Mar 26, 2018


Busyness Kills College Ministry

Cole Penick writes about how busyness might be a great threat to your college ministry’s effectiveness.

Busyness is a sneaky, indiscriminate leech and it’s killing your college ministry. Rookies. Veterans. Interns. Multi-staff team leaders. Full-time. Part-time. Multi-hat players. We are all prone to fill our time with a flurry of activity that is neither effective nor efficient.

Busyness suckers me in every time. Its duplicity knows no bounds. It feeds off my grandest ambitions and my deepest fears. It entices me with its easy metrics and illusion of control and then it buries me under time-wasting distractions. At times busyness lets me wave the hero banner. Other times, it lets me play the victim card, whichever serves me better. It swaps out my identity in Christ for one bound up in activity. And until busyness begins to negatively affect my outcomes or relationships, I’m unlikely to be called out for it.

If anything, I might get the affirmation I sinfully crave.

Busyness disguises itself as the means to achieves those grand goals we set for our college ministry. It’s the proverbial “hare” trying to reach, disciple, and mobilize college students. The speed of the year and the annual turnover of leadership mislead us into thinking we have to pack in more and more to make the most of the fleeting time. But it’s the short-lived nature of each year that should push us toward a more strategic use of our time. The unexamined schedule is likely to become bloated with appointments and events that carry over from week to week and year to year.

For years we spent over 60% of our beginning of year budget on a blowout, welcome week event. Hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars later we had great memories and awesome photos – but hardly any new students. Yes, there were auxiliary benefits (publicity, leadership engagement, etc) but in the end we realized we were spinning our wheels with this particular event. No amount of tweaking our follow up process or in-game strategy made it more effective. There is nothing like a flashy event with hundreds of participants to pad the stats, though. Those numbers and snapshots look great in newsletters and supervisors’ reports. It’s funny how busyness cons us into thinking we have to justify ourselves while simultaneously offering us a quick fix to do just that. It’s the snake oil salesman who waltzes into town to convince you you’re sick and then offer you the cure.

My fears of all sorts tempt me to hide behind a whirlwind of constant motion. There’s nothing like being swamped with appointments to wash away the doubts. My fear of failure lures me into thinking that volume of activity increases the likelihood of striking gold. My fear of man hopes I’ll gain your praise or avoid your criticism if I just pull off one more event for the ages. Yet, at their core, these fears truly expose my faithlessness. When my identity is found in Christ’s work on the Cross, I reject securing it through my own late night, long weekend efforts. Faithfulness recognizes my own limitations and trusts God to move mightily through them.

Let’s be clear. Busyness is not the cure for idleness. Idleness and laziness are sinful. They reject the God-given commands to work as unto the Lord. From Genesis to Revelation, we are called to rejoice in the work the Lord has given us. Laziness sets up rest, a gift from the Lord, and makes it an idol. It tells us we can find our identity and satisfaction in escaping work. But busyness makes an idol out of effort. Work is meant to point us and others to God. Toil reminds us we are finite creates who are dependent on our Creator. Simultaneously, it reveals the imago dei, those characteristics within each of us that were endowed by our Creator to remind us of him and to produce worship to him. Busyness makes us forget our Creator. When we are blind to him, we vacillate between pridefully pretending to be him and despairing when we realize we’re not. The Gospel holds those truths in their proper tension. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Busyness is a time traveling super-thief. In a single instance it can steal the effectiveness of yesterday’s work, the quality of today’s, and the preparedness of tomorrow’s. And more than just the fact that you might be scrambling tomorrow to teach that Bible study is the reality that busyness robs us of long-term impact. The more filler I pack into my schedule the less quality disciple-making time I get to spend with those I’m sending out, and its quality over quantity that has lasting effect. You have just a few months or years to instill the kind of spiritual DNA in a college student that will have kingdom impact long after they are beyond your reach.

That kind of DNA doesn’t implant with just a few superficial conversations or even a series of sermons. Deep-end discipleship requires a cadence of increasing familiarity and challenge over time, time that is precious but available to the intentional college minister. Yet busyness crowds out the opportunities for that committed level of discipleship. It also can be intimidating and irreproducible for the student. Busyness sets up the expectation that only the superhuman can be disciple-makers. If the way you utilize your five talents isn’t reproducible for the student with just one, you might be feeding his inclination to just bury it instead of being faithful with his few.

Sometimes the effects of busyness are visible. You experience burnout. Your “yes” can no longer be “yes” but instead you have to back out of commitments, even if it leaves others hanging or tarnishes your relationship. But more often than not the erosion caused by busyness goes unchecked for years. Eventually those patterns and expectations become systemic and the atrophy irreversible. To corner busyness in your life and ministry requires a proactive approach.

The Spring is a perfect time to examine your annual calendar. Evaluate everything on the list. What worked last year? What didn’t? What do you need to make time for this year? Did you strategically plan time off last year? Is there a rhythm to your schedule that makes disciple-making possible? Or has busyness sucked the life out of your efforts?

about the author

Cole Penick

Cole is the Campus Minister for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Arkansas. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their four adorable children right in the middle of campus, their mission field. They enjoy family walks on campus, watching and playing sports, making and eating good food, and oh so many books.