In this week’s Connected Kingdom, I take on the challenge of speaking about workaholism. Download the podcast or stream the audio to hear Tim and I discussing the subject further. Download here (right click) or click to play below.

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.

So how do you know if you are a workaholic? Workaholics Anonymous – yes, there is such an organization – provides 20 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? Your pastor? You?

Idolatry is at the root of a lot of workaholism. Many make “work” their functional god, and it can be a very satisfying one too. 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 18th century most obituaries focused on the character of the deceased and rarely mentioned occupation. 150 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…”

And pastors, 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:

  • 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 127v1-2, and believe it.
  • Set a reasonable number of working hours per week (recent research shows a huge loss of productivity after 40 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 that she has not yet cared for a man that 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 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 other men in the congregation.

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  • Kim Shay

    Thanks for this. My father was a workaholic, and I think it had a profound effect on my life as a teenager.

  • Reg Schofield

    Excellent words David. I have seen with my own eyes , families broken, bodies worn out and relationships lost due to ‘Workaholism”. As I near 50 , it has given time to look back with perspective that sometimes a 20 or 30 year old doesn’t have concerning this issue. The biggest thing that truly changed my whole view of work was losing my Mom at the age of 52 to cancer .I was 27 at the time and still recall my Dad with a heartbreaking moment of confession , that he wished he has have done things differently.It wasn’t so much he was a full on workaholic , but between his back shifts and not being able to say “no” to others , he missed out on so much time he could have had. My Mom’s death changed me in how I pursued and looked at work.

    When my own wife was diagnosed with Cancer ( the same of my Mom’s ironically) at the age of 40 , my son’s truly got what I have been saying about not letting work become an idol that robs you away from what is truly important . Thankfully the Lord has been gracious and my wife is in full recovery but it has cemented in my life , that work is a good thing but not the only thing .

    The weird thing about being a christian and workaholism , it steals time away from God . It breaks fellowship with the Lord and other believers. I hope many hear your wise counsel and repent if they are in this destructive cycle. I will be sharing this post at my Church . Thanks again . Blessings.

  • Paul Tautges

    Thank you, dear brother. Your words of grace and truth are immensely helpful to this idol-worshipping man.

  • Peter Ratcliff

    Very interesting. Some have greater capacities for work than others. The Christian pastor is under a lot of pressure but setting limits should be done without feeling guilty.

    Thanks David, even the calm tone of your voice makes us realise that we should take things steadily. I’ve certainly found that since I have taken up outdoor swimming I have felt much better and that the time taken has somehow been redeemed so that I have done just as much work and had time for other things too.

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  • Michial

    Another more insidious aspect is when church officers do it in the name of Christianity, yet to the neglect of their families.

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