The Balancing Act: How to Juggle Ministry and Family
Is it possible to balance the demands of our ministry and the needs of our family? How can we walk the tightrope between being “on-call” for our congregation’s needs and getting rest to be able to meet those needs? If we work 60+ hour weeks, what is left to give our family?
Bryan Dyson, the former CEO of Coca-Cola, once gave a commencement speech in which he made this analogy:
“Imagine life as a game in which you juggle some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends, and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that ‘work’ is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
In my own life, I have labeled the balls somewhat differently, but I certainly agree with and embrace the analogy.
Replant pastors are juggling so many balls, it may feel nearly impossible to label which ones are glass and which are rubber. But those labels may reveal the difference between a successful juggling act and a floor full of broken glass.
Struggling with Juggling
While identifying the balls can be helpful, most can agree the hardest part of juggling isn’t knowing the type of balls in the air. It’s keeping them all in the air. While you can drop some of them, the show is certainly more successful if you can keep them going.
As pastors, there is often a feeling of immediacy to every demand– it can all feel like there is an emergency around every corner. “I have to help this person, be at that hospital, take care of this facility need, get that bill paid, go to this event, get to that game…” The list is endless. And that’s just it– there is always something else to do!
So how do pastors learn how to juggle?
It’s All About the Timing
On Episode 116 of the podcast, JimBob discussed the answer to this very question and came up with eight ways to balance family and ministry.
- Attend your children’s events. No matter what your child is interested in, whether it be theater, a sporting event, or debate club, your attendance at their event is important to them. You need to prioritize attending these events. They will always remember looking in the stands or in the audience and seeing their biggest fan out there rooting for them.
- Keep dating your wife. Date night doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be a lavish dinner at a swanky steakhouse. It can be just taking a drive to a local park for lunch while the kids are in school and having a picnic of McDonald’s cheeseburgers. It can be breakfast at a local diner on a Saturday morning. If you have small kids, find friends who have kids at similar ages and trade weekends with each other. They watch your kids one weekend, you return the favor the next. The important thing isn’t where you go or what you do– it’s that you take time to do it.
- Speaking of your wife, remember that the church hired YOU. Your wife is like any other church member. She should be able to choose where to serve in the church that benefits her God-given talents and abilities. Your wife is not called to be every ministry’s lead person. Rest assured, if you push her to be involved in everything, you will have a burnt out support partner and you will both suffer because of it.
- Remember to keep a Sabbath– and it won’t be Sunday. Sunday is a work day for pastors. You have to be diligent about creating a Sabbath on another day of the week, a day where you are off duty and can truly find rest.
- Take a vacation! You need a couple of weeks AT MINIMUM to recharge and reset from church life. Trust that God has everything under control and allow your fellow ministry leaders to handle everything while you are gone. Be diligent about setting a boundary for your time off with your family.
- Have a rhythm to your time with your family. Carve out specific times that are solely for your family. Be very careful not to let anything interfere with that. Your family will know that the specific family time is important to you and they will feel honored that you have set it aside for them.
- Find time to do something physical. Much of the work of pastoring and shepherding is mental and emotional. Your brain and your spirit are occupied in this work 100% of the time. You need to balance that with physical activity that lets your brain rest while your hands work. Some pastors find this time at the gym, others find home improvement projects helpful. Anything that allows you to rest your mind but engage your physical body.
- Most importantly, be PRESENT. Don’t just be “there,” be fully present and engaged when you are with your family. If you need to turn off notifications for that time, or set your phone aside, do it. There is a myth out there that we multitask. We can’t. Our brain actually has to stop and start each task, which takes MORE time, not less. You cannot be present with your family and also present with your phone and your social media. You need to choose one– and by this time, you should realize it should be your family.
Sometimes, You Gotta Drop the Ball
The truth is, there will be times in ministry when you have to drop the balls. You aren’t Superman, but more than that, you aren’t God. You can’t juggle the needs of your entire congregation, your facility, your other job (if you have one), your community, and your family without occasionally needing to put down everything and focus on just carrying the very fragile, very important glass ball until you are ready to start juggling again.
Church will always take as much as you are willing to give. Church work can be a ravenous beast, and you can never feed it “enough.” There will always be work that needs to be done and ministry that needs to be led. But there are very rarely true emergencies that require your immediate attention, even though it may feel like it. (Marriages don’t end at 11:30 pm when they finally call you for help– that marriage will last until tomorrow when you can get to them.) You must be willing to prioritize your time and set boundaries that allow you to keep your family- and your sanity- intact.