As a sermon illustration, I once preached from a ladder. But I didn’t just sit on one of the lower rungs. No, I preached for half an hour from the top step of a 16-foot ladder. The one that reads “Caution: This is not a step!” I thought it was a brilliant way to engage the audience. I didn’t realize it would serve as nothing more than the worst possible distraction.
No one heard a word I said because they were afraid I was going to fall. I wasn’t worried or nervous. I have really good balance, and heights don’t tend to intimidate me. But as the message wrapped up and I came down off that ladder, there were audible gasps of relief and people waited to give me colored commentary.
I had put an undue amount of stress on my audience. In their minds, I had jeopardized my well-being to make a point, one they couldn’t even begin to comprehend because of their alarm on my behalf.
As a ministry leader, we do the same to those who care for us. We have friends, family, and mentors who are concerned for our well-being. They see the pace we’re running, the long nights, and the lack of sleep. We are committed to caring for those we lead, but are we committed to caring for ourselves?
In ministry world, burnout may be our greatest obstacle. It’s the devil’s ultimate weapon, his Megazord (for all you Power Ranger fans). If he can run you ragged, he will. If he can destroy your health, he will. If he can make you despise your job, he will.
If we want to find a way to combat the enemy’s schemes, we have to identify unhealthy behaviors and eliminate them from our daily routines. I haven’t met many people with a temporary calling, but I meet many who manage their ministry as if there’s an expiration date looming. Remember…this isn’t a short sale! It’s a 30-year fixed commitment. Some things need to change if we want to last in ministry.
For starters, let’s acknowledge the lies we tell ourselves. Then take steps to circumvent their effect on our schedules.
1. This is just a busy season.
A “busy season” has a clear beginning and a definite end. Fall in the south lasts for three months, give or take a couple weeks, but it only comes around once a year. That’s a season. If your busy season began last summer with VBS and hasn’t stopped, it’s time to evaluate and prioritize. There’s a real danger when we only have two seasons: being in the middle of something big or getting ready for the next big thing.
Action Step: Assess your schedule and determine what is making you most busy. Place an end date on those items.
2. Next week will be better.
The reality is next week will be no different from last week without intentional change. At times, we look at the extenuating circumstances we’ve faced in the last few days and conclude those won’t ever happen again (which may or may not be true). Then, once again, we begin to plan a full schedule with no consideration for the oddities that will, no doubt, arise next week as well. It’s an endless cycle.
Action Step: Block off time in your schedule for the unexpected.
3. Everyone understands.
Most everyone will cut you slack occasionally, but something happens when your scheduling mishaps become an exasperating pattern. Pretty soon those you lead feel neglected and those you work alongside discount you altogether. Everyone may have been okay with the meeting you missed that one time, but don’t assume everyone is still okay with how your mishandled schedule is affecting them.
Action Step: Talk with fellow staffers and volunteer leaders to help assess the reputation you are building among peers.
These are very real lies we tell ourselves. Something has to change if we intend for ministry to be a lifelong calling. No lie.
For more on thriving in the tension of ministry, work, and life, check out Frank’s new book, The Myth of Balance. Visit MythofBalance.com.