“If you preach from your weakness, you’ll never run out of material.” This is a popular quote from Andy Stanley.
He’s right about that, and if we just change “preach” to “write,” it will be a fitting description of the perspective of this article. All of us have a mission and most of us struggle at times with the tension between carrying out our mission and prioritizing our own health. Ministry has a way of becoming our life and pushing out the very relationship that is the reason we serve in the first place.
When that happens, especially over an extended period of time, the results are damaging. It’s damaging to us and our health and it’s damaging to our ministry. I think we all know how important it is to prioritize our own health. Our mission begins with us, but it’s hard to do, isn’t it?
I wish this was something I could say I do well, but that wouldn’t be the case. Actually, this was pretty easy for me when I was in my 20s. We were starting a new church, so there was more than enough work to go around and plenty of stress to go with it. Yet, somehow healthy boundaries and prioritizing my relationship with God was more natural.
Things have changed since then. We have two kids now, my wife’s job responsibilities have grown, the church has grown, and there’s more on my plate than there ever has been before. Prioritizing my health and having good boundaries is much more of a challenge now, and the stakes are even higher. Because of that, I have been continuously learning new ideas and practices to help me do this well.
Here are five things I’m doing to help establish healthy boundaries and prioritize my own health. I hope they can be helpful to you as well.
Wake Up Earlier
For morning people, this may come easy. I’m not a morning person naturally, so this has always been a challenge. Having kids forced me to wake up much earlier, but anyone with kids knows how hectic things are if you wake up with them. I have been working towards waking up earlier, well before the kids are up, to use that time for myself. While I’ll never enjoy waking up early, it really is the best window of opportunity to focus on my spiritual and physical health. Not to mention, I’m a much better husband and father when I wake up earlier. If you are like me and could use additional help in this area, this article has some ideas I’m using.
The important things we all know we need to prioritize our health include reading the Bible, prayer, silence and solitude, etc.—all the things that help us connect with God and grow our faith. However, that typically happens best when we have some accountability attached to it. If you’re in a small group with other people you trust, that may be the place to be transparent and be held accountable. If you don’t have a group, that might be the place to start. Otherwise, you could seek out a mentor or two who can help keep you on track. What if you shared your desired rhythm with some other people and invited them to ask you how you’re doing each week?
Turn Off Notifications
Technology is the number one thing most parents say they need help with if they have teenagers, and it’s easy to understand why. Have you noticed, most adults struggle with technology as much or more than teenagers? If you work in ministry you know the work is never done and you can always be on call if you allow it. One simple thing we can all do to minimize distractions and create boundaries is turn off notifications. I don’t get notified of new emails on my phone any more, and the same could be done for other apps that can have the potential to pull us into work mode when we should be off. This is a small step, but an important one, to help us draw healthy boundaries and actually hold to them.
Take a Soul Day Monthly
Vince Antonucci is a friend of our staff team and shared a practice with us a long time ago that we have used. The idea is to take one workday a month and make it all about caring for your soul as you connect with God. A “Soul Day” may sound cheesy, but it can be really powerful. Vince considers it the number one thing that helps him stay healthy. It may be hard to imagine taking a whole day each month, but it’s something you won’t regret. In fact, you’ll be glad you made time for it even with the pressure of everything else weighing on you.
Manage Your Time Blocks
Our full-time staff are expected to work 44 hours/week. One way to look at that is 11 4-hour time blocks. I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I struggled with boundaries early on is because I would only add time, not take some away. Now, if I have to add unplanned time in somewhere, I then look to take away a time block somewhere else to make up for it.
You can also use this in scheduling your work. For instance, this week I had to add about 2 blocks of unexpected time to the calendar. In order to do that, I had to move out 2 blocks of work that was already scheduled. If I wasn’t managing my time in a calendar I would just try to do it all. Instead, I moved out things that weren’t urgent and could be done later.
There will be plenty of weeks where we just have to take on more and that’s fine. However, it should be the exception, not the rule.
Our mission really does begin with us. If we don’t succeed there, everything else will suffer. It’s usually not immediate, so we can run for a period of time with the belief that it will still work. We can neglect ourselves and give too much to the work of ministry. We can even trick ourselves into believing it’s noble. Eventually, it comes crashing down and we’ll wish we had prioritized our own faith and health.
For most us, things will only get busier. There will be more people, more tasks, more challenges, more opportunities, and the same us.
If we don’t prioritize our own health, who will?