Life balance for clergy remixed

Life balance is important and necessary for sustained ministry over time, but there are some things that life balance is not.

“The ordained person can then come to realize that his or her first vocation is to be a human being,” observe Donald Hands and Wayne Fehr in Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy.

By now, we all know living a balanced life as a minister remains a front-and-center concern. Since we live with this concern, we don’t need convincing that life balance is important and necessary for sustained ministry over time. That’s a given.

On the other hand, I’m growing aware of some dynamics confused with living a balanced life. So, this article is remixing life balance, considering what life balance is not.

– Life balance for clergy and church staff is not avoiding peak ministry experiences.

How sensitized are we to the wonder of our callings? Can you believe how much people actually trust you, inviting you into the inner sanctums of their lives? Who of us does not experience overwhelming humility when serving Communion? Who of us can avoid tearing up when baptizing a child? Who of us does not experience the pain of our flocks when they are suffering? When we accepted the call to ministry, who of us knew we would experience life with such ups and downs and in betweens?

Clergy and church staff are privileged to be there at peak times in the lives of individuals, families and congregations. While there, we cannot help but be pushed to our limits. This is part of pastoral ministry. We dare not use the concept of life balance to avoid these peak experiences.

Peak ministry experiences push us beyond exhaustion and introduce us to the white hot stress burn. Simultaneously peak ministry experiences give birth to undeniable joy and deep vocational satisfaction. These are some of the gifts and burdens of ministry. Seeking life balance is not an excuse to avoid them.

– Life balance for clergy and church staff is not being risk aversive.

Some of us play it overly safe, guarding our routines and practices, thereby missing growth opportunities for ourselves and for God’s church. Remember who we follow and seek to imitate?

“Risk aversive” is not a description which describes our Lord very well. Of course, I’m not advocating crazy living. I am advocating the willingness to step out of the known (routine, safety, comfort zone), following God’s call to a new land (opportunities, ministry experiments, growth).

“May you risk something big for something good,” goes a line from a familiar benediction. A confused understanding of life balance can get in the way, influencing us to avoid the risk which leads to something good.

– Life balance for clergy and church staff is not building protectionist walls around ourselves.

Watching clergy learn healthy boundaries and how to practice them is fascinating (not a process unique to clergy). Typically, when exposed to the concepts of boundaries, clergy find themselves putting up walls, believing these to be boundaries. Perhaps this is part of the maturation process. Perhaps we have to find our voice, our power, and give ourselves permission to practice boundaries in the first place.

Our first attempts are awkward and rigid. Through time and experience, savvy clergy learn that boundaries are not walls. They are more like gates, swinging outward and inward, depending on the need. Learning to practice healthy boundaries, while not excluding others with walls, is an art, and perhaps a life-long maturation process. How much do we avoid intimacy, using the excuse of life balance?

– Life balance for clergy and church staff is not achieved through expecting a “normal” lifestyle.

A very active and effective minister in one of our coaching groups recently announced that she was seeking a “new normal.” Her meaning is that she is looking for the routines and practices within a life built on a call; practices leading to healthy life balance.

Ministry really is a calling, not a job. Those who expect to start work and finish work on a time schedule will consistently be disappointed. Giving up the idea that we will work a “normal” schedule is necessary to discover the new normal which works for us. Life balance is rarely practiced by clergy well in one particular day. Instead it is better practiced over extended periods of time.

May we seek and find a new normal, based on our callings from God, sustaining a life with balance and faithfulness.

This post originally appeared on on December 4, 2012.

Mark Tidsworth

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Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates in Chapin, S.C.

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