Demolishing the Culture of Busyness


I didn’t want to put out two “Dire Dan” posts in a row, but besides the problems we have with taking care of the least of these, we have a serious problem with busyness. Yep, speed kills...and now we have the proof!Any long-time reader knows that I feel busyness damages the soul and makes us less aware of the the Lord’s leading. And it’s a growing problem.

Now my suspicion is no longer conjecture.

Dr. Michael Zigarelli, associate professor of Management at the Charleston Southern University School of Business, conducted a study over five years that shows that Christians are succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent.

I’ll wait here while you read the article.

Read it? Great!

In light of yesterday’s post, how can we possibly meet the needs of others if we’re always focused on our own lives as we rush hither and yon? Well, we can’t. Sort of puts a crimp in those Kingdom of God plans, doesn’t it.

Who succumbs to the rush?

And professionals whose busyness interferes with developing their relationship with God include lawyers (72 percent), managers (67 percent), nurses (66 percent), pastors (65 percent), teachers (64 percent), salespeople (61 percent), business owners (61 percent), and housewives (57 percent).

Let’s break that list down to root issues that create busyness.

Lawyers, managers, salespeople, and business owners

  • Distorted work lives (caused by industrialism).
  • The pursuit of money.

Nurses, teachers, housewives, and pastors

  • Bearing the load of caring for others in a relationally-disconnected society created by distorted work lives and the pursuit of money.

The root causes listed are familiar to readers of this blog. Many posts here cover these root issues. Sadly, those tenacious roots grow deeper every year, but we hear little about them in our churches.

It’s not enough to say that we must focus more on God. That’s just adding another task to the problem. Instead, we Christians must start questioning the underlying root issues that cause this busyness.

While the study does not explain why Christians are so busy and distracted, Zigarelli described the problem among Christians as “a vicious cycle” prompted by cultural conformity.

“[I]t may be the case that (1) Christians are assimilating to a culture of busyness, hurry and overload, which leads to (2) God becoming more marginalized in Christians’ lives, which leads to (3) a deteriorating relationship with God, which leads to (4) Christians becoming even more vulnerable to adopting secular assumptions about how to live, which leads to (5) more conformity to a culture of busyness, hurry and overload. And then the cycle begins again.”

I agree with Dr. Zigarelli’s analysis. First, we are caught in a vicious cycle of busyness. Second, the implied cure is to no longer conform to the culture.

What must that non-conformity look like?

I suggest that we Christians must

  • Revitalize and rebuild local economies that counter globalism’s trend toward marginalization of communities and individuals
  • Discover alternative work lives that keep families (and communities) together during the day
  • Pursue simplicity by rejecting consumerism
  • Create alternative Christian communities that better conform to the Gospel’s standard of benevolence and more effectively shoulder the burden of caring for others
  • Reform our doctrinal emphases from head knowledge to the practical outworkings of the Faith
  • Stand by and encourage those who reject conformity to the prevailing culture rather than marginalizing them
  • Craft a new vision for living lives devoted to God first and to each other second.

Folks, these root issues penetrate deeply into the Western psyche. Busyness simply reflects the root. As Jesus notes of some demonic powers, only prayer and fasting will drive them out. And I believe some element of the demonic weaves through these roots.

None of this will be easy. It means revisioning all aspects of how we live our lives. Too many of us think how we live now is the only way it can be. But that’s a lie. We’ve got to stop believing that lie and start believing that God can change things if we repent and start asking hard questions that demand even harsher answers.

See these posts for more:

29 thoughts on “Demolishing the Culture of Busyness

    • David,

      I think part of the problem is “transformed into what?” We don’t have a vision for what any of this non-busyness looks like, therefore we struggle trying to grasp an elusive, ethereal concept.

      Where are the visionaries in the Church? We need some of the well-known folks to start wising up and talking about this.

      • David Riggins

        Sometimes it seems the bible only gives us examples of what ought not be. Before he went of on his “be transformed riff, Paul used the magic word “therefore” linking his discussion of the grafting of the “wild olive branch” of the gentile onto the cultivated root. In that discussion he said something interesting:

        What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.” And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”

        I think that Paul is effectively saying that salvation came to the gentile because the Jews were blinded by their conformation to this world.

        So now we have the gentiles falling into the same trap. We have an example of how not to conform in Pauls example:

        Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.

        If we have become conformed to this world, sharing in its strife and fear, then it is only because we have bent out knees to something other than God. Like the Jews of Elijahs day, it was easier to go with the flow.

        But, and it’s a big one, we do so at our peril. Paul provides a beautiful example of how we as gentiles are grafted into God’s rootstock, replacing the natural branches that were broken off because of unfruitfulness. (He is de-vine, I am de branch 🙂 ) So Paul continues:

        You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

        So we have a warning from Paul, shape up, or be broken off. I won’t go too deeply into this, but Paul follows up this discourse with this:

        Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

        And following this, an admonition to act as a body, each with it’s part to play, not acting in selfishness, but in selflessness.

        What does this look like?

        We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

        Paul does not provide a word picture of what this looks like, but we have the example of Acts 2 to give us a glimpse, because none of what occurred in the early church could have happened unless people were pouring themselves out as an offering, offering thier bodies as sacrifices. We can stand on the sidelines and wonder what it looks like, or we can act, alone if need be. But as God pointed out to Elijah, even when we think we are alone in our devotion, God has someone waiting to encourage us.

      • Peyton

        Well, I finally found time for reading today’s post!!

        Someone has pointed out that workaholism is the only socially acceptable addiction. Nay, it has long been enncouraged by churches across the theological spectrum. “Oh, you can serve on the Welcoming Committee.” “We need someone to chair the Harvest Picnic this year.” “We’re starting a new group for the ‘over 55’ members.” And so on. Does anyone ever stop and ask whether we really need these activities?

        I am presently taking time out (oh horrors!!) to reread Watchman Nee’s little book, “Love Not the World.” He observes the busyness — even in pre-war China — and its effect on believers. He also calls it worldliness.

        Yes, Romans 12:1-2 (the renewal of our minds) is great. But it comes ‘therefore’ after Romans 11:33-36 (a doxology to God’s mind) and leads to Romans 12:3-8 (the Redemptive Gifts). Imbedded is the exhortation, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought….” We are, none of us, indispensible to the world’s purposes. As soon as we lose “effectiveness” we will be cast aside.

        Folks, the World is not our friend! It is, in fact, a defeated enemy (John 16:33). But how it can lie to us, bringing us into its clutches more and more strongly.

        I would like to write more on this, but time is running out!

  1. Diane Roberts


    Have you read “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben? The whole book is basically about your 7 points. And of course, there are also a myriad of other books teaching and encouragng us to take advantage of local food and goods.

    • Diane,

      I looked that book up and immediately went online to my local library to see if they could order it in. To my surprise, they actually have it on the shelves! So I’ll be reading it this week if I can find the time.

      Thanks for the info.

  2. M.E. Huffmaster

    Hi Dan,

    I don’t have that much knowledge about the busyness of other professions, but it’s understandable when it comes to nursing. There is hardly a hospital in America that isn’t understaffed (sometimes grossly) and nurses experience a very high burnout rate. My own sister finally had to leave the profession for the sake of her health.

    BTW, I was recently called to jury duty on a medical malpractice case against two nurses. I was dismissed from the jury (with prejudice) when I made it clear that due to having two nurses in the family, I wasn’t sure I could set aside my biases and deliver an impartial verdict.

    • M.E.,

      Hospital work is draining. I don’t have an answer for that.

      But many nurses don’t work in hospitals. Where I live dozens of home healthcare companies shuttle all over the county taking care of people. But where are the families? Where are the churches?

      When my Mom was terminally ill, everyone thought we should put her in a home. To me, that was unthinkable. I quit my job to take care of her. My brother moved his family from Boston to come help. My other brother lived in her home. When I could no longer care for her at our home, we moved her back into her home so she could spend her final days there. My brothers took care of her then. In her last ten days, a hospice nurse checked in from time to time.

      We made sacrifices for my Mom. In many ways, it cost me dearly to make that sacrifice and still continues to cost. But we did not relegate her to the system. She always had her family around her and not just for drop-in visits once in a while.

      But in our busyness, how many people like my Mom wind up jettisoned to the system? Millions. And I personally find that appalling. I won’t judge the people who do that, though, because I understand the cost. Many simply aren’t willing to pay that cost. Unless we fix our system, that cost will only get pricier, too. That is why we MUST fix it.

      • M.E. Huffmaster


        I am very thankful that there are a few people willing to make the sacrifices you and your siblings did to honor your mother. My own mother lives with my sister and brother-in law now and I help out as I can. But I can tell you that due to my mother’s multiple health issues, it’s a two person job. My sister simply could not do what she does if my brother-in law wasn’t willing to help. My husband sacrifices his vacation time so he can be with me when I stay with Mom while Sis and hubby take some vacation time a couple weeks during the year. And the job just gets tougher as the months and years pass. Scoliosis, osteoporosis, mancular degeneration, deafness, and now vascular dementia have taken their toll not only on our mother, but the entire family. And difficult though it was, I have told my sister that when Mother becomes too much for her to handle, she should do what she must do in order to preserve her own health. Neither of us is physically capable of dealing with a total mental and physical invalid and the mental toll is hardly less than the physical. A terminal illness with a finite timeline is one thing, but unstoppable physical and mental decline that goes on for years is altogether a horse of a different color, particularly as we have no other family members to help us.

      • AMEN!!!! I was too busy (ha, ha, ha!!!!!) yesterday taking care of my grandsons to comment to this post, Dan, but I agree wholeheartedly. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think that you are telling us to not be busy, but that it is the busyness of the world that prevents us from being busy for Christ. And caring for our elderly family? You just set up my soapbox! That is my passion, truly! It is the only reason I write and is the subject of one of my rather neglected blogs: Washing the Feet of the Saints. I’ve been scratching away at a book of the same title. The blog has been neglected this past year since I have been taking care of my grandsons, but it is still the place I feel the Lord has called me. I am sure to make people angry when I say this (it always does), but most of us don’t want to make the sacrifices such a task calls us to make. Like you, our family sacrifices were huge and many of the results of that time remain, but keeping mother in a nursing home was truly unthinkable. Don’t anyone tell me that people are too ill to be cared for by family. They may need some help, but they can do it. My mother required 24/7/365 care. Did I get away from home much? No. Did I even get to church? No. Did the church help me? Not much! Did we have a big house to accommodate her and her equipment? No. I could go on and on…but this is your blog, not mine. I just wanted to give you a “high five” for the post and this particular comment. Keeping you and your family in prayer, Dan.

  3. Dan,
    With greater and greater proportions of the world’s population living in urban areas year by year, could you help us to understand what implementing your suggestions might look like in urban and suburban population centers? I don’t see how we can all go back to the farm (that would end up looking something like the sprawling mess Lancaster County, PA has become) where it might be an easier undertaking.

  4. Suzanne

    Great post! As evidence of busyness, one only needs to look at the bio’s of the big college scholarship winners at any high school. The kid that is reliable, steady, pleasant, decent, and hard working need not apply; the winners are the kids that are overly involved in just about everything. Some of these kids truly are brilliant but many of them just give lip service to as many organizations and clubs as they can because that’s what everyone seems to equate with success. Cheating is rampant in schools (or so my kids and teachers tell me) and I think it’s because students are too busy being busy to actually read a book, or write an essay, or do the homework, or think critically about God or anything else. Churches, unfortunately, are following suit by focusing on programming, number of services, committees; in other words, activities. Being still and knowing that God is God seems to be falling by the wayside….

    • Suzanne,

      When I was a senior, I won our (large) high school’s award for the student with the most school activities. But when I look at what kids do today, it’s nuts. And pity the poor parents who wind up shuttling a lot of those kids to their activities.

      • Suzanne

        It is nuts, but beyond that all we are really doing is encouraging kids to “work the system” and teaching kids that the busier you are the better you are. God bless one mother that I talked to who made her daughter quit doing some volunteer work because she was doing it only to pad her college/scholarship applications. In this “Generation Me” culture, we’ve even managed to shift the notion of volunteering for the betterment of the whole to the benefit of the volunteer, and it definitely carries over into the church. God promises that when we give, we will recieve even more, but that is not to be our reason for giving. But I fear many are too busy to think that through.

    • J.Clark

      An excerpt from the above mentioned site:
      “We now live in a house the exact size of our old garage. We use less than one-third of the fossil fuels and one-quarter of the electricity we once used. We’ve gone from leaving two barrels of trash by the curb each week to leaving one bag every few weeks. We no longer own a clothes dryer, garbage disposal, dishwasher, or lawn mower. Our “yard is planted with native wildflowers and a large vegetable garden. Half of our possessions have found new homes. We are a poster family for the downwardly mobile.

      What my family and I have gained in exchange is a life richer in meaning than I could have imagined. Because of these changes, we have more time for God. Spiritual concerns have filled the void left by material ones. Owning fewer things has resulted in things no longer owning us. We have put God to the test, and we have found his Word to be true. He has poured blessings and opportunities upon us. When we stopped living a life dedicated to consumerism, our cup began to run over.”

      • J. Clark,

        It would be nice to know more of the circumstances of that family. I’m not certain all of us would be able to do what they did or do it the way they did. I know that my wife and I place a great emphasis on hospitality and that’s exceedingly hard to do with large groups of people if you have a tiny home or postage-stamp yard. Even a half dozen people added for one evening to a small home can be quite uncomfortable. On several occasions, we’ve had more than forty people to our home and property. We’d never be able to do that without the home and property we have (and our home is rather average, actually).

        This is not to say that we should not investigate smaller homes and more simplified living! We simply can’t be dogmatic about how it’s done. That’s the major error of some environmentalists—and Christians! I think the best way around that is for a group of Christian families to buy land, build smaller houses on the land, then build a larger “group” building for community meetings and general “hanging-out.” In that model, everyone could live in a smaller home and share the larger space.

        • J.Clark

          Agreed Dan. I’m not sure that he’s calling anyone to be like him in form but in principle. I have a large house (2900sq ft) in inner city Portland. I rent out three rooms to college students in the basement while the upstairs is for my family of 4. We have a Wed. night fellowship/Bible study every week and have had one almost every week (12-15people) since we first bought this house two yrs ago. We couldn’t do it before because we lived in a 800 sq. ft. house. Stewardship is a governing principle for all things. I like the idea of a community building which is what a church building could be used for but few promote such. I think a church should use up its building till the carpet wears out and the bricks fall in. Another issue that the”serve God save the planet” doesn’t talk about is stewardship of money; making the most of it in how you spend it and invest it.

  5. Beyond Words

    Didn’t have time to read all the comments 🙂 but I rejoice that you’re blogging on this. Christians MUST wake up. Thank you!

  6. Dan:

    Speaking for the lawyers, I can say that all of the information explosion that has invaded our home through television, Internet, and cellphones has also amplified the world’s expectations of a lawyer’s productivity. Clients and court expect us to produce more and more work product without a cooresponding compensation increase.

    I’m not crying the blues here just for lawyers because almost every other occupation can say the same thing. Our society expects more for less. We allow ourselves to be swept away by societal norms and lose our ability to disengage from the vicious cycle without consequences that we consider unbearable.

    All of that aside, my Amish clients don’t seem to be much more successful. They are heavily mortgaged. They feel bound to push the envelop of their heritage by using inovative machinery that conforms withe the letter of their standards.

    So what are we to do? I think each of us must forge our lives in God’s hand with a constant vigilance against the busyness cyclone. Disengaging and running from the lifestyles that we have created may work for some, but that kind of ostrich reaction does not make much of a testimony in this world that we occupy.

    The tougher approach is to live the lives that we have created responsibly and mold ourselves into simpler living that glorifies God. Ultimately, living for God’s glory measuer our success or failure. If we can’t point to our lives and show honestly how we served God along the way, that we must admit that we need much more refinement.

    Concerning the lady with the hearing aides, I would answer your question of where was her church this way. Many people don’t want to seek help in their churches because their pride stands in the way. However, they will write somewhat annonymously to the Wall Street Journal with impunity. On the otherhand, we who aspire to shepherd our people have an obligation to ascertain needs attentively and model compassion actively. The flock can’t know the shepherd’s love if the shepherd doesn’t advertise the love. Of course, this can add to Busyness – oh well.

  7. Cathy

    Everthing in life is a choice. While we tend to think we are forced into “this” or “that”, we are not…..Until one chooses to live with less, one won’t…..

    Per the Scripture, the love of money is the root of all evil….greed for more is in the drivers seat of our lives and we are “asleep”….not noticing the scenery or ejoying the ride.

    Until one examines what one truly believes (and to discover this, one need only look at how one lives—why?—because one’s way of thinking/believing leads to one’s way of acting) nothing will change.

    One huge promoter of busyness, I believe, is one’s church. I’ve had to step back from my church. I’ve been judged as unspiritual because I refuse to participate in all the programs and promotions of the church. And I’ve been told that which I “do” outside the church doesn’t count. To that I say “poppycock”…..

    A simple ordinary life, lived daily where the Lord places one, doing the work given one is the most spiritual of all lives.

    A too busy life is a symptom of pride and/or greed. Either we believe we must do it or it won’t get done….or we do it to get more, more, more…..I lived years thinking “if I don’t do it who will?”…… never thinking for a moment that perhaps God didn’t want “it” done.

    If there is no time to just be, when, then, does one pray?…meditate?…minister to those in his midst? Sadly, one doesn’t.

    AA has a serenity prayer that “asks” God to help one change what can be changed, to accept what can’t be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. We’d do well to apply this to the problem of busyness and activity in our lives.

  8. Dave Block


    You’re right on the money, as usual.

    “Revitalize and rebuild local economies that counter globalism’s trend toward marginalization of communities and individuals”

    One great way for areas to work toward this is to adopt a local currency. I wrote an article about this for the magazine “In Business: Creating Sustainable Enterprises & Communities”:

    Thanks for challenging us.

  9. Deb

    I have just begun (well, halfway through in just a few days) a phenomenal book by Mark Tabb–Living With Less, The Upside of Downsizing. It’s my pick for “Read of the Year.”

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