Adrian Rogers was perhaps the first preacher to coin the phrase, “If Satan can’t make you bad, he will make you busy,” but many others have echoed the pithy statement. And for good reason. Pastors have seen the numbing effect of busyness on the people they serve. Busyness can harden our hearts as we work and perform without enjoying the One who gives us real life. Our busy lives can deceive us into thinking we are accomplishing much, but Jesus reminds us that apart from Him all we do will be worth nothing (John 15:5). The busier we are the less still we are, which is damaging to our souls as the Scripture connects our stillness with our realization that He is God (Psalm 46:10). So, churches and church leaders frequently and wisely challenge people to slow down, to spend more time with Jesus, to not over-schedule their lives, and to be counter-cultural by avoiding the treadmill of busyness.
But if the messages are true for people in the church, is the message not true for the overall church? Many churches are incredibly busy and many church calendars are filled with too many things. It would seem some church leaders believe the pithy “If Satan can’t make you bad, he will make you busy” for congregants but not for the congregation.
After writing Simple Church with Thom Rainer, I spent several years consulting and speaking with church leaders who lamented their church’s busy schedules. Many did not want the busyness and programmatic complexity but found themselves on ministry treadmills they inherited with lots of expectations to keep the treadmill moving. They lamented the busyness of their churches because of the adverse impacts they believed the busyness produced. Here are 3 common themes I heard from these leaders:
1. Lack of Engagement in the Broader Community
If people are continually at church, they likely are not in conversations with their neighbors. If people are “always at church,” they are less likely to be in the community as salt and light. We are not helping people live on mission in the cities and communities where the Lord has purposed them to live if we constantly ask them to be at church activities. Just as a busy person or family struggles to invest in important relationships, a busy church keeps God’s people from important relationships with the broader community.
2. Energy and Resources Spread Too Thinly
Every program, activity, or event requires resources. Churches that are too busy divide the energy and resources across a plethora of activities instead of appropriately investing in the programs they deem as most effective. When resources are spread too thinly across many things, none of them receive the resources or attention that they should.
3. Equating Busyness with Life
If a person’s calendar is “slammed,” people don’t tend to assume the person live by a healthy and sustainable rhythm. Yet for some reason a slammed church calendar can draw affirmations from people. Sadly, a busy church calendar can mask a lack of vitality because a busy church calendar can wrongly be equated with life. It is possible to be very busy on the outside and cold on the inside.
If Satan can’t make you bad, he will just make you busy. It is true for Christians. And for churches too.