You know firsthand the demands that ministry can put on your family… people who expect you to be available 24/7… people who expect your spouse to take on this or that role, or even to have a specific type of personality or spiritual gift set… people who expect your kids to behave a certain way and set an example for other kids and teens. When did they sign up for that? When did you?
As you lead, coach, or supervise other ministry leaders, you know you’re not in this alone. So what can you DO about it? Where are the HOWs you can use to set up some appropriate boundaries around your family? And how can you help those you lead and coach navigate these treacherous waters that have torn apart more than a few families?
6 ways to protect your family from your ministry
1. Commit to prioritizing your significant relationships.
Your spouse and children are two of these significant relationships, as well as any aging parents who need care. The first step is you not just knowing that, but fully believing and embracing that reality. Not being available 24/7 does NOT mean you are not doing your job. At no time in history have Christian leaders been more immediately reachable by such a large number of people. That’s not healthy. It’s not only right but essential to set aside uninterruptible time for your family.
- List your significant relationships.
- Determine what each person needs from you to foster healthy relationship and growth.
2. Be proactive about balancing work-life demands.
One of the biggest bulwarks against living at the whims of others is setting your schedule in advance. Reject the notion that things that are on your calendar are “have to’s” or “work”. Instead, think of your calendar as a tool that ensures you are using your time wisely. It may help to think of your week in terms of 21 time segments: mornings, afternoons, and evenings seven days a week.
- Consider what a liveable schedule looks like for you and your family. Avoid assumptions by discussing this with them—giving them space to express their needs.
- Decide which of those segments you need to spend with your family in order to fulfill your responsibilities to them well.
- Proactively add your family to your work calendar. If every Monday night is family night, add it as a recurring event on your calendar so you don’t schedule over it.
3. Learn how to say no kindly.
Most people have no idea how you structure your days and when you have time set aside for your family. They need—and often want—you to tell them. If you have proactively set your calendar, you can honestly say you already have a Monday evening commitment. Because you do. If the request is something you consider important, you can suggest another time to schedule it.
- Determine who can help you guard your schedule.
- Know in advance what you will say to safeguard your family rhythms.
4. Build in margin for both emergencies and downtime.
Never book your calendar more than 80% full—and that 80% should include your family time and your alone time. You will need to build in margin for emergencies, illness, recovery time, and family matters that just come up. Very few ministry matters that present as emergencies are actual emergencies. But if you need to visit a suicidal teenager in the hospital, you’ll want the margin to be able to respond that emergency.
- Think about what kind of energy you need to cope with emergencies—or daily tasks in the midst of an emergency.
- Determine where you can build in space to allow you to act, process, and recharge so your stress doesn’t roll over into your home life.
5. Resist unrealistic expectations and demands.
Some demands of ministry are unavoidable but not all. It’s okay to say you don’t have the bandwidth to take on x, y, or z. It can help to have pre-determined values that help you make on-the-spot decisions about the use of your time. If you become aware of expectations on your spouse or children, you’ll need to say no on their behalf as well. The more you can deflect expectations, the less your family members will have to do so.
- Check in with each of your family members to discover how God is leading them to grow. Do this regularly—growing people have evolving interests.
- Work with your family to create family values and priorities.
6. Do what’s needed.
Ministry is no place for pretending. The demands are real and will hurt your loved ones if not held carefully in check. Get counseling before you need it, rather than waiting for minor irritants to become major problems. If you lack money for counseling, ask that it be put into the church budget. And never, never pretend you don’t have any problems. That approach is damaging not only to you and your family, but to your congregation as a whole. They also need permission to not be perfect and to have real problems.
- Curate a list of trusted resources for spiritual direction, counseling, addiction recovery services, etc.
- Make this list available to your family and congregation as a step toward removing the stigma of getting help.
- Model the pursuit of holistic health.
You don’t have to do it all—in fact, you shouldn’t. The best way to lessen the demands of ministry is to multiply yourself. God has placed people into your congregation to help. The trick is they need some help becoming the leader God is calling them to be. Leadership development isn’t pointing at people and calling them a leader. It is coming alongside people to help them identify their gifts and learn practical leadership skills. We can help.
The Leadership Difference* covers practical ministry leadership skills that aren’t covered in seminary. Topics like effective self care, leading change, team building, supervising staff, financial and legal practices, and empowering new leaders. Anyone in a leadership position, whether they are leading a church or a small group need these skills. Skills that result in lightening your load and lessening the demands of ministry on your family.
Most people need more than to be handed a book to grow. Or sometimes the whole book may be overwhelming or not needed. The truth is there is no substitute for personal connection. Our downloadable Leadership Skills Guides are crafted to make you the expert. You choose what to cover and in the order that makes the most sense for your context and people. We provide simple background, key teaching points, connection to scripture, and coaching questions to deepen understanding and personal application in 37 essential leadership skills.