One of the biggest challenges for a family engaged in ministry is learning to balance church activities, marriage, kids, extended family, finances and all the needy people who seem to come along with the job.
One of the biggest challenges for a family engaged in ministry is learning to balance church activities, marriage, kids, extended family, finances, and all the needy people who seem to come along with the job. Just leading a ministry or a church can be a 24-hour, seven-days-a week job.
Volunteers can’t meet during the workday, crises almost always occur in the middle of the night, and weekends are the busiest time of the week for someone in ministry. In the midst of the chaos are recitals, ballgames, and graduations to attend, along with all the other needs of a healthy family.
Somewhere along the way you’re supposed to have family meals, date nights and vacations. Balancing all this endless activity requires a spreadsheet, a calendar app and a daily task list. And no matter how hard you try, something always seems out of balance. Either ministry or family seems to always get shortchanged.
How does anyone successfully balance all the demands of ministry, friends, and family?
Failing at Balance
The good and bad news is that it is impossible. The idea of a balanced life is a myth, especially for people engaged in significant ministry. No one can give equal amounts of time to the needs of leading a ministry, the demands of people in crisis, and the proper care and feeding of a marriage and family. This is obviously bad news because balance is an unachievable goal, but it is good news because we are not alone; every ministry family is failing at balance.
After 30-plus years of ministry, and many seasons of more time demands than we could possibly meet, we are learning that balance can’t be our goal. We will always have times when our lives are out of balance; times when ministry, marriage or family will demand nearly all our time and attention. The goal can’t be balance; the goal must be health. We are discovering several keys to a healthy life in the middle of the chaos of family and ministry.
Tell the Truth
The first key to a healthy family/ministry rhythm is to pursue honesty around time commitments. It’s often tempting to fudge how much time a meeting or event will take, and then make excuses later. But this is a relationship killer. Trust me, I (Geoff) am a Gold medalist doing this poorly.
After years of conflict around balancing ministry and family, however, we are learning to simply be honest. We face our fear of confrontation, understanding that balance is impossible and agree to work together to continually create a healthy schedule for our family. The conversations are always challenging and sometimes contentious, but honesty is the only path to health for our marriage and family.
Identify the Seasons
Some have described ministry as a marathon, but we’ve learned that it’s really a series of sprints with brief times of rest in between. Ministry seasons like Christmas, Easter, and summer programs are sprints. Skipping Easter isn’t an option, but it is helpful to remember that at the end of the sprint, there is a time for rest. If there is never a time for rest and it isn’t possible to have a healthy marriage, it’s time to find a different role. Life without seasons is unsustainable.
Everything in ministry can feel like an emergency. The sermon has to be ready by Sunday, a new children’s ministry volunteer must be recruited before the weekend, and the member’s crumbling marriage has to be fixed tonight. All the good intentions of focusing on family go out the window when the phone rings. It’s time for all-hands-on-deck to put out the fire. Ministry refuses to wait while you sit around the dinner table listening to a Kindergartner tell knock-knock jokes. Often, ministry feels like a series of emergencies coming in unpredictable waves.
The key to dealing with emergencies is to do a little triage before going into crisis mode. Here are some questions to ask when an emergency pops up:
- Did this crisis just arise, or is it something that has been brewing for a while?
- Is this a crisis you can solve tonight, or will this be an ongoing challenge?
- Is there a compelling reason this crisis can’t be addressed during normal business hours?
The bottom line is that ministry will never be a 9-5, Monday through Friday job, so creating a healthy rhythm for your family will be a life-long endeavor. Seasons of imbalance are unavoidable, so you need an action plan to create and maintain a schedule that is healthy for your family. If you don’t set your priorities, everyone else will do it for you.
To Talk About
- What are the most difficult seasons for your family to find a healthy rhythm?
- Do you have a regular date night as a couple? Do you have family nights? If not, when will you begin a regular rhythm of family time away from ministry?
- Spend a few minutes planning your next overnight getaway or family vacation. What obstacles must be overcome to protect this vital time?
Geoff and Sherry Surratt have been at both marriage and ministry together for over 30 years and have seen the highs, lows, and everything in between. In Together:A Guide for Couples Doing Ministry Together (Thomas Nelson, 2018), they share their insights and hindsight lessons to help guide ministry couples through situations they’ve already walked through. Geoff and Sherry live in Denver and have two adult kids, Michael and Brittainy, beautiful daughter-in-law Hilary, and their two grandchildren.
Join Geoff & Sherry at Exponential 2018 where they’ll be leading a pre-conference intensive on marriage with ministry couples Brian and Amy Bloye and Larry and Deb Walkemeyer – learn more here.