Ministry vs. Personal Life Do You Know Your Boundaries?
group magazine: July-August, 1995
From: July/August 1995 Group Magazine
Keywords: Balance Boundaries Personal Life Commitment
Ministry vs. Personal Life
Do You Know Your Boundaries?
When your life is spinning out of control, when ministry passion has devolved into duty, when you feel insulated from vital relationships, it's time to balance your life. Here's how.
We must learn to attain and maintain that critical blend between giving our all and having something left to give.
Balance means living life in such a way that you're giving the best part of who you are to the most important relationships and responsibilities.
By Jerry Goebel
I know a man who was so enmeshed in his ministry that he actually chose to die rather than quit.
His name is Jesus.
And as disciples and servants of Jesus, aren't we often tempted to blur the distinction between what we do and who we are? Don't we struggle to define the boundary between our work and the rest of our life? And don't we have a nagging feeling that ministry requires us to "give up our life" to the extent that we have no life apart from our occupation?
When our job is deeply tied to our faith, it's a Solomon like problem to separate work from life. It's like walking a high wire blindfolded, without a net, in a high wind, with people 100 feet below screaming directions.
Then again, if you're in youth ministry, maybe that sounds like your idea of a good time.
Know that your struggle for balance is shared by most who work for a passionate cause. You deal with it as a youth worker, but so do all the people in your church who are business owners or managers. When they interview people for positions in their companies, they look for workers who believe in their mission. They want people who will pour themselves into their jobs. They know their customers expect no less of them.
I expect the same commitment from the pilot who's flying the plane I'm on right now, or the people who assembled the laptop computer I'm using to write this article. I want to know that the people who produce the products and services I use are as fanatical about quality as I am.
And when we talk about ministry, the standards are a notch higher, aren't they? Accountants will tell you that nonprofit positions typically pay 15 percent less than comparable for-profit jobs. Most of us in ministry know that before we take the plunge. That's the cost we incur for doing work we're passionate about.
Unfortunately, this standard feels more like a death sentence than a golden opportunity on the sixth straight night of meetings and counseling appointments. It's little consolation to wake up in the morning and say, "Hey, I'm earning less because I'm doing what I believe in!"
But when we're tired, insecure, nearing burnout, and doubting our purpose-then balance becomes a critical issue. We must learn to attain and maintain that critical blend between giving our all and having something left to give.
Spotting Signs of Imbalance
When you're out of balance, there's plenty of evidence. But your imbalances will differ from others' because you have different strengths and weaknesses. The more out of balance you are, the more your weaknesses take hold in your life, and the more you ignore your best habits.
Consider what weaknesses show up in your habits when you're out of balance. Are you:
*more introverted, irritable, or withdrawn?
*prone to procrastination?
*reluctant to say no to requests?
*often frozen by insecurities?
*apt to have problems sleeping?
*likely to neglect healthy exercise and eating habits?
*too scattered and tired to read or pray?
Compare your habit patterns when your life feels balanced to what you're like when life is spinning out of control. Once you pinpoint these patterns, you're well on the way to finding equilibrium in your life. It's like putting a thermometer outside your window so you don't have to walk outside in your underwear to gauge the temperature.
And once you've targeted your out-of-balance habits, the solution is not to compartmentalize your life. You wouldn't say, "I'm at work now so I won't speak to my family-even if it's an emergency." Nor would you say, "I'm at home now so I won't speak to anyone related to work-even if a family is in crisis."
What Balance Really Means
Balance means living life in such a way that you're giving the best part of who you are to the most important relationships and responsibilities. And obviously, that has a lot to do with your innate expectations.
For example, maybe you believe Jesus would celebrate your choice if you martyred yourself as he did. Maybe you follow a Christ of pain and sorrow, and believe you're not worshiping God if you're not on the road to Golgotha. If so, you see ministry as constant self-sacrifice, and your family and personal life seem a small price to pay for eternal salvation.
Others verbally downplay this theology while subconsciously operating within its guidelines. They're driven by pangs of guilt almost all the time. When they're at work, they fret about how little time they spend with their family. When they're at home, they secretly agonize over how much work they have to do. This circle of guilt haunts all their decisions, and it's a sure ticket to burnout.
But some youth ministers recognize that Christ suffered deeply in the garden because he didn't want to die. Yet he walked the path of suffering because he knew it was necessary for our salvation. He died that we might have life-to free us from enslavement to sin.
Christ showed no signs of burnout. He lived a life of incredible vigor and unshakable balance. He frequently retreated into solitude for prayer and restoration. He leaned upon his friends for support. He welcomed and enjoyed the playfulness of children. And he often attended celebrations.
This Jesus would never celebrate giving that flowed from duty-he gave because it was a joy to give.
So when we realize that our ability to give is tapped out, that our laughter is suppressed, that our minds are obsessed with compartmentalizing our lives, it's time to regain our balance.
How to Find Equilibrium
It's easy to give in to hopelessness when you're out of balance. If you do, you play the role of victim. Don't do it. Your choices and God's grace can make a difference.
1. Get back in touch with your roots. Sometimes married couples are so beset by problems that they see their partner as the problem. They need to take a sabbatical from their routine so they can fall in love again. It's time to visit old haunts, plan romantic evenings, and schedule dates.
Maybe you need a similar transformation in your ministry. If so, get back in touch with why you ventured this path in the first place. Renew contact with people who were important in your decision to enter ministry. Seek service opportunities where you're just one of the crowd. Do something that represents your "first love" in ministry.
2. Take an out-of-the-rut vacation and do out-of-the-rut activities. On one recent long weekend, I joined friends on a relay race from Mount Hood to the Oregon coast (192 miles). Though the run was physically demanding, I had a great time and returned to work with renewed confidence and enthusiasm.
3. Start a new hobby. My wife just took up woodcarving. She recently presented me with a wooden fisherman for my birthday. It stands in a place of honor on our piano. I know her new hobby has invigorated her and sparked her innate curiosity.
4. Exercise your best habits. Gain control of your mornings through prayer, reading, exercise, and organizing. Often our desire to compartmentalize reveals a need to organize. I prefer a small notebook that lists my goals in the front section. In reviewing those goals, I set my quarterly objectives and my daily to-do's. My to-do list is one sheet of paper. There I list: To Call, To See, To Write, and To Do. I scratch accomplishments off as I complete them and have trained myself not to do anything that's not on the list.
Some people might think this regimen makes me inflexible. But I know I accomplish a great deal more in a lot less time, and I have more time available for my family and other pursuits I enjoy.
5. Build a web of varied friendships. In my travels I have the opportunity to hear many sermons. It always amazes me how often pastors seem ignorant of what common people are going through. The larger a church or denomination, the more this seems true. That's why it's vital to build relationships with Christ-centered friends from varied backgrounds (especially people outside of ministry).
Doctors can be incredibly articulate about their profession yet terribly inadequate in communicating that knowledge to their patients. In a ministry context, these are people who might know of God but do not know God. They pass on knowledge about God, but never introduce their people to God.
Recently, a pastor in a local congregation retired after years of service to his parish. In an article about his retirement, the only quote from a parishioner was: "He sure knew his computer. He had the whole Bible on that thing." Is it any wonder his church was one of the smallest in our county?
6. Change your attitude. Your habits, perceptions, and choices form your attitude. And Jesus promises he can transform those three things if we cooperate. Live out Paul's words to the Philippians: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Approach life seeing problems as challenges and mistakes as learning opportunities. Expect Christ to supply you with the energy you need to fulfill today's needs and live out godly expectations with conviction.
Jerry Goebel is a former youth worker who now owns a physical therapy business in Washington state. He's also a Christian author, speaker, musician, and humorist.