Busy, Frantic, and Overwhelmed?

busy.jpgI learned something early on in my ministry.  Unfortunately, it was not good.  I learned that many people primarily see ministry as doing things for God.  Now of course that is overly simplified.  Yet, that was my perception at the time.  It seemed like we especially admired people who looked exhausted. Of course, ministry can be very difficult and exhausting at times.  Paul even spoke once of warning a group of people "…night and day with tears."  Yet ministry and life in Christ are really to be much more than a life of exhaustion.

A few years ago, I was in conversation with a minister who traveled with his wife throughout the country speaking in many churches.  I asked him what he was seeing in these churches.  "How are you reading these churches?"  His reply was interesting.  "What I am seeing are churches full of very tired people.  In fact, many of them just look exhausted."  Many of us understand what he was saying.  Don’t we?  Maybe you are a young mother with several children.  You may be a father who is just trying to deal with all the demands of your job and stay connected to your children as well.  You may be a university student with papers to write, books to read, and another test at the end of this week.

Yet, being a spiritual person is not about being "spiritual" on top of everything else I must do this week.  "Let me see, I have to go to Target, do the laundry, clean out the flower bed, and call my mother so that she knows we are coming this weekend.  Oh yea, I need to also be spiritual sometime today."  Rather than one more item on the ever-growing list, maybe my relationship with God is something more than this.

I appreciate Randy Harris’ words in a fine little book, Like a Shepherd Lead Us:

This is the place to begin any discussion of spirituality for church leaders — a group of people who surely fit the description of being busy, frantic and overwhelmed.  Let me say it as clearly as I can: Spirituality cannot be one more task piled on top of people already overburdened with the care of God’s flock.  Enough is enough!  We are not the Messiah.  That job, thankfully, has been taken and done extraordinarily well!  You and I must quit acting as if the whole of eternity depends on us doing one more job.

The call of the spiritual life is not to more frantic activity.  The spiritual life is rather the call to peace.  So, as we come to walk more closely with God, the chaos should recede from our lives.  We cease to be under the tyranny of frantic business.

When I visited the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., the leaders repeated a phrase that has haunted me ever since.  "If you are overextended, you are under-committed."  They take commitment so seriously that they believe one can’t be committed to thirty different things.  So if you are overextended, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’re under-committed.  I think that is the description of most Christian leaders I know, and it is certainly a description of me.  Deeper spirituality is not a matter of doing more stuff.

(Randy Harris, "Spirituality for the Busy, Frantic, and Overwhelmed" in Like a Shepherd Lead Us, edited by David Fleer and Charles Siburt)

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20 thoughts on “Busy, Frantic, and Overwhelmed?

  1. Wow – that thought from the leaders of Church of the Savior is one that is extremely worthy of considerable thought. What a great way of evaluating. What a great diagnosis. I had never heard it put in that way. Excellent. Thanks for sharing that one!

  2. I really like the statement of that church. My question is often how to decide what to cut back on. I would like practical suggestions on how to be overly committed to God and not feel overextended.

  3. well said. When  we talk about issues of "frantic-ness" with other leaders, the response we usually get is "welcome to the ministry". Which makes me want to scream – – but that’s the status quo…one which we are determined to challenge  – – thanks for challenging it with us.

  4. Jim,
    Thanks for another fine post.  It reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where "George" gets away with accomplishing nothing at work by acting as though he’s always frustrated.

  5. Makeesha,You are so right.  Ministry does not have to be this way.  Yet, the status quo can be a powerful strain in ministry.  I just think that what we are about is worthy of something more than this. Thanks, 

  6. Carrie,You raise a very good question for which there is no easy answer.  I do think it is important to think through the activites that any one of us might be doing at the "church."  One can be very committed to Jesus and  be involved in one organized ministry at one’s church.  One could also have little commitment to Jesus and his teachings and yet be invovled in half dozen organized mininstries at one’s church.Practically, I think it would help to think about the ministiries a person might already be involved with before we even begin to talk about what is happening at the church building.  Married?  That is a ministry.  Have children?  That is a ministry.  Am I allowing God to use me with a person or two at work or in my neighborhood?  That is ministry.What one ministry at our church really uses my gifts?  Which one gives me great satisfaction as I see God really using me?Now, how many activities are left that I said "yes" to because someone asked me to help.  For some people, one of the most God-honoring words that could be said is, "No– No I am unable to do that this this week, this month, this year, etc. 

  7. For many people who really want to follow Jesus, a major cause of our busyness is the church. All of those activities – Bible studies and drama practices and Sunday School teaching.  If you get good enough at being busy at the church, they make you a leader, which makes you even busier. 
    The last 3 years of our lives have been spent in transition (a sudden move, my husband’s extended job search while he finished seminary on a part-time basis, launching our kids into adulthood, and me writing 3 books) – which has prohibited us from participating in all of that church-sponsored busyness. 
    Prior to this, I had been craving a simplified life and time with God, and yet, I still find myself wrestling with who I really am as a Christian because no one at church needs me to be running anything, teaching anything, planning a service, writing a drama, working in the office, folding bulletins… my Christian-busy habits have shaped my identity far more than I ever realized. 
    Your words hit the bulls-eye for me today.  Thanks.

  8. This sounds similar to the philosophy of Andy Stanley. They reduced all of the ministries of the church to a very small number, perhaps three? The idea was to eliminate everything that they were not good at – very good. This left worship services, Christian education, and maybe one other. Adding ministries is allowed, but the sponsor must show to the leadership that the church was absolutely the best place for this ministry to occur. Else it did not happen. I may not have all the details exactly perfect here, but the idea is correct. Is it easy to implement? Of course not, especially in an establishment church. Carrie’s comment and your answer relate to reducing the ministries of an individual. I think all of this equally applies to  the organization as well. Last:  are you the only one who can make newlines in comments? 

  9. I’m reading a book that is relevant to this conversation called "Simple Church" by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger.  It tells of the effects on people in churches that have a simple goal and message of ministry.  Sometimes we try and fit in too much stuff in a week.  Even if it’s good things, it’s still too much.

  10. Dave,(Regarding the new paragraphs.  Several people have mentioned that.  I will check into that today.  Thanks for asking.)You are so right regarding reducing the organized ministries of churches.  Sometimes, churches feel so cluttered that we are very active and busy but may not be doing any one thing particularly well. 

  11. Michelle,A very nice comment.  What you say is so true.  We have created these very, very busy churches which have impacted people in ways we may not even realize.  I appreciate you bringing this to the forefront (along with a few others who have left comments).