Boundaries and Balance in Ministry

Balancing productivity and non-productivity time in pastoral ministry is a great challenge.  Unlike many other professionals pastors do not “punch” a time clock or bill for their time.  A pastor is expected to be reasonably available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  A phone call can alter plans which a pastoral family may have had scheduled for days, weeks, or even months.  What margins or boundaries are non-negotiable?  And how does a pastor maintain those boundaries?  My experience has demonstrated that many well-meaning church folk will take advantage of the pastor’s time if boundaries are not announced and maintained.  As a general rule Fridays and Saturdays are my two days off during the week.  However, there is flexibility to my schedule.  Some Fridays and/or Saturdays are my busiest times during the week.  However, the church members understand generally I am unavailable on those days unless it is an emergency.  It amazes me at what some folks call emergencies!  I do try to compensate any time lost by taking additional time off.  Saturdays are generally the day I observe as the Sabbath.  On that day I try to rest, replenish, reflect, rejoice, and refocus.  The key word is “try.”  Over the years it has been a real struggle but I can report progress.  Most of my days off are spent with my wife and children as family days.  This is important time for me as I cherish the moments we share.  It is nourishing to my soul and it provides time when we can minister to each other just by being together.

My wife and I like to go on dates!  One of the things we try to do is not spend our time talking about church.  Sometimes we are not successful.  For me, it is a very difficult challenge to devote time for self-renewal because as pastor I am constantly thinking about the church.  Through experience and through study I understand it is not healthy.  As I stated earlier, it is a great challenge.  Though I have been on several retreats or advances, I have never taken a Sabbatical.  Perhaps, part of the reason is because there is a large part of me which struggles with being gone for extended periods of time.  What I have experienced is if I am away from the church two Sundays the attendance seems to decline.  It is certainly not me which keeps them coming.  If it were then I would consider it prideful on my part to think I could have that type of influence.  However, in smaller churches I do think people expect to see their pastor.  I believe this is draining and unhealthy for a congregation.  However, it is a reality of small church mentality and in order to overcome this, the church must grow.  With numerical growth change is inevitable and with spiritual growth change will take place.

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