Is It Hard Work or Overfunctioning?

Are you working hard? I assume so. Does that mean you are overfunctioning? Not necessarily. Overfunctioning involves taking responsibility for others, especially for their problems and shortcomings. In the short term, helping others can be a good thing. But if it becomes chronic, it can contribute to sustaining the limitations of others, and burning us out.

But let’s recognize that ministry is truly hard work, as is accomplishing most things of value in this world. Working long hours may not necessarily be overfunctioning. If you can’t take a break without feeling anxious, that’s something to pay attention to, however.

Here are some ways to assess your own work:
Do you feel satisfied, or resentful? Resentment is one clue that you might be overfunctioning.
Can you say no? People who are working hard at their own work can say no to requests that contradict their own goals. Overfunctioners tend to say yes compulsively.
How do you feel when you get up in the morning: excited or exhausted?
What is at stake? Is it something that is truly a key value for you, or are you simply insisting on imposing your standards on others in an area that doesn’t matter as much as you think it does? (My husband, Karl, says, “Just lower your standards, and you’ll be happier!”)

What do you notice about your own work? Are you working hard? Too hard? Overfunctioning? Let me know what you think.

4 replies on “Is It Hard Work or Overfunctioning?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Fascinating, Jason. This illustrates so clearly that it is more our positioning within the system than the objective reality of people’s functioning and the circumstances at hand that contributes to our stress level.

  • Jason Gamble

    I worked with developmentally disabled adults before coming to my current church in 2001. I started trying to think in bfst terms while still working with adults with dd. My role with a man with sever speech disability, some fine motor problems, and a terrible temper, was to help him be able to do his work. I actually got pretty good at it.
    Then I came to a church in deep conflict with some extremely low functioning board members and I slipped into far more overfunctioning/functional reciprocity than I had working with people with Down Syndrome. Why? I was paid and I ‘felt’ that it was my responsibility to make things happen to insure financial security for the church. I absorbed the anxiety of the system largely because the guarantee of funding did not seem secure as it had working with developmentally disabled adults, where someone else was the CEO.

  • Vern Sanders


    been there…done that…and the t shirt is quite worn.
    I don’t believe that lowering your standards makes you feel better…in my case it just produced a different kind of exhaustion.
    I do believe that accepting people for who and what they are is a first step.
    The second step is to teach/mentor them in what you know.
    The third step is to let them take responsibility. That’s the hard part.
    But at this stage of my life it is working well, I’m working just as hard, but with less concern about what I can’t change, and I am MUCH happier…
    One of the best helps for me was to read “Refuse to Choose” by Barbara Sher. According to her definition, I am a “plate spinner.” I like it. It keeps me from being bored. Understanding that allowed me to stop lining up all my plates, and instead focus on the plates that circle my core values. Instant productivity gain.



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