We live in a performance-based culture that measures success by how much you can cram into your life. The more you do, the more you're doing, so to speak. This mentality has, by and large, infiltrated the church, and you don't have to look beyond the church's leadership to see that. Many pastors and church leaders are overworked and burned out, and their families suffer as a result. It feels like rest is not an option—even today, Labor Day.
This over-commitment, however, is the reason many pastors are more susceptible to moral failures. One study illustrates this phenomenon well. Researchers gave each participant either a two-digit number or a seven-digit number to remember. Then, each participant was sent down a hallway, individually, where they were presented with two options: a sensible cup of fruit, or a delicious (but extremely unhealthy) piece of chocolate cake. The participants had to choose which one they would accept.
The researchers found that the participants who were trying to remember the seven-digit number were twice as likely to choose the cake.
Why? According to the scientist who conducted the study, Professor Baba Shiv, "Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a 'cognitive load'—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation."
Jonah Lehrer, who authored the book How We Decide and included the above study in his research, summarized the findings saying, "The part of our brain that is most reasonable, rational, and do-the-right-thing is easily toppled by the pull of raw sensual appetite, the lure of sweet. Knowing something is the right thing to do takes work—brain work—and our brains aren't always up to that."
In other words, the more we have going on in our brains and in our lives, the more likely we are to make bad decisions. Or at the very least, our busyness clogs our brains in a way that makes consistent, good decision-making difficult.
This study has very real implications for Christians: we all must bear in mind the consequences of cramming our schedule without making time to rest (Exodus 20:8) and be still (Psalm 46:10). If we don’t, we are much more likely to make bad decisions.
But these findings have even more urgent implications for pastors and church leaders. We must be especially mindful that our schedules leave ample time for rest and rejuvenation. Our decisions are not just for ourselves—but for our congregations. In addition, we set an example to our churches for how to schedule their own lives. What does your example model to the people in your congregation? When we feed into the performance-based, frenetic pace of the surrounding culture, we risk causing our flock to do the same.
Fortunately, as Christians we do not measure our schedules according to worldly standards of success. We measure them according to a God who designed us for rest and says that it is good. Does your schedule reflect this truth?
As we rest this Labor Day from the important work of ministry, let God rejuvenate your spirit, building you up for the ministry work that’s ahead. Rest in the truth that taking a break is not an option—it’s a necessity, part of who God created you to be. May you be reminded that your worth is not determined by your busyness, but by the very fact that God created you.
Sharon Hodde Miller has a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and lives near Raleigh, North Carolina. You can read more of her writing at sheworships.com. This article is adapted from one originally published in 2011 on Gifted for Leadership.