Trying to balance life and ministry can sound like a cruel joke.
Sermon preparation takes hours.
Pastoral care is never-ending.
There is a slew of church meetings to attend.
Family responsibilities don’t take a vacation.
And unless you have a staff or team, you’re on call 24/7/365.
What’s the moral of the story?
As a church leader, it’s really challenging trying to balance everything.
You work a ton of hours, every week looks different, and it can feel like an impossible task to serve your church well without burning yourself out in the process.
How do you balance it all?
Well, for starters, you don’t.
What you do is identify your guiding principles to help you create a rhythm for your week. There will be times when things are really busy, like Christmas and Easter, and then there are your “normal” workweeks.
To help you serve your church, love your family, and not lose your mind or soul in the process, here are 10 tips to help you find a good rhythm in your life and ministry.
#1 – Don’t neglect your first love
As a church leader, you don’t get a pass on devoting your life to God.
I know this sounds obvious, but hear me out.
When serving the Lord vocationally (as a pastor or church staff member), it’s easy to believe that the work you’re doing is a replacement for spending personal time with God in prayer or reading the Bible.
This isn’t something that church leaders do on purpose. In most cases, church leaders slowly drift away from their first love—God (Rev 2:4), which makes practical sense.
You spend your time serving, preaching, and taking care of others, and it’s easy to forget about your own relationship with God in the busyness of your life.
Don’t let this be you.
Before you dive into time-management hacks, take a moment to reflect on your devotion to Jesus.
How are you doing?
Do you feel like you’re walking closely with the Lord?
Or do you feel indifferent?
Before implementing any of the tips below, commit yourself to daily carving out time to talk to God (prayer) and hear what he has to say (read the Bible).
Don’t be afraid to block out a portion of time every day to spend with the Lord. If not, you may not get around to praying or reading the Bible.
“I schedule everything,” shared a member of Church Fuel. He went on to add, “When something needs to be done, I immediately put it on my calendar. If it’s not scheduled, usually it doesn’t get done.”
When you add daily devotions to your calendar, you’ll be able to create a habit, guard this time, and get ready the day before (e.g., go to bed on time if you want to get up early).
#2 – Create margin
To balance your life and ministry, you have to embrace this reality first:
Every week is different.
There are normal rhythms in your schedule, such as mid-week or weekend worship services. But outside of your normal programs and events, mentally prepare for every week to look a little bit different than the week before.
With this being said, here’s a big idea:
Create margin in your week by not filling your schedule to the brim. If possible, leave 60 unscheduled minutes in your daily calendar. If it’s mid-afternoon and you’re on track with everything you had planned, then feel free to use the time. But it’s best to have some wiggle room in your day-to-day so that you don’t get behind on anything.
Possessing this mindset will help you to better balance your life and ministry, which brings us to the next point.
#3 – Nail down your church rhythms
The first place you need to start in creating a healthy rhythm is to work with your church rhythms.
As you identify the big rocks in the life of your church, you’ll be better able to prioritize your schedule.
When doing this, there are two things you need to nail down:
- Weekly rhythms
- Annual rhythms
For weekly rhythms, identify the weekly activities that take place in your church. As you write these down in your calendar, it’s also important to include the time you need to prepare. For example, if you preach, then you’ll need to guard a decent amount of time to prepare. What is more, if you have a weekly event, you’ll need to make sure everything is taken care of (more on this in a bit).
As for annual rhythms, mark down the following in your church calendar:
- Major holidays
- Office closures
- Staff evaluation
- Big events
- Sermon series preparation
- Leadership development
When you have these big rocks in place, you’ll be able to plan ahead and prepare yourself for really busy seasons of ministry, like Christmas and Easter.
#4 – Take one day off per week
A lack of rest is bad.
Like, really bad.
If you don’t plan to take at least one full day off per week (a Sabbath), then you can plan on having health problems, depression, and poor judgment, among other things.
God modeled taking a break during creation (Gen 2:2) and Jesus wasn’t afraid to get some shut-eye too (Mark 4:35–40). If God finds rest important, then you would do well to follow his example and take a break yourself.
By not taking a weekly day of rest—at a minimum—you run the risk of burning yourself out.
Do yourself, your family, and your church a favor and arrange for at least one day off per week.
#5 – Arrange for an extended trip
There’s one thing you need to fight for in your ministry:
This is why I’m trying to get your attention about taking a break by emphasizing a weekly rest and now an extended break.
Now, what I’m arguing for here isn’t necessarily an extended Disney cruise (sorry). If possible, plan on taking an extended break (1–2 weeks) every year to pray through and plan your church’s annual calendar.
During this time, you want to unplug, spend plenty of time in prayer, and think ahead.
What is more, this isn’t something you have to do alone. At Church Fuel, we encourage church leaders to plan an annual retreat for their staff. You can click here to check out the details.
#6 – Love your spouse
Are you married?
Then don't leave your spouse on the altar of ministry. Working long hours isn’t necessarily a godly thing. If you have a spouse, and you work too much, then you run the risk of neglecting him or her, which is a big no-no.
Instead, fight for your marriage by planning weekly or bi-weekly dates.
These dates don’t have to be fancy. From getting out for a walk or enjoying a cup of coffee together, schedule time for the two of you to get out of your office and away from your home for a few hours.
#7 – Make time for your family
Do you have children?
Well, you can’t leave them hanging either.
There are a variety of ways you can create a weekly rhythm for your family:
- Movie nights
Depending on the age of your children, include them in different errands throughout the week. Think about it. You can turn a bland trip to the grocery store into an opportunity to spend time with your children.
Whatever you do, be sure to put something on the calendar every week.
Here’s the deal:
Spending time with your family will not happen by accident.
To make sure his schedule reflects his priorities, one Church Fuel member shared, “Set your priorities and make your calendar reflect them. Set a number of evenings you will be home for dinner with your family and don’t allow anything to compromise that.”
By scheduling these non-negotiable times in your calendar, you can create a rhythm around time well-spent with your family.
#8 – Take care of your body
The Apostle Paul shared this with his mentee Timothy:
“For the training of the body has limited benefit …” (1 Tim 4:8).
But let’s be honest:
As a church leader, you need to take care of yourself physically—from eating healthy to regularly exercising
By taking care of yourself, you’ll increase your energy levels, feel happier, and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
When you add these physical benefits together, you’ll place yourself in a better position to provide pastoral care for a very long time.
Can’t remember the last time you exercised or ate a salad?
That’s water under the bridge.
Connect with a personal trainer and/or doctor to get a physical and put together a plan to get started.
#9 – Get a mentor
Having a mentor is probably not what you had in mind to create balance. But like everyone else in the world, you—church leader—need a mentor.
Here’s the deal:
A mentor is someone who can give you an unbiased opinion and help you get your life in alignment.
In life and ministry, you’re going to get off course. With the number of hours you have to work and the pastoral care you need to provide, you’re going to get stuck or drift off course. This is why you need a mentor who can help you to maintain balance.
Michael Lukaszewski, the Founder and CEO of Church Fuel, added, “Get help from others. Family and friends need to know and support you during busy seasons.”
Regardless if you talk to a mentor, your spouse, or friend, be open about what you’re feeling and your workload. This will give people who care about you the opportunity to love and support.
#10 – Delegate work
What’s the one thing God didn’t call you to do?
Know the answer?
If you’re the senior pastor, you may be responsible for everything. But this is different than doing everything.
Regardless of your position, as a church leader, you need to identify your primary responsibilities, know your strengths, and delegate any tasks that someone else can do or work that falls outside of your comfort zone.
Depending upon your situation, you may be able to hire someone. If not, you’ll have to bank on finding a volunteer to help. If it’s the latter, it will take time to turn a volunteer into a leader. But your investment into his or her life will help you—and most importantly, help them fulfill their call.
Balancing it all
Don’t fight for balance.
That’ll place you in a position of trying to figure out how to do everything.
Instead, strive to create a healthy rhythm in your life with these 10 tips:
- Don’t neglect your first love.
- Create margin.
- Nail-down your church rhythms.
- Take one day off per week.
- Arrange for an extended trip.
- Love your spouse.
- Make time for your family.
- Take care of your body.
- Get a mentor.
- Delegate work.
It will take time and energy to make a change, and you’ll have to learn how to say “no” or “later” to different requests. But working toward creating a healthy rhythm in your life will help you have a long and fruitful ministry.