When I was interviewing for my current position as a youth pastor someone asked me, “What do you think is the greatest challenge facing teenagers today?”

It’s a great question. I remember giving some answer about postmodernism and the challenge of living in a relativistic culture. Blah blah blah. I’m sure my answer was brilliant… but let me take another crack at it.

Busyness. Without a doubt, I’d answer, “Busyness.” And I’m not alone.

The Barna Research Group and Youth Specialties have conducted a “State of Youth Ministry” and found that 74% of youth pastors say teen busyness is the main obstacle to ministry while only 11% of parents claim their teenagers are too busy.

Let that sink in. 89% of parents are ok with their teenager’s busyness but only 26% of youth pastors agree. I think that qualifies as a discussion point between youth pastors and parents!

As a youth pastor, you can guess where I fall, but I think it would be helpful to clarify why busyness is so spiritually dangerous that so many church leaders point to it as the primary challenge they face in their ministries. (note: this is not a unique challenge to those of us who serve in youth ministry… teenagers have learned it from someone!)

Busyness & Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan
Busyness keeps us from being good neighbors. When we’re busy we become like the priest and the pharisees in the Parable of the Good Samaritan who didn’t have time to notice the dying man on the side of the road.

The devil doesn’t need to make us heretics, just busy people who are so consumed with righteous action we become blind to the greater things around us. We don’t even notice people who are in need, and we can often send off the signal to others, “Don’t bother me, I’m too busy!”

I hate it when people try to compliment me by telling me how busy I am. As if busyness equals importance. It doesn’t mean you’re important. It just means you have a lot of stuff to do.

Let’s all agree to be better neighbors. That probably means we need to trim our calendars and stop doing so much.

Do we Believe in the Sabbath Anymore? 
I know Christians who argue the Sabbath is not binding to Christians because it is part of that Mosaic Law. And yet, it was so important that it was included in the Ten Commandments (all of the other nine commandments are considered binding and relevant to Christians today) and the LORD consistently sent prophets to judge Israel when they continually broke the Sabbath.

It seems to me that the Sabbath should remain incredibly important today. It set Israel apart as different and distinct from their neighbors. They needed to live counter-culturally in order to give a day to worship and rest for the glory of God.

This isn’t a call towards legalism and setting up rigid expectations. What would it look like today if Christians faithfully set Sunday aside as a day for worship, rest, and service? For example: to some, mowing the lawn is an expression of rest and worship, while for others it’s an act of work and toil. Let the Sabbath direct you towards worship and faithful rest, and intentional plan your other days to complete your work before Sunday. 

What if families refused to allow sports schedules to dictate the weekend, because other priorities were more important? What if we simply said “No” more often to invitations (even good ones!) because there was something more important to us: Honoring God by enjoying rest and peace and freedom.

Busy or Fruitful?
I want to be fruitful. I want to be productive. I don’t want to waste my life and I don’t want to be lazy. Busy and fruitful are very different. The last thing this article represents is an invitation to laziness.

Busyness causes stress and keeps your eyes on your calendar instead of on the people you are serving. Fruitfulness produces joy because you are honoring God by serving people. If you are more focused on the task than on the people, consider this your warning to reevaluate.

If you’re more busy than fruitful, then stop, look around, and look for ways to do things differently. God doesn’t want us to be lazy. He wants us to love Him while loving others (see the Great Commandment). How can you do things differently so your busyness becomes servanthood and blessing while embracing the freedom of Christ?

Your Schedule Reflects Your Priorities
Write up a list of your life’s priorities. Ask yourself these questions

  • What matters most to you? To what things do you believe God wants you and your family to be committed?
  • How do you want people to describe you? Could you easily envision people not “bothering you” because they assume you’re too busy for them?
  • For what do you want to be remembered?

Look at your calendar. Does it reflect what you want your priorities to be? Are you ok with the portrait of “You” your schedule paints?

Taming the Calendar Beast

  1. Put Christ first. Do you read Scripture? Do you pray? When you pray, what do you pray about and what do you ask for? Prayerfully put Christ first and ask him to continue making you more like himself.
  2. Know your priorities. Sit down sometime and work through the answers about priorities above. If you process by talking it out, then find someone and buy them coffee. If you’re a writer then grab your journal. If you don’t know what matters most to you, and if you haven’t prayerfully determined your priorities then do it ASAP.
  3. Learn to say “NO.” You can’t do everything. Whenever you say “Yes” to something, you’re saying “No” to something else. Be intentional about saying “Yes/No.” The Christian life is one of obligation to God, not to man. Let your commitments reflect that.
  4. Consistently ask yourself, “Am I busy or fruitful?” This has been really helpful for me, because it’s helped me realize where I’m spending my time selfishly. It’s also encouraged me in the midst of the stress to remember WHY I’m doing whatever I’m doing – to bless people and build up the church.

Recommended Reading on Busyness & Time Management

How about you? What are your tips on taming busyness and keeping it from distracting you into uselessness?

A Few Quotes From Kevin DeYoung’s Book Crazy Busy

“We are so busy with a million pursuits that we don’t even notice the most important things slipping away.”

“Without forethought of purpose and follow through of plan, we will keep pushing aside the priorities we say are our actual priorities, the important things like God, church, family, and friends.”

“The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in the providence of God.”