rapidly and wildly? throughout the culture. It is especially prevalent among U.S. Christians in leadership positions, but also appears to be widespread among a similar demographic overseas. Moreover, women are more susceptible than are men, though a strikingly high percentage of both genders have been affected.

A contemporary term for the disease is ?busyness? and the particular strand I want to consider here entails a lifestyle that?s so congested that the infected individual can neither enjoy nor nurture a healthy relationship with God. The evidence comes from the latest in a long line of studies on over-extended lifestyles, but there?s also some good news to report: There?s a cure that?s freely available to each one of us.

Given the target audience for this article, I?ll get right to the point.

A Congested Life is an Obstacle to Leading God?s Way
Let me start with a three paragraph theology of the problem. If we take scripture at face value, Christians in positions of authority are to lead in a way that honors God. Indeed, this isn?t a very controversial statement since we?re to do everything in life this way, but if you want a poignant reminder, check out Jesus? words on leadership in Matthew 20:26-28.

1541 exclusiveTo do God?s will as leaders?and to do it with excellence and consistency?requires that we not go at it alone. We must rely on God to do what is unattainable in our own strength. Again, the Bible is unequivocal. Classic passages like Proverbs 3:5 (?Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on our own understanding?) and Matthew 6:33 (?Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you?) resonate throughout the ages and remain as time-honored answers to the question ?how we should live?? They are bedrock, not proof-texts, since they capture so completely the core tenets of surrender, dependence and divine empowerment.

It follows, then, that obstacles to our relationship with God are also obstacles to leading God?s way. Such is the case with the epidemic of busyness. A lifestyle that crowds out God culminates in the self-sufficient practice of leadership. And this is not just an exegetical warning. It has become an undeniable reality of the Christian landscape. Let?s consider the evidence.

The Evidence That Christian Leaders Are Over-Extended
To examine the extent of the busyness problem, I collected data from Christians around the world through my Web site, At that site, people complete surveys to examine their spiritual condition and they do so anonymously (thereby facilitating their candor and permitting the collection of more valid data). For this study, I consider data from the first 752 Christians leaders who completed my ?Obstacles to Growth Survey.?1

Figure 1 presents what might be the most striking finding in these data. To the statement ?The busyness of my life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God,? three out of four Christian leaders indicated that this is ?often? or ?almost always? true of them. Looking more closely at the data, I also found that female leaders report even more of a challenge in this area than do their male counterparts. This is also true for Christian leaders in the United States relative to their peers overseas (see Table 1). Moreover, this is not simply a businessperson phenomenon. When I separated out the 116 respondents who identified themselves as a ?pastor,? ?minister? or ?priest,? I found that they were anything but exempt from this problem. Almost two out of three clergy members (64%) report that the busyness of their life ?often? or ?almost always? gets in the way of developing their relationship with God.

Other survey questions reveal even more about the toxic lifestyle of Christian leaders. As shown in Table 2, one-third of leaders say they ?often? or ?almost always? hurry when they do not need to hurry; half say they ?often? or ?almost always? rush from task to task and that they eat quickly; and six out of ten report that they are ?often? or ?almost always? exhausted by the end of their day.

1541 exclusiveThis is quicksand for those of us who desire to love God, to love neighbor, and to teach others to do the same. The epidemic of busyness is inhibiting relationship with God among those who are in the best positions to be ambassadors of the faith. And tragically, as we Christian leaders sink further into that sand, those who advance competing worldviews are marching ahead.

Of course, hamstrung leadership is only one manifestation of our busyness problem. Being too busy for God also hinders one?s ability to be a God-honoring spouse, parent, son, daughter, grandparent, friend, neighbor, church member, volunteer, and so on. An over-extended life leads to less God in one?s life, culminating in a less consistent witness?less love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and other virtues?as a leader and simply as a Christian.

Clearly, this needs to change. God does not call us to a life of hurry, fatigue and distraction from Him. He calls us to relationship. So to remedy our problem, God has put a self-administered antidote into our hands.

An Antidote for Our Busyness
I would guess that almost every over-extended Christian reading this article knows about this supernatural antidote: God permits us to choose to live differently. For most people, over-extension is purely a lifestyle choice and as such, the solution is to make a different choice. Do less. Live more simply. Stop taking on so many things and discontinue the relentless pursuit of ?more.?

Now, as a father of four kids under ten years old, I do understand that there are some seasons of life that are naturally more frenetic than others. For some people, the hyper-activity of these occasional seasons is due to circumstances beyond their control. But for most seasons, we determine crowdedness of our lives. And in doing so, we choose the extent to which we make space for our relationship with God.

1541 exclusiveConsequently, for those of us who claim to be believers, there?s no escaping the question: Am I too busy for God? Have I chosen a lifestyle that permits continuous relationship with God, or one that relegates Him to designated times and places? Is God still my top priority in life, or have I begun taking Him for granted?

If the answer to any of those questions is not what it should be, here?s an action item for today: Take inventory of the complicated lifestyle you?ve selected and what that?s done to your relationship with God. Do so with the help of a trusted friend, if you can. And then, with this big picture inventory in front of you?well?do something to solve the problem. I certainly don?t need to be over-directive here. If there?s not enough God in your life, you know what to do about that.

And so do I. But let me offer just one suggestion that?s universally applicable. It may be axiomatic advice, but from my studies of Christian leaders, it?s advice that needs to be underscored: A one time commitment to change will not inoculate you. It?s an essential beginning, of course, but it?s unlikely to alter the trajectory of your relationship with God. Permanent change requires both a genuine commitment today and a continuing re-commitment?maybe even a daily re-commitment?to avoid drifting back to a life of ignoring God.

I know from where I speak, not just because of my research, but also because a strange thing happened as I immersed myself in the research and writing of this article. In the several days I invested in this piece, I made noticeably less time than usual for God.

Indeed, busyness is a powerful and persistent epidemic. Even in the midst of teaching against it we are not immune!


1. I identified respondents as ?leaders? if they indicated having at least one direct report in their position at work. I identified respondents as ?Christians? through questions about their denominational affiliation and the number of years they have been Christian. Other demographics of the sample are as follows. Gender: women represent 60% of the sample. Respondents? average age: 40. Average years as a Christian: 21. Race: 67% White, 19% Black, 7% Hispanic, 4% Asian, 3% other. Denomination: Respondents represent 36 Christian denominations, with 33% reporting being ?non-denominational.? Geographic: Respondents come from 45 states and 47 countries, with 25% residing outside the United States. 
Michael Zigarelli is the dean of the Regent University School of Business and the editor of Regent Business Review. You can reach him at [email protected]