Margin Monday – Overcoming Overload

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By John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

In his book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson describes 17 types of overload we experience in our Western culture.  Notable types include:

Activity overload: trying to pack too many things into a day, which only takes away the pleasure of anticipation, the chance for mental preparation, and the delight of reminiscence.

Commitment overload: As Christians we mistake Paul’s model of “being all things to all men” (a call to contextualize the gospel) with making too many commitments, “doing all things for all people.”   We max out our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual margin.

Debt overload: One senator recently stated that our government is “institutionally incapable of saying ‘No’.”  Most of us have taken on personal debt, making us feel like slaves to the bank or credit card company.

Expectation overload: “If you can dream it, you can do it” claims one insurance company.  As part of this dream we expect our world to have no boundaries, and for everything to work smoothly.  As a result, we become very frustrated when things break or when people don’t perform as we expected.

Fatigue overload: Last week we noted that 90% of pastors stated they are “frequently fatigued and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.” (see

Media overload: Between TV, the internet, and advertising we are continually inundated with distracting messages, conflicting worldviews, and temptations.

Work overload: The average Pastor now spends over 55 hours per week in their ministry, with some up to 80 hours. The ironic results include a lower quality-of-life, a decrease in spiritual margin, and a decrease in ministry effectiveness.

Others include change overload, choice overload, decision overload, hurry overload, information overload, noise overload, people overload, possession overload, technology overload, and traffic overload.

If you are a Pastor or Christian leader – or even if not – you probably know the critical importance of setting good boundaries in your life.  The challenging part of boundary-setting is actually keeping these boundaries.  How can we begin to overcome the Overload Syndrome?  We first need to understand what boundaries are, and then ask ourselves some questions.  A boundary is a parameter that you set as a guide to how you will use your time and energy, what you will focus your mind on, or how you will handle the affections of your heart.  It is firm without being rigid. Good boundaries allow for greater effectiveness in all areas of life.  Dr. Richard J. Krejcir has 10 questions for Pastors to ask themselves regarding proper boundaries in ministry (see  These boundaries will apply to those in other vocations as well:

1.Do you spend adequate time with your family? Do you have a regular date night with your spouse and separate family night with the kids at least once a week?

2.Do you have a ministry that trains and equips others, or do you feel you have to run the show?

3.Do you try to be too much to too many? Or, do you not only train others but also delegate?

4.Do you have unrealistic expectations for yourself as well as for others?

5.Do you say “No,” (with love and tact) and allow others to do ministry?

6.Do you have a system of time management?

7.Do you take regular time off?

8.Do you take care of yourself physically, such as eating correctly and exercising?

9.Do you have a good system to calendar and keep track of events and dates?

10. Most important, do you spend adequate time with our Lord?

I’d recommend taking some time to discuss these questions with your wife, church board, children, etc. You may find their answers quite revealing!

I would also recommend starting with question #7, but making sure you are regularly taking time off that is scheduled and for the purpose of spiritual and personal reflection.  What happens when you are doing this on a regular basis?  I believe you will begin to truly understand, in a more profound way, the wonderful adventure of Spirit-led ministry!  You will begin to clear the mental fog long enough to address the other questions adequately and develop a well-thought plan.  You will “hear God” speak to you regarding the deeper issues of your heart, the true needs of your people, and the ways He would have you proceed in ministry.  You will bring creativity, refreshment, and fun back into your ministry!  For starters, I recommend taking a half-day off at least once a quarter along with a longer retreat (3-4 days) at least once per year.

Live with Margin!