I feel my upper lip begin to moisten and my hairline become damp. I realize I am sweating as we sit in the corner booth eating chips and salsa. What was a light-hearted conversation about apartment living, boys, and college football games has taken a turn to the topic of leadership, Christian faith, and the connection between the two.
I see panic in this brown-eyed, beautiful, and talented young college student, the lingering kind of terror that stares me down like the barrel of a gun, begging me to answer. She is a leader for a collegiate organization at a prestigious state university. The organization’s purpose is to equip the next generation of “Christian business leaders.” She is the leader of leaders.
She describes the requirements for these future leaders, trying to sound nonchalant amidst this rising tension as she relates the organization’s weekly schedule:
“On Sunday we have our prayer meeting, Monday our Bible study, Tuesday our committee meetings (which includes a Bible study), Wednesday our social event, Thursday our staff meeting, and Friday our book club. We also have accountability and smaller prayer groups two of those mornings.”
In addition, she tells me that she has spontaneous get-togethers on a weekly basis, shared meals, and other activities with people from this organization. Plus, she has lengthy leadership and planning meetings, in addition to her schoolwork and other college-life events. Oh, and church. And roommates. And family.
I have to tell myself to take a breath. I myself feel a bit suffocated by all her requirements. I can see the words scrolling across the screen of her mind: How am I going to do all of this?
I want to reach over and squeeze the anxiety right out of her young body with a lingering hug. I want to tell her I understand her apprehension to be all for all. Her fear that stems from others’ expectations. Her self-imposed expectations and feelings of guilt for failures that repeatedly replay in her mind. Her depression that ensues. I understand it all too well. Maybe this is why I feel that knot in the pit of my stomach that returns like a long-lost, unwanted companion. But we are not alone in all this busyness business.
Anxiety among college students is at an all-time high. One-third of U.S. college students had difficulty functioning in the last 12 months due to depression, and almost half said they felt overwhelming anxiety in the last year. 
College organizations like these strive to train and equip the next generation of leaders. But at what cost?
The busyness business is bankrupting our soul. Our organizations are shallow, our churches are hobbies, and our families are disconnected. But like a broke man living in denial, we keep writing checks from this bankrupt account, hoping to achieve different results.
As Christian leaders (business, ministry, or otherwise) who are responsible for training and equipping the next generation, let’s consider a strategy other than busy schedules and packed calendars.
More is not always better. Sometimes more gets in the way of good. And good gets in the way of great.
What if we trained leaders to:
- Say no to lots of good things so that they could say yes to the very best things
- Set the example in developing a healthy work/life balance
- Prioritize time alone to rest, time with God to retreat, and time at home to be with family first instead of last
- Proactively combat busyness as a threat to a fulfilled life
Maybe we would experience:
- Less anxiety and depression among college students
- More time and energy to sit down, eat good food, and play games with neighbors and friends
- Emptier calendars but fuller souls
- How to love our limitations instead of loathe them
Being a “Christian leader” in any vocation must become less about what we do and more about who we are.
I think about my husband who has worked in the financial sector his entire adult life. He has decided that being home before dark to play baseball with his son is more important than those extra billable hours. He has placed strategic boundaries on where and how frequently he will and will not travel for work. He has intentionally made “career-limiting decisions” because the season of our family warranted more of his presence than posturing himself for promotions. He has positioned our family financially to live below our means so that he can make these vocational decisions. I think this is what a “Christian business leader” looks like.
Leaders, directors, pastors and parents: for the sake of panic-stricken brown-eyed college students, join me in saying no and doing less.
 According to the 2013 National College Health Assessment, which examined data from 125,000 students from more than 150 colleges and universities. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/09/cover-pressure.aspx
Header image: Scheja, Christian. Hurry! Hungry! May 2, 2014. Retrieved from flickr.com. Some rights reserved.
After more than a decade spent ministering to students and families in domestic and international contexts, Kelly Edmiston has developed a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. Kelly, originally from Abilene, Texas, is currently the student and family minister at the First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land, Texas. Kelly is a frequent retreat speaker, Bible teacher, and writer. Her writing has been featured on Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed” and Sean Palmer’s “The Palmer Perspective.” She will soon complete a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Her areas of interest are liberation theology, practical theology, and spiritual formation. Kelly and her husband Ben enjoy “suburban life” with their three children.