The following is an excerpt from What Great Ministry Leaders Get Right, by pastors Jimmy Dodd and Renaut van der Riet. Here, the authors offer some guidelines for life planning and management for pastors.
After many years of watching the ministry landscape and engaging with pastors from across America, Pastor Jimmy and Pastor Renaut wrote What Great Ministry Leaders Get Right with the goal of helping men and women avoid the minor and major pitfalls that so often derail ministries—and more significantly, lives. This book is the culmination of hundreds of interviews with pastors, multiple decades of combined ministry experience, and a deep, urgent longing for leaders to abide in health—in their ministries, in their families, and in their souls.
Chapter 14: Life Planning and Management
The most common call PastorServe receives revolves around the challenge of balancing family and ministry. The problem frequently sounds something like this: “I’m struggling to balance family and ministry. There is an unresolvable tension between the endless demands of my ministry and the time I know I should be spending with my family. I don’t know how to resolve the strain. I feel as if I have no boundaries in my role as a pastor. When I spend an appropriate, healthy amount of time with my family, I feel guilty, like I am cheating the church.”
Our response has been the same for more than two decades: “While we appreciate the tension behind the question, you are thinking of the issue in an unbiblical paradigm. Here is the reality you must grasp if there is indeed deep life change: all of life is ministry, and your family is your primary ministry.”
Practically, what does this mean? It means that when a pastor leaves the church office to spend time at their son’s football game, they are leaving their secondary ministry for their primary one…Once a church understands this, it will fundamentally change the way the church body treats the church staff.
Reading the Gauges of Life
It helps to understand your soul as an engine. You need fuel to run, fluids to stay healthy, and regular maintenance so you don’t break down. As such, leaders must understand their gauges—signs that they are in good health. If you are a part of a leadership team, I encourage you to regularly share your life gauges with a trusted colleague. These are the gauges you should keep an eye on.
This area speaks to our experience of anxiety, over-commitment, feeling excessive pressure, feeling underappreciated, and feeling trapped or restricted. All of these drain our tank. Do you feel free to connect with a counselor? Do you take one full day off every week? Have you set aside time for your next vacation? For some portion of every day, do you turn off your email and internet access to fully engage with family? Do you laugh several times each day? Do you daily listen to music? Do you find your work meaningful? Are you carrying secrets that you fear being discovered? Do you have habits which result in guilt and shame?
My suggestion for maintaining physical energy? Eat well (5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily), exercise five days a week, stretch daily, get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, drink enough water, have no more than four alcoholic beverages per week, avoid loose tobacco, and have a full physical every year. It may sound like a lot, but trust me: these disciplines will return more time and energy to you than they take.
Are you a part of a circle of friends who accept you for who you are? Is there a judgment-free zone in your relational life? Do you have a best friend or soul mate? A full tank would indicate that there is nothing unspoken between you and your spouse or family. Do you hug someone every day? Are you spending more time with people who fill your tank (replenishing) or drain your tank? Are you comfortable being quiet while with others? These questions can help you discern if you need to invest more in your relationships.
Some questions to consider asking to get a read on this gauge are: Are your daily choices deepening your walk with the Lord? Have you set aside daily time for prayer, worship, and reflection? Do you practice the spiritual disciplines of fasting, solitude, and journaling? Do you daily notice and express thanks for the natural beauty of the world around you? Upon awakening, do you acknowledge the mercies of the Lord before you begin reviewing your to-do list? Are you regularly repenting? Are you daily growing more dependent upon Jesus? Not all of these are explicit biblical commands, but they will help you with the biblical command to love God.
Do you read for pleasure? Are you regularly engaged in learning something that has absolutely no relation to your work? Do you have intentional time to reflect on your successes and failures? This area also speaks to engaging in professional development, having a mentor or coach, and being a mentor or coach.
While all areas can run dry, relational energy is one area that tends to overwhelm those called to ministry leadership. Early in my years as a pastor, I felt tremendous pressure to spend the overwhelming majority of my time with people in need. My idea of shepherding was to reactively respond to the needy, seldom reaching out to people who filled my tank. I prioritized the care of others while allowing my own soul to wither. I was at the front of the line to give help and the back of the line to receive help. While that may sound noble, that mindset is unsustainable for any significant length of time. Unquestionably, there are seasons of tireless service. But over the course of one’s life, godly rhythms are indispensable. I encourage you as a pastor to intentionally spend time with people who relationally, intellectually, and emotionally replenish you. While there must be a balance (there will always be times of reactive ministry where you are at the back of the line), it is essential that you construct the necessary boundaries to allow for replenishing relationships …
All too often, the urgent demands of leadership crowd out the necessary work of slowing down, evaluating our lives, and making the appropriate adjustments. Self-assessment takes courage, as few enjoy looking behind the curtain to discover what lies deep within. Self-care can be particularly hard for people wired to be caregivers. Most ministry leaders do not burn out because of the demands of ministry but because of the demands of everyday life.