“I wish I had spent more time with my family.” That was the common answer I got from pastors when, early in my career, I started polling wise, successful ministers about what they wished they had done differently or known when they were starting out. I tried my best to take that to heart.
I’ve been involved in professional ministry (most of it with youth) for the past sixteen years and have had an incredible time without laying my sanity or family on the alter of work. How do you accomplish that? It’s not easy. I guess what this is about is a continuation of what is talked about in 1Corinthians 10:11-14. I want you to learn from my mistakes so that you can see a way out and live a full life!
1. Have the hard conversation: How much should I work?
You have a job to do that is far more than any single person can accomplish. That means that, even with being an incredible delegator, you will have to decide the point at which you stop, leave things uncompleted and feel good about what you’ve accomplished.
So, start with your pastors, SPR, or whoever it is that you consider your boss. Tell them that you are working on setting healthy boundaries with work and want to clarify their expectations. Then, say, on an average week without any special event or camp, etc. what kind of hour would you hope that I was putting in? How many of those do you expect to be sitting in my office on campus?
After you get a good idea of their expectations you take that home to your spouse. Let them know the expectations at work and ask them how they match up with their expectations. Those two may be different! This is where the rubber meets the road. Your job is to broker a treaty between your work and your family where you family feels loved, cared for and protected from the sin of absent, workaholism.
Then, DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO!
2. Take advantage of your flexible hours!
Most churches assume youth ministry will happen in a more flexible time/location setting. Though they probably (and should) want specific office hours, they are likely to be flexible with when those hours occur. So, involve your family and decide when is it the most helpful and fun for you to be home when most adults have to work, and schedule your hours around that!
3. Take a vacation
If your minister came to you and asked you to take a 4 or 5% pay cut, you would be upset, but that is what you are doing by not taking vacation. You need time off. you need a break, and your family needs it too. So, schedule it like a sumer camp. Plan it in advance and take it no matter what.
4. Work hard at work
This one is huge. I have worked with a ton of people who talk about how many extra hours they work, how they have to take stuff home, etc. For at least half of them, it’s their own fault. The reason they don’t finish their work in normal work hours is that every time I see them, they are not working. No lie, I have worked with people who for the (sometimes brief) time we worked together, I never saw them do something related to their job.
If you are a social butterfly or are working with your best friend, do whatever it takes to keep your nose to the grindstone. You don’t need to be rude, but you don’t have to have a constantly revolving door or full couch. Shut your door, close facebook, and get to work. If you have to, put a sign on the door that says please do not disturb or something.
5. Do something you love that isn’t work related
Sometimes ministry can co-opt our hobbies and turn them into work. If you love to play the guitar, you end up rehearsing four chord Christian worship songs until the thought of playing anymore makes you sick. If you enjoy graphic design, you end up making logos for every small group in the church until the last thing you want to see is Illustrator. That is not healthy. You need to have things you enjoy that are not part of your job.
Maybe it is hiking or sports, or playing music, or writing. Whatever it is, schedule intentional time to do it, and no matter what, refuse to do it for work. You can volunteer your graphic design services for the local food pantry or teach guitar in an at-risk school, but don’t make it part of your job. Keep some fun thing aside to care for yourself.
Jeremy Steele has been working in youth ministry for the past sixteen years and now serves as the Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. He writes for Group Magazine, RETHINK Church and various publications and organizations. You can find a link to all the places he contributes on his website at JeremyWords.com.
Follow him on twitter: twitter.com/unpretending