workaholics and boundaries in ministry

Having a flexible work schedule can be a good thing but it can also be a negative thing.  One of the things I find challenging about it – and maybe it’s just me – is that I often end up feeling like I’m working all the time. 

When I was in Thailand, I didn’t have clearly defined “work hours.”  (And actually I still don’t now that I’m back in Canada.)  I often felt like I was on-call 24/7.  And in some ways I was.  Is that the life of someone in ministry?  Maybe.  Is that how it should be or has to be?  I don’t know.

I read “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend years and years ago when I was in a different ministry situation.  At that time I remember thinking that some of the boundaries that the book suggested didn’t seem to be feasible in my situation, even if they were good ideas. 

I’ve known people who have put up boundary after boundary after boundary, which has resulted in even more of an inwardly focused life.  But I’ve also witnessed the other extreme when people have no boundaries whatsoever.  Neither extreme is healthy but finding the balance is much easier said than done.  And perhaps that balance would be different for someone who’s not involved in ministry than it would be for someone in a full-time ministry situation.

Last night, I was randomly reading articles on Focus on the Family‘s website and came across an article on “Workaholism.”  At the end of that article, there were ten suggestions to find balance in one’s life:

“10 steps to finding balance

  • Acknowledge you have a problem.
  • Be accountable to someone for your schedule.
  • Cut out half of your outside involvement.
  • Don’t add a new activity to your schedule without eliminating another.
  • Allow time in your schedule for doing nothing.
  • Set a time budget and live within it.
  • Forget quality time — it’s quantity time that counts.
  • Cherish the time you have with your children now. It can never be reclaimed.
  • Maintain your perspective. There’s a time for everything; maybe it’s just not now.
  • If you’re a workaholic, get help before it’s too late.”

Again, I’m left wondering: “Does this list apply to someone involved in full-time ministry?”

Where does the pressure come from to work all the time?  Is it because of the flexible work schedule?  Is it because we feel that we have to demonstrate that we are worth being supported by our churches and individual supporters back home?  Is it something inside of us that feels that we have to prove?

Every so often, when I’m at a conference with other missionaries or people in ministry, I’ll ask others the following question (or variations of it): “How can someone be healthy on the missions field?  What does that look like?”  Most of the time the first response I get back from those I ask is laughter.  Then a few jokes.  The question never gets answered.

Shouldn’t living a healthy lifestyle (physically, spiritually, mentally, etc.) be something we’re all aiming do to, no matter where we are?  So it makes sense that someone in ministry – overseas or at home – would aim for this as well, correct?  So what does this look like?  How can “workaholism” be overcome?  How do we find the balance of establishing some healthy boundaries?  How do we stop ourselves from succumbing to the pressure of trying to prove our worth?

I don’t really have an answer to my questions.  What’s coming to my mind right now is “Jesus.”  So maybe taking some time to look at His life over the next little while would be a good place to start.  Let me know if you have any insight to these issues.

One thought on “workaholics and boundaries in ministry

  1. Joel and Renee says:

    Jesus, that's a good answer. Another thought: Don't do things out of guilt. (you are worth the support people are giving you!) Keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 6). Do what HE wants, not what you think you should do.
    Hope that helps.
    Love, Renee

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