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5 Ways Ministers Can Avoid a Healthy Life Balance

I’m in the middle of a writing project, staring the topic “Life Balance for Clergy” between the eyes. Just like a staring contest between kids, after concentrating and staring a few moments, I dissolve into laughter.
Who are we kidding here? Life balance for clergy is a nice thought, but come on. How realistic is it?

I ask that question with all sincerity and with a great deal of curiosity. How possible is it to be a “successful” minister (using the U.S. criteria of bodies, buildings and budgets) while also practicing life balance?

Good question. The Alban Institute studied clergy some years back, discovering that most of us work 66-plus hours each week.

That’s not even considering whether clergy are “successful.” We are caught between a desire to serve effectively and to practice some form of life balance – horns of a dilemma for most clergy.

When life balance goes off kilter for our clergy coaching clients, we discover most of them are tired of hearing about it.

This conversation permeates seminaries, denominational offices and peer groups now. We’ve heard that sermon – repeatedly. We know what we “ought” to do. Doing it is another matter.

Several years ago, I enjoyed leading workshops on “Fathering Well,” assisting fathers who want to invest in their children’s lives.

South Carolina ETV, the state’s public educational broadcasting network, put out a quality video of interviews with real fathers trying to balance career and family.

One university professor described his decision to drive his children to school each morning, making time for them all to be in the same place (the car) at the same time. He also described the hit to his career from arriving a bit later to work – costing him a promotion and esteem from colleagues.

Most of us who are passionate about our vocations can sympathize. We know that actually practicing life balance means sacrificing something else. Many ministers wish the whole topic would go away.

So maybe you could use some advice on how to ignore life balance (see the tongue in the cheek here?). Perhaps life balance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

So, for those of you looking for solid reasons to avoid this subject, here is a useful list.

  1. Pretend ministry is a job, not a calling. Ignore Paul’s analogy about the military as a model for Christian discipleship. Pretend that soldiers are not soldiers first, but are civilians who happen to work as soldiers. Ratchet down your commitment level.
  2. Expect to have a “normal” life. Pretend like you have a 9-to-5 job (does anyone anywhere still have one of those?). Be on the clock and off the clock. You will miss the perks of a fluid work schedule, but instead you won’t have to worry about after-hours work.
  3. Estimate your departure date from vocational ministry – then work accordingly. Without life balance you will burn out, your significant relationships will explode, you will have a heart attack or you’ll grow so cynical you can’t do ministry anymore. So, decide how long you want to do this, and then work at a pace that leads to one of these destructive experiences at about the time you plan to leave ministry.
  4. Treat your significant relationships as being all about your ministry. You can do this if you are single, married, a parent or otherwise. View your relationships as props for your emotional well-being, just there to help your ministry. Let people be there for you (using them). Sacrifice meaningful relationships for your calling. This will speed your trek toward a ministry exit.
  5. Ignore Jesus’ example. Stay with the crowds (they provide affirmation anyway) and keep moving. Avoid intimacy with God (that will only interrupt your avoidance of life balance). See God as your work colleague (only there to support and inspire your ministry).

If you can do these things, you can sidestep the pesky life balance discussion altogether.

Maybe these reasons are not enough for you to avoid the topic. Trust yourself and buy into the unrealistic expectations from the congregation. You will be surprised how creative you become in avoiding life balance.

Ask other clergy for help if you need to. Regardless of how, relax and trust that you can avoid the topic. Thousands of clergy have blazed that trail ahead of you.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.