Hello, my name’s David, and I’m a recovering workaholic. And I say that with no sense of pride, even though workaholism is one of our society’s most “respected,” even admirable, sins. In fact, perhaps one of the places it is most admired is in the church, and especially in the Christian ministry.
Few Christians put this sin in the same category as homosexuality or murder. Yet, workaholism has probably destroyed more souls, especially in Christian homes, and maybe especially in pastors’ and missionaries’ homes, than either of these sins. Many pastors spend their days denouncing this -ism, that -ism, and every other -ism, while seeking and accepting plaudits for their workaholism.1
Workaholism is one of society’s most respected, even admirable, sins.
So how do you know if someone is a workaholic? Workaholics Anonymous—yes, there is such an organization—provides twenty assessment questions. They include:
- Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?
- Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
- Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?
- Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?
- Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
Does that sound like someone you know? You? Another leader in your church?
Idolatry is at the root of a lot of workaholism. Many make “work” their functional god, and it can be a very satisfying one. It doesn’t just take; it gives back, too. It often rewards with money, position, power, prestige, and praise
Other workaholics are motivated by greed. The work may be unsatisfying but the money sure promises to make up for it.
For some it’s all about escaping less pleasant, less “glamorous,” responsibilities. Far easier to be a frequent flier than change diapers, to speak at conferences than speak to your teenage son, to chair board meetings than comfort your lonely wife.
For some, work is a matter of identity; it’s what defines them. In the eighteenth century most obituaries focused on the character of the deceased and rarely mentioned occupation. One hundred fifty years later, most obituaries assess a person in connection with their occupation and achievements. Probably explains many early graves as well.
Many workaholics are unable to trust God with their jobs and finances, and end up relying on excessive hours rather than on their heavenly Father.
Like all -isms, this addiction is a destroyer. It destroys marriages, relationships with children, friendships, and usefulness in the church. It destroys happiness, it destroys bodies, and it destroys souls.
And yet this destroyer is so deceptive, so plausible: “I’m doing it for my family … I’m trying to get my kid through college … I’m serving God …”
I know there are unending stories in Christian literature about how many hours famous ministers and missionaries worked. What many of the biographies don’t tell you is that many of them died young or suffered long seasons of disease and burnout.
The cure begins with cold turkey: take a full week off work, yes a full week, in order to examine yourself in the light of God’s Word. Ask your family if they think you’ve got work in the right place. How is your relationship with God, your devotional time? Listen to your body; is it bearing up under the stress or is it beginning to break up as you wear out your machinery?
Confess workaholism to God, and He will forgive you. He forgives all addicts who repent and seek mercy in Christ. Trusting in the finished work of Christ will bring a new calm, peace, and perspective into your life.
Then, to prove that your repentance is genuine, plot a future containing these elements:
- If you’re not a pastor, take every Sunday off work. If you are a pastor, designate any other day and stick to it. “Six days you shall labor” applies to pastors as well.
- Memorize Psalm 127:1–2 and believe it.
- Set a reasonable number of working hours per week (recent research shows a huge loss of productivity after forty hours of work in a week).
- Do not answer email or make work-related phone calls on vacation.
- Schedule daily exercise and family time.
- Remember your created limits. So much of workaholism is a defiance of the physical limitations that God our Creator has imposed upon us.
- Remember that the Lord has also put a curse on work. Knowing that fallen man would seek ultimate satisfaction in his work, rather than in Him, God built in “thorns and thistles and sweat” to drive man from work to Himself.
- Project yourself to your deathbed. A hospice nurse recently said she has not yet cared for a man who did not regret how many hours he put into his work.
As for the rest of us, let’s not encourage workaholics by praising their addiction. Would you praise a drug addict or an alcoholic? Do them a favor, call them to repentance.
If it’s a church leader or pastor, remind him that not only is he sinning against God by harming himself and his family, he’s also providing a damaging role model for others in the congregation.