How to Create a Healthy Work-Life Balance in Ministry

Posted by Aaron Buer on December 16, 2021

Someone recently asked me, “How do you create work-life balance in ministry? How do you maintain balance?”

This question came from someone who loves their job, loves to work, and has a young family. Maybe you can relate. 

Work-life balance is fairly easy when you don’t love your job.

But, my guess is you love what you do if you’re taking the time to read a blog on ministry and leadership.

If you aren’t careful, though, you could easily end up pouring all your time and energy into your job.

So, how do you live with balance between life and ministry? Answering these five questions might help you get there.

Question One: Where is my time actually going?

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you may have noticed I believe in tracking your time.

It’s the first action step in about half of my posts.

Knowing where your time is going is the difference between feeling like something is true and knowing something is true.

If you track your time, you’ll understand how many hours you’re actually working vs. how many you think you’re working.

The process will also tell you what tasks you’re spending most of your time on and for how long.

I’m telling you, we are all confused about how much time we spend on what.

What we feel is true and what is actually true are often two very different things.

It’s possible you think you’re only working 40 hours a week and you’re actually working 50.

It’s also possible you feel like you’re working 50 hours a week, when in fact you’re only working 40 because you’re doing a lot of work that drains you.

Question Two: What do I need to stop doing?

If you’re the senior pastor, I’m guessing you have a sermon to preach on the weekends. You might want to work on that.

If you’re a worship leader, you probably have a worship service to plan and execute. It might be wise for you to spend a large chunk of your time on that.

Hopefully, your job description tells you exactly what things you’re exclusively responsible for.

Now, here’s where things get challenging.

You’re a nice person. You like to be helpful. You see needs and you step into them.

Over time, you end up owning a bunch of tasks that don’t really belong to you and the pressure of keeping people happy and keeping ministry afloat has led you to work too much—on the weekends and during your son’s basketball game.

Here's what I suggest: Make a list of the things you need to stop doing.

These are things that are not part of your job description. These things are not your primary area of responsibility.

Make a “stop doing” list and stop doing those things tomorrow.

I know what you may be thinking. “Umm…my boss is not going to go for that. Uh, my board might resist this.” If that’s the case, this next question will help you approach them. 

 

Question Three: What would you like me to prioritize right now?

If you’ve been tracking your time and you know where your time is actually going, you have the opportunity to strike up an important conversation.

Go to your boss, or if you are the senior pastor go to the chairperson of your board, and let them know the work you have been carrying is more than you can accomplish in 40-45 hours.

Then ask them this question,

“What would you like me to prioritize right now?”

In other words, 

“What would you like me to stop doing right now?”

Let your supervisor prioritize the work for you.

This way, you gain clarity around what actually matters right now.

Also, helping your supervisor better understand your workload might be helpful down the road.

Question Four: Who am I blaming?  

Wrestling with this question is where I have experienced the greatest breakthroughs in recent months. 

I am an achiever and a people pleaser.

If I am not careful, I can easily work too much and too hard in an effort to achieve, and then when I become exhausted, I blame them.

Or I blame the ministry. Or I blame COVID. Or I blame needy people. Or I blame…

Here’s the truth: I am responsible for how I work. I am responsible for the boundaries I set. Only I can choose to live in a healthy or unhealthy way.

If you are failing with work-life balance, at the end of the day, you need to look yourself in the mirror and accept responsibility.

Only you can establish and maintain healthy boundaries for yourself.

And, even if it is true that your supervisors and work culture dictate perpetual overworking, it’s still your decision to work there.

Don’t let yourself blame others. Accept responsibility.

This is the path to healthy boundaries and better mental health.

Question Five: Who is holding me accountable?  

I’m a flawed person and I’m basically addicted to work and achievement. There, I said it.

Who is holding you accountable to the boundaries you’ve established? Who knows this is an area of struggle for you? Who knows your plan for pursuing healthy boundaries? Who has been given permission to call you out?

Here’s a tip: Don’t make your spouse or significant other do this.

It’s not fair to them and it will create conflict in your relationship.

Accountability will be crucial in your ongoing effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Bonus Question for Those in Senior Leadership:  Am I rationalizing?

Something I’ve discovered in the higher levels of church leadership is that senior leaders often believe they have to work more than everyone else.

Usually senior leaders are paid more because they carry a heavy weight of leadership and have often been in ministry longer.

Sometimes the thinking goes, “If I make more than everyone else, I should work harder than everyone else.”

Okay, bring your best and be disciplined in your approach, but please don’t rationalize bad work-life balance.

Senior leaders set the example for everyone else.

While you may think your long hours are validating your salary or position, what you’re actually doing is setting unfair expectations for everyone under your leadership.

If they see you working 60 hours a week, they will assume that’s what is required of them.

I’ve seen this over and over. Your people will do what you do, not what you say.

Don’t rationalize bad behavior.

Instead, set a positive example of healthy boundaries.

Fair or unfair, senior leaders set patterns of behavior in churches.

Wrap Up

I encourage you to take the time to evaluate your work-life balance.

Take time this week to evaluate each of these questions:

  1. Where is my time actually going?  
  2. What am I doing that isn’t mission critical for me to do?  
  3. Ask your boss/board: What would you like me to prioritize right now? What would you like me to neglect right now?
  4. Who am I blaming?
  5. Who is holding me accountable?
  6. If you are a senior leader…Am I rationalizing my work-life balance?

Topics: Advice

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