Balancing Act

December 5, 2014

When I used to do a session for first year ministers coming into our Conference I opened my remarks with something like, “If you went into this work thinking you were taking a job you are in the wrong profession. This is a life.”

Having said that I would then say, “But that does not mean that you are supposed to give yourself away completely. This calling of ours can take all of us but that can be dangerous. It is up to you to carve out spaces in that life for good self-care. Don’t expect your people to do that or even encourage you to do it.”

Yes the church is the Body of Christ but it can also be an emotional vampire. “She” can smile at you and at the same time suck the life out of you. It is up to us to find the proper balance between “work” and life. Knowing that the nature and requirements of pastoral ministry can take so much life that we can become tired and resentful is a necessary requirement if we do not want to fall into the dry cistern of ministerial burn out. Those places we collapse into are dry because if we are not careful we become thirsty because in giving those we serve “cups of cold water” we forget to drink the water for ourselves.

One of my heroes, Eugene Peterson, in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant puts it better than I could ever say it:

“Because the work (of ministry) is so compelling, so engaging…so right…we work with what feels like divine energy. One day we find ourselves (or others find us) worked into the ground. The work may be wonderful, but we ourselves turn out to be not so wonderful, becoming cranky, exhausted, pushy, and patronizing in the process…If we do not develop a contemplative life adequate to our vocation, the very work we do and our very best intentions, insidiously pride-fueled as they inevitably become, destroy us and all with whom and for whom we work.” p.114 (By the way buy this book!)

So I have found out the hard way that as a minister it is my “job” to find the balance between my work and my life. They overlap so much in ministry that the line between them becomes fuzzy. Some of this cannot be avoided due to the nature of ministry but some of it can.

As a young pastor trying to prove myself, I left my family at times when I did not have to. Sometimes because of the requirements of being a pastor you do have to sacrifice some personal and family time due to various crises. Knowing that, be careful about giving away your time and space too easily because you want to be prized and loved.

Be sure to pray and play. Sermon preparation is not personal devotional time. Yes, we can get very dry giving other people water. Your spiritual disciplines are a life line to a personal God. Don’t get fooled into thinking that handling holy things will make you holy. We become holy because of our own spiritual journey not because we have a title.

And by all means play. Ministry is serious business. It can make us too heavy. Make sure you have an exercise pattern and hopefully some of that exercise is a form of play and not just “working” out. When I play tennis I find that I can actually escape worrying about the church budget!

Yes ministry can be a tight rope. It is up to us to figure out the balancing act.


Leadership Development