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When I issued the overseer survey in late 2017, the third-highest concern from overseers was that they felt they were far too busy and did not have enough time to shepherd God’s flock. In this article, I do not intend to criticize or add to the guilt surrounding this issue but rather would like to help each of us understand how we get so overloaded and then offer possible solutions.

Before we proceed to our topic, the top two concerns from the survey were: #1, disengagement and apathy among assembly members and, #2, not enough teaching on assembly truth. You can check out the full report and my analysis at oversight dot today slash 2.

Assessing Busyness

Most of us likely have something of a love/hate relationship with busyness. We know idleness leads to poverty (Proverbs 10:4, 20:13), gossip (1 Timothy 5:13), disrepair (Ecclesiastes 10:18) and material loss (Proverbs 24:30-34). However, we also find ourselves in the plight of Martha and feel jealous of those who can sit and enjoy the Lord (Luke 10:38-42).

Like Martha, we direct our flurry of activity towards legitimate tasks but this does not seem like the most redemptive use of our time (Ephesians 5:16). There are things we have to do and things we wish we could do. Often we immerse ourselves in the first group and rarely take care of the latter.

In other circumstances, all the busy activity just feels like a heavy burden we can never put down. It becomes wearisome and discouraging and we crave a break from it all. When that happens, it is time to pause and assess before we have a major crash.

Pause and Assess

Amid challenging the believers in Ephesus to examine their walk, Paul touched on the use of one’s time: “Look carefully on how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, ESV).

Take a moment to “look carefully on how you walk” with me. One of the best tools for scrutinizing this is the “balance wheel”.

The Balance Wheel

The Balance Wheel looks like a whole pie with the pieces already cut. The pie is your life. Each slice is one of the major domains or areas of your life and so some possibilities might be:

  • work or career
  • family
  • fitness
  • God
  • relationships
  • rest
  • finances
  • assembly
  • evangelism
  • recreation
  • self-care
  • mental health

Download the Balance Wheel PDF and write down one domain beside each slice of the pie. Choose the most important domains of your life.

Next, consider the centre of the wheel or pie a zero and the outer rim a ten. On a scale of 0 to 10, how well are you doing in each of these areas? If you’re doing far too little in that domain of life, you’ll give yourself a low score. If you are doing far too much or it is too consuming, you will give yourself a score close to or as high as 10. Draw a line across the wedge to represent that score. So if you gave yourself a 5 out of 10 you would draw a line across the wedge of that domain halfway from the centre. Do this for each domain, scoring each one individually.

What you will probably end up with is a very lumpy wheel. Depending on your stage of life and the priorities you have accepted your wheel may look very different from how you wish it would look. If you’re married, review it with your spouse and discuss which of the slices need to increase and which you need to dial back. You can navigate directly to the article for this show by going to oversight dot today slash 25.

If you are not a visual person — perhaps more of a spreadsheet kind of person — you could also list out the various domains of your life in one column. In the next column, give each domain a score based on how much time and energy each consumes where 0 is no time and no energy and 10 is an extreme of time and energy. That is a measure of your current situation. And then add another column where you identify how you believe the Lord would like you to invest your time and energy.

However you do it, take time to pause and assess what is balanced or unbalanced in your life. Inevitably, the discussion will turn towards how to restore balance to a happy, Christ-centred level. Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians is helpful here as well: immediately after his exhortation to make the best use of our time, he says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17, ESV).

But before we turn to solve the problem, let’s spend a few more minutes looking at how we get so busy.

How We Get Too Busy

I doubt that any overseer plans to become too busy. I know for myself it often feels like something that just happens — as if I am the victim of an outside force — and yet when I get to that overwhelmed place I am confronted by the fact that I made choices along the way that brought me to that point. Typically, none of the choices were bad or wrong but the accumulation of them has brought on the distress of becoming too busy.

How is it that these choices get made? Consider a few possibilities with me.

Busyness As a Badge of Honour

One real possibility is that I’ve taken on busyness as a badge of honour or as a mark of credibility.

It is very alluring to bring myself into a place in life where many, many things depend on me. That makes me feel important and very much needed. Sure, most of those activities may be Biblically valid: assembly, family, community outreach. But it is all too easy to use busyness as a means to supply my personal need to feel aggrandized, important or valued by others.

When that happens, dependence on Caleb takes the place of dependence on God. And instead of deriving my worth from the work of Christ I am pursuing my worth in activity and busyness. Suddenly I am on the treadmill of performance-based Christianity. The only way to feed that carnally derived sense of worth is to keep doing more and more and more until I burn myself out.

Sure, people may see me and say, “You’re a busy man!” A little burst of dopamine in my brain confirms the reward of these words. And yet in the hype of proving our worth we lose the things that really matter:

  • Quiet time with the Lord
  • Connection with our spouse
  • Relationships with our children
  • Creating a spiritual legacy

I know this is a real problem because I’ve been there myself and I am still vulnerable to it. What if, instead of taking “You’re a busy man!” as a compliment, we took the statement as concerned feedback? And feedback that warrants a serious review of our priorities?

Saying “Yes” Without Saying “No”

Another way we get too busy is by saying “Yes” to one thing without saying “No” to another. I cannot remember where I first heard this, but it has been most helpful. Even my wife now asks me, “If you say yes to that, what will you be saying no to?” When I add something to my life, I have to decide what else to remove.

For too many years, I lived the myth that I could add things to my life without displacing other things. Just work harder and faster, plan more diligently, optimize your personal efficiency.

To be frank, I got pretty good at this: I even believed I could beat the system by saying “yes” without having to say “no” to something else. For a time it appeared to work well. But I forgot one thing: I am finite. And finite in many ways. Mostly, I am ashamed to admit that what really was happening was I mostly ended up saying “no” to my wife and children. If not taking time from them then at the least I had no energy left over for them at the end of the day or week.

I am just encouraging you not to make the same mistake. Do not think you can say “yes” to one thing without saying “no” to something else. No matter what you take on in life, you will give something else up to take that on. Sometimes that may be a good thing: a change in priorities, perhaps. Or even we may become too lazy and we need to say “yes” to more service for the Lord and say “no” to so much time on the couch.

This is another reason Paul reminds us to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17, ESV): we need to say “yes” to what the Lord wants and “no” to what he does not want.

Guilt and Expectations

I have had to get better at saying, “No” to some requests from others.

In all fairness, we need to be candid that the saints have expectations of us. Frankly, some of those expectations are unreasonable. Someone comes up with an idea for outreach work: they sprinkle it with some guilt about how we’re not doing enough to reach the lost. They drop it in your lap as a responsible overseer and then they walk away.

I used to think, “Man, I better get on that.” Now, I say, “That’s a great idea. Why don’t you spearhead it and let me know how we can support your exercise!” Sometimes I am more explicit: “That is not something I have the bandwidth for but I will support you in prayer.”

This is not laziness: it is part of acknowledging my limits. I cannot do everything or involve myself in everything. While it’s good to have the support of the oversight in the various works of the assembly, this does not mean the oversight needs hands-on involvement in all of those works. Some we will directly involve ourselves in. Others we will occasionally drop in and encourage. Others we will pray for and inquire about from time to time. This is part of understanding what the will of the Lord is and recognizing our limitations.

Other people have agendas for us as overseers. This does not mean we need to comply with those agendas. In fact, in those moments when I feel overwhelmed and just too busy it has often struck me that I am too busy simply because I’m doing what everyone else asks of me rather than just focusing on what the Lord is asking of me.

Technology and Distraction

This could easily be a topic on its own! Allow me to just say that the clamour of technology often makes us feel more busy. Emails. Texts. Alerts. Notifications.

Interruption carries a significant hidden cost: it requires an inordinate amount of time to refocus on the task at hand.

The solution is simple: turn off as many notifications as possible. I could say more but I’ll leave it there.

How To Dial Down the Busyness

What are some solutions to this problem of busyness that so many of us struggle with?

Allow me to offer a few suggestions. You likely are familiar with all of these but the reminder of something that has worked well in the past is often a welcome refresher.

As an aside, if you are looking for a good book on Biblical productivity and becoming focused on what matters, check out Matt Perman’s “What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done”

Loyalty to Christ

There are a lot of good things for us to do in this world. But I believe the Lord also recognizes our finite capability. He will give us too much in order to make us dependent on Him (that’s a good thing!) but not so much that we cannot take care of what matters to Him.

Again, God calls us to balance. The Lord has called us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) but takes the responsibility on Himself of taking care of the other issues around that. Sometimes we get too busy because things distract us from our loyalty to Him. We follow our own will or the will of others. Could this be a time in your service for the Lord where you really need to pause and ask what are the top one or two or (at most) three things He wants you to focus on? Most of us juggle several projects at once but typically we are most effective when we narrow our focus.

I believe it is normal to feel the struggle in our service for the Lord. But the struggle needs to be around our own weakness as we turn toward His fullness. Too often, the struggle comes because other things distract us from Christ or else distracted from His priorities for us.

In his labour for the Lord, Paul admitted to struggling but also pointed out where he found his energy to serve: “For this I toil, struggling with all His [Christ’s] energy that He powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29, ESV).

I have to ask: how much is His energy powerfully at work within me?

Delegation

Another feature of Paul’s service for the Lord was his willingness to involve others. He would send others on specific missions. He would ask others for favours. He willingly received help from those who offered it to him.

Paul did not glory in being a one-man show. He was effective at delegation and willing to accept help and support.

What can you or I delegate to others? What burdens of service can we assign to other men and women that God has equipped to do His work?

Often we feel they may not do it as well as us. And perhaps they won’t. But how will they learn, or how will the succession of assembly leadership occur without your deliberate and intentional delegation of service to others? It may be flattering to leave a gap in the assembly when you pass on — but it would be far more effective for the long-term health of the assembly to leave a legacy of succession in your wake.

Let us be more ready and willing to delegate to others — this is about saying “no” to some things in your life (through delegation) so you can say “yes” to what the Lord really wants you to be doing.

Balance

We return to the subject of balance. Given your balance wheel you have worked on: what do you need to do to restore balance to your life?

Plan for Rest

Again, this could be a topic on its own. But briefly: rest is an acknowledgment that I am not God. People who do not rest have too high a view of themselves. In our rest we admit our inability to do all that can be done, our need for God’s hand at work in our service, and our own finite nature.

Rest keeps our hearts in check from the sin of trying to be like God by taking care of everything.

A very helpful book I recently read in this area is David Murray’s “Reset”. Highly recommended.

Grace

Sometimes there are events and situations that come into our lives that make us too busy. A natural disaster. A health crisis (perhaps chronic). Family distress. Assembly troubles.

In these moments, we may just need the grace to accept that we cannot do everything that life confronts us with. And in our weakness, we turn to our heavenly Father and cast these cares on Him. For older overseers with reduced capacity in smaller assemblies: this may be especially germane. You understand there is more that should be done and could be done but you find yourself no longer able to carry it all out. Sometimes we just need to lean on God’s grace and accept our limits. And we trust Him that this is His work: and in doing so we commend His work back into His hands.

That’s not wrong: that is leaning on God’s great grace.

In conclusion, we can dial down on busyness by getting our eyes back on our Lord: understanding His will for the days, weeks and the year ahead, by being willing to delegate, to do what needs to be done to restore balance, to plan for rest and to lean on His grace.

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About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.