3 Ways Busyness Hurts People and Churches

There was a famous research experiment conducted by two Princeton psychology professors that shows the harm busyness does to our priorities and our focus. Because the experiment was conducted on seminary students, it is very applicable to ministry leaders and churches.

The year was 1973. John Darely and Daniel Batson were the professors. Three groupings of seminary students were told to individually walk across campus and give a presentation on the story of the Good Samaritan. An actor was hired to lay in an alley, slumped over and in need of help. One grouping of students were put under some time pressure. They were out of time, late for the presentation. The second group was told the presentation was about to start, if they left now they would be on time. A third group had time to get to the presentation, and may end up waiting once they got there. The results were very different for each group, depending on how much time they had and how busy and rushed they felt.

  • 63% of the students who had extra time stopped to help the man.
  • 45% of the students who were on time stopped to help the man.
  • 10% of students who were out of time stopped to help the man.

These were seminary students. Teaching on the Good Samaritan. And only 10% stopped to be a good Samaritan when they were late and out of time. Such is the devastating impact of busyness.

1. Busyness distracts us from God.

When we are overly busy, we fail to stop and listen. We rush by others, but we also rush by opportunities to listen to the Lord and enjoy time with Him. While busyness is often applauded over laziness, the cure for the vice of sloth is not busyness as trading sloth for busyness is trading a lethargic life for a frenzied one. Neither is pleasing to God or very effective.

2. Busyness distracts us from others.

When we are overly busy we fail to see the pain and struggle in others, as the research experiment with the seminary students proved. What is fascinating about the study is that the mental prompt of teaching about the Good Samaritan failed to overcome the busyness. In other words, the busyness was more powerful than the mental prompt. When we are overly busy we are unable to be for people what we should be for people, even if we know better.

3. Busyness distracts us from what is most important.

As many have pointed out, we can acquire more money and resources but we cannot get more time. Thus, when we are overly busy, we have no choice but to steal time from what is most important. When we are overly busy, time has to be taken from something important because there is not more time to get somewhere else. When we have a deep sense of commitment to an overarching important mission, we abhor busyness for the sake of busyness. When we say “no” to busyness, we are saying “yes” to what is most important.