I remember when it all came to a point for me. I was out of shape and ate poorly. I was downing multiple espresso drinks and sodas every day. My church had gone through some staffing changes, leaving me to serve as the youth minister, worship team leader, and primary preacher. I was overworked, we had just had our first child, I didn’t have time for my hobbies, and the pressure inside was building. The last straw was when I came home to a burst pipe and ruined flooring. My heart was racing and the feeling of panic was overwhelming! Something had to change.
Our Creator desires for us to be healthy—physically, vocationally, emotionally, and spiritually. However, the effects of sin on the world mean that all people struggle to maintain healthy life rhythms. Those of us who serve in churches are by no means immune. In fact, many church workers serve in unhealthy cultures and develop unhealthy habits that exacerbate the issue. I’ve experienced it firsthand, and I’ve seen many church leaders struggle. How about you? Do any of these statements hit home for you?
- I don’t exercise regularly or make nutritious food choices.
- I often work on my days off.
- It has been weeks or longer since my spouse and I went on a date.
- Ministry might be negatively affecting my family.
- I often have to schedule social engagements months in advance due to my busy schedule.
- I don’t feel fulfilled / content.
- My personal devotional time is not happening very often.
- I feel exhausted, anxious, or overwhelmed.
- I don’t have time in my schedule to be creative.
The good news is that no matter how many of those boxes you checked, it’s never too late to grow. When I had my panic attack, it was simultaneously an indication of unhealthy life balance, as well as the beginning of my journey toward healthy rhythms. It was an unmistakable sign that I would need to more intentional about managing my time, energy, and habits. If we are to pursue healthy and productive lives for the sake of the Gospel, we have a responsibility to pursue personal balance and model healthy living for those that we lead. Brian Jones, a ministry coach, says that, “After a year with me, I want [my clients] to be in the best physical, financial and relational shape of their life.” Let’s take a look at some of the areas in which we may need to work on our life rhythms, as well as some encouraging ways that we can take positive steps in the right direction!
We have a God who fearfully and wonderfully created us, mind, body, and spirit. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and incredible gifts that God has given us by which to enjoy life and do His work. Yet, our ability to enjoy life and minister for many years can be compromised by failing to take care of our bodies. Poor nutrition and exercise can have an adverse effect our mental health as well. In some ministry contexts, being out of shape physically may also cause the community to place less trust in you spiritually.
You may feel helpless. You may believe that you’re always just going to be out of shape, or that there’s nothing you can do to change it. I used to believe some of those things! Know that change is possible. Chances are that there are people in your life that would love to show you the ropes—people who are into exercise and nutrition love to share what they know. I used to go to the gym, but I wasn’t challenging myself and I wasn’t making progress. Then a friend of mine suggested OrangeTheory, and it has been amazingly beneficial. I feel like the workouts have challenged me, and that they work muscle groups that I didn’t even know I had. In addition, for years I have identified as someone who is not good at running, but after only about 10 sessions, my body had adapted pretty well to the routine and I’ve been surprised to find that I’m a runner after all. There are many High Intensity Interval Training gyms that can help make it easier for you get to where you want to be! Obviously, make sure to talk to your doctor first, but I highly encourage you to take that first step. These businesses will help you regardless of what fitness level you’re at and can even show you how to modify the exercises to deal with orthopedic issues. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for your health, mood, and confidence! If cost is an issue for you and you’re on Concordia Plan Services insurance, use powerofvitality.org to earn a $150 yearly gym rebate and earn Amazon gift cards in exchange for adopting healthy rhythms.
In addition, if you have Concordia Plan Services for your health insurance, you have access to a FREE, 16-week coached fitness program, called Omada! Omada gives you lessons and coaching to help you make nutrition and exercise routine improvements. It’s not just for those who are significantly overweight—it’s for anyone who wants to improve. I’ve participated in the program and I highly recommend it. Visit https://www.concordiaplans.org/omada to learn more!
The issue of “work/life balance” is often one of the most significant areas of unhealthy life rhythm habits. Who hasn’t struggled with balancing their time, having appropriate boundaries, and taking the time off needed to keep you feeling refreshed? Who hasn’t struggled to ensure that they are budgeting appropriate time for family and hobbies?
Church culture seems to have convinced many church workers that they need to be on call 24/7, constantly busy, and feel guilty for taking time off. That’s a recipe for burnout and disaster! That’s how you end up feeling that ministry has been detrimental to your family. Why in the world would we think that cultivating stressed out, overworked, tired church workers would be beneficial to our churches? On the contrary, healthy church workers contribute significantly to help our organizations be healthy and grow.
Let’s start with your day off. This is one of the most blatant areas in which those who are professional church workers are suffering from the effects of unhealthy church organizational culture. If you only take one day off, that’s an issue. Everyone else in the country takes two days off—why don’t you? If we program out all of our free time, it will affect our ability to not only be healthy, but also to enjoy our families, neighbors, and community. Take two days off. Take that trip with the family that you’ve been meaning to take. The church will survive without you—and it might even reinforce that all Christians must own the work of ministry, instead of leaning solely on workaholic church workers to spread the Gospel.
In addition, there’s a good chance that you’re choosing the wrong day off. Ministry coach Brian Jones says, “For every church that is growing, effective and led by a Senior Pastor that takes Mondays off, I see one hundred that are not.” Monday can be an important day to get organized as the week kicks off. If you’re too exhausted on Monday, instead of taking your day off on Monday, try to figure out what about your schedule isn’t working for you. If you’re taking split days off, or a half day here and a half day there, it should be obvious that it’s not ideal. I feel strongly that you should strongly consider taking Friday and Saturday off. It gives you two days in a row to unplug and have a weekend that is still pretty close to the weekend that most of your church members have. In reality, churches that give workers a choice of their day off are reinforcing unproductive staff culture anyway. If you give everyone different days off, your time for staff coordination is greatly diminished, and people forget each other’s days off and end up interrupting each other during their free time. But if you have the choice, give Friday and Saturday a try. You might need to periodically adjust things to account for community events that fall on those days, but most of the time it should work really well! If you can get your whole staff off on Friday and Saturday, even better. You’ll be maximizing your coordination time during the week, modeling healthy life rhythms, and making it possible to periodically enjoy your friendships together over the weekend.
Are you constantly being interrupted on your day off? Are you constantly interrupting others on their day off? There are certainly times when urgencies or emergencies need to be dealt with, but if it’s happening all the time, then you may need to work to change the culture. It’s possible that you need to have a staff discussion on healthy boundaries. Sometimes it’s even just a matter of understanding that phone calls are to address timely matters, texts are for things that need to be addressed within the hour, and emails are for things that can wait 24 hours. If it’s someone’s day off, email is usually the right tool for work related stuff. It’s not that you can’t relate with your co-workers on their day off—after all, I hope you’re friends! It’s just that texting your co-worker about work questions is a lot different than texting about the Broncos game.
This leads us to the subject of busyness in general. Constant busyness is the enemy of personal devotions, creativity, and relationships. When we feel like we just have to keep up with what’s going on, we become task oriented and end up just maintaining. We also end up programming our down time, or time to be interrupted and get into spur of the moment conversations. Constant busyness may make you feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, but it’s not your friend. It should be avoided like the plague. Sometimes we feel like we need to make everyone happy, or be constantly available for walk-ins, or personally try every ministry idea that we’ve heard about—but this is the way of madness. There’s a difference between working hard and overworking. If you think about ministry as a race, there are certainly times in which we need to sprint (ex: Fall, Christmas, Easter). However, all-out sprints should be offset by times of recovery and refreshment. If you’re a church leader, it may help to identify the “sprint” seasons of the year and claim those, so that everyone can be on the same page and push through with joy, knowing that healthy rhythms mean that recovery time will be afforded afterwards.
Many church workers report feeling anxious because they believe they do not receive a liveable wage. Boy, have many of us been there. Financial stress can cause significant anxiety. Almost none of us are in a direct position to affect our compensation package. The best encouragement I can give is to be responsible and forthright with your boss when your compensation is not working for you. There’s no shame in asking for a raise—it’s important that we take excellent care of our workers!
Another way that we can help ourselves is by ensuring that we are responsibly handling the finances God has entrusted to our care. If you’ve never received a financial education, you may consider enrolling in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, or some other program. If you have a spouse, this is a great way to get on the same page with them as well.
In addition, if you’re in a position of influence, know that you have a responsibility to advocate for taking care of your people, which often means advocating for higher wages. How can you increase your advocacy in order to ensure that church workers are set up to thrive for many years to come?
Emotional, Relational, and Spiritual Rhythms
Pastor Peter Scazzero maintains that “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature, while remaining emotionally immature.” Emotional, spiritual, and relational health go together. Yet, we often don’t intentionally focus on such mental growth, leaving ourselves unprepared for the reality of sin and spiritual warfare. Many married folks will testify that when they were first dating, they figured that their love for one another was about as much intentionality as the relationship needed. However, over time, there is a realization that intentional time communicating about the relationship, learning relational skills, and seeking God together are needed in order to have a thriving marriage. Likewise, emotional and spiritual growth usually don’t happen by chance, but through an intentional desire to own one’s emotional and spiritual health. You might try identifying ONE (don’t overwhelm yourself) of the following areas in your life to begin to bring some extra intentionality to:
- Personal Devotional time. Try using the Life Journal from lifejournal.cc. It’s also available as a free Bible reading plan in the Bible App.
- Budget a little time this weekend to pursue a hobby of yours!
- Spend an evening with the gang. Attend a stroller exercise class with other moms. Invite a friend to work on a project with you. Don’t go through life alone!
- I believe that it’s important to regularly expand your mind by reading something that has nothing to do with work. What’s a book that’s been on your list for a while?
- Has busyness kept you from dating? It might be time to get back out there! Be bold. Consider internet dating.
- Intentional Spouse Time. Try identifying one night a week where you and your spouse can sit down for a few minutes to check in with one another, or possibly discuss a book like How We Love by Yerkovich. Ask each other “What can I do for you this week?”
- Work on your metal health. Seek out a counselor to help you process through a tough issue or help you meet your goals. Concordia Plan Services employees have access to the Employee Assistance Program, which offers up to six free counseling sessions per year.
- Set up a mentoring relationship. It’s healthy for everyone to have a Paul and a Timothy in their lives!
Find your Groove
Life is a journey, and developing healthy life rhythms takes time and intentionality. As a church planter and father of four, I find that it’s a constant challenge for me. Yet, I am sustained by a firm belief that while following Jesus does mean sacrifice, God desires his servants to find joy and become more effective witnesses through healthy fitness, work, financial, emotional, relational, and spiritual rhythms. I believe God wants that for me, and for you. I encourage you to try not to implement too much at once. Focus on one thing. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, feel encouraged! You have a God who loves you, and co-workers in the Gospel who are cheering you on!