When to Stay Home – Boundaries in Ministry

I know I say this quite frequently, but I love my job. My youth tease me that it’s not really a job and repeatedly reference the Confucius quote, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That’s mostly true, I say, except for those pesky elements like picking up their trash or (long pause while I try to think of something else that’s annoying) when it’s impossible to find a date that works for everyone to go on a retreat/mission trip/etc. There are certainly aspects of ministry that are more job-like, especially when they don’t match up with my gifts…like DECORATING – I am NOT a decorator. 

Because I love what I do, it’s difficult sometimes to STOP. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into as ministers and that quickly leads to burnout, discImageouragement, and severe health issues. (Note: the ministries facilitated by Plowpoint are great for helping leaders and churches through struggles like these. It is also where I first learned of the Boundaries book to the left.) Healthy boundaries are essential to the practice of ministry. Ministers can’t (and are not called to) be everything to everyone all the time, especially if they are not taking care of themselves (and drinking every evening when you get home at 10pm and don’t feel like cooking dinner is not taking care of yourself, no matter how much you try to convince yourself it is).

Unfortunately, these days, developing healthy boundaries has taken a back seat to this idea of “self care.” It’s the new big thing (my colleague Erin has a great post on this subject). I deem it unfortunate because much of “self care” is a slippery slope to laziness. Also, as Erin notes in her post, it’s so inward focused that it also seems to leave out God. We think we can take care of ourselves, and/or are too tired of thinking about God that it seems like work, and therefore, since “self care” is to “not work,” it translates to leaving out God in the process.

Developing healthy boundaries must take into account your whole system of being (which for ministers includes God) in developing a structure that is intentional about caring for your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs while also honoring your call to ministry. The latest Conflict Transformation conference I went to held by JustPeace noted that it’s not so much about finding a balance (which implies an equal/even split) but a blend. Like a smoothie – you’re not going to put in an equal measure of every ingredient. I like this idea of “blending” because it’s constantly changing. Maybe today you want your smoothie sweeter than yesterday’s; maybe it’s going to take several attempts before finding the perfect blend…and then that, too, may change.

Developing healthy boundaries isn’t easy. It takes time and intentionality for which most of us don’t have the patience. But we MUST! God calls us to be good stewards of our resources, of the earth, and of our calling. We must honor God’s calling by making time to craft a blend of the elements in our lives that attends to our spiritual, emotional, and physical needs so that we can more faithfully fulfill our calling and fully embrace the joyful abundance of life that God wants for us.

I started writing this post because I am currently battling an infection of sorts; I was up all night coughing and I woke up with such a big headache I couldn’t get up. I didn’t want to stay home (because, have I mentioned, I love my job?), but I knew that if I went in to the office, I would not be able to be fully present with whomever walked through my door. I can work on things from home, take a break and rest, and attend to myself today, so that I can be more readily able to joyfully greet the world when my body has recovered.

What struggles do you have with crafting your unique blend of boundaries?

What resources have you found helpful on the topic of developing healthy boundaries?

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