According to Guinness Records, the highest number of balls successfully juggled in a qualifying “run” is eleven (achieved in 2012 by Alex Barron). The record for juggling knives is five. Most ministry leaders would not attempt such feats, but we do tend to engage in a different sort of juggle, and it’s one that can carry great risk if we let it.
We want to please everyone and do everything. We want to be available for others and serve God’s people, which is an admirable desire. However, this sometimes leads to taking on more than we can realistically handle, whether we like to admit it or not. “No” is a simple two-letter word, but it’s not always easy to say. Before we know it, all the “one more thing” items are stacked onto an already overflowing schedule that leaves little time to complete work, let alone engage in relationships or rest.
As church workers, we always want to do more, but when we take on too much, we often lose focus of what should be the main priority, sharing the Gospel of Jesus. Ministry can leak into personal life and take time away from friends, family, and future goals. Eventually, failure to set proper boundaries will lead to burnout. It is essential to develop and maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life and doing so allows us to better serve God and bless others in all areas.
The Slippery Slope of Servitude
There are some jobs that make it easy to punch the clock at the end of the day and head home, leaving work behind at the office to await the next business shift. Ministry, however, is not one of those professions. It can become easy to over-work when we are in the business of soul care. We want to be approachable and available and know that we are serving God’s church.
However, sometimes the lines get blurred between personal and ministerial tasks. Those we work with often have our personal contact information and might think they are free to make use of it at any hour of the day. If we allow that precedent to be established, we can become enslaved to answering any demands that come along. It’s essential to set solid boundaries between time at church and time at home. There will always be more tasks that need done, but our key priorities and purposes can be sacrificed on the altar of “busy” if we aren’t careful to control time management.
In all stages of ministry, it’s important to establish and maintain a separation between professional and personal life. Dangerous consequences emerge when we fall into habits of over-working. Studies show that average productivity decreases after fifty hours of weekly work, and plummets significantly over 55 hours. More importantly, working too much can be detrimental to mental and physical health. Stress often leads to negative issues with heart, digestive, and weight health. It also creates the danger of emotional burnout. When we constantly work, we tend to develop a sense of tunnel vision that prevents focus on God’s plan and purpose for our lives.
We have excellent Biblical examples of the importance of rest. After all, God took a break after completing Creation.
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” – Genesis 2:2-3
Keeping a regular Sabbath should be an essential element of our lives as church workers. Jesus demonstrated boundaries, too. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16). Christ recognized the importance of setting aside time for prayer and rest. He reminds us we need time to receive His good gifts, especially in the Sacraments. We ought to create healthy boundaries and understand when and how we need to separate from work obligations.
Distinctions and Distractions
Maintaining healthy balance between professional and personal life requires us to recognize how we can allow others to help carry the load. It also involves prioritizing tasks and efficiency. Consider how many hours a week you might average spending on various things: working in the office, attending meetings, spending time with loved ones, taking time for yourself, daily devotions, sleeping… It likely seems there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish all that we would hope—that’s okay! It’s important to take a step back and evaluate the bigger picture of things. Rather than focusing on daily task lists and overwhelming deadlines, we need to remember why we are doing what we do, and what is most important in the grand scheme of things.
There are some practical tips we can follow to strive for better balance and healthy work/life distinctions. While at work, we can do our best to be efficient and focused on accomplishing daily goals. We can set aside time to work on certain necessary items, including prioritizing time in prayer and Scripture. However, it’s important to separate time at work from time at home. We need to avoid work tasks on off-hours or days. If necessary while interacting with others, we should remove potential distractions like phones or computers to be truly focused on relationships. Communicate to others that outside of emergencies, we will not be available outside of work hours, and maintain that boundary.
Although it is challenging to say “no”, we need to identify what things we can turn down, and what we can take off our plates by delegating to others. It’s also essential to take care of ourselves. This might be as simple as getting enough sleep, food, and exercise. It can also include taking time to do something personally enjoyable and engaging, like a hobby or favorite book. Above all, we must rest in the presence and power of our gracious God, who is with us and cares for us in all things.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30
Sometimes our lives can feel like those moments when we try to carry too many groceries in from the car. We think we can juggle it all, and after two flights of stairs the bags are tearing, our arms are weakening, and the keys hit the ground right after the jar of pickles does. It’s important to evaluate what we are doing and why, and genuinely admit that we cannot do everything—nor do we need to.
God has created us with purpose, and we do seek to genuinely love and serve Him. However, He does not call us slaves, but sons. He loves us and helps us in everything that we do. He promises us rest and care. Jesus regularly and reliably provides rest and peace for our souls in the Sacraments. These means of grace are the soul care we need most.
As we create and keep healthy boundaries, we need to understand the why behind those efforts. We are made for relationships, the most important being with our Lord. We best love and serve Him and one another when we recognize the value of rest and balance. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” –Colossians 3:17.