This post was written by Christie Penner Worden, a member of the INCM Blog team.
There is something about ministry that can leave us feeling like there are fewer hours from one week to the next: events, midweeks, meetings, discipleship, programs, curriculum, and Sundays.
And just when you think you’ve got a rhythm figured out, you find your week upended and wonder how you’re chasing the clock again.
Time management in ministry can be tricky, to say the least.
And setting boundaries can lead us to feel some discomfort, self-doubt, and worry about whether things will get done between Sundays (or done to your liking, but that’s a different article about different boundaries).
It can also leave us uncertain about where to draw the line between working and serving, or if there is a line at all.
That’s why we need to learn to set boundaries, maintain balance, use discernment, and create habits that last.
The Challenge of Setting Boundaries
I was recently asked why it is so hard to set boundaries in ministry.
I think one of the greatest misconceptions we often have in Kids Ministry is that when we are “serving” or “helping,” that’s just part of being the Church.
While that may be true in certain seasons or times of need, we need to be clear about our “why” and our “yes.”
You need to be clear with yourself first, and others next, about the difference between your role on staff and your role in the body of the church.
If you aren’t sure, you can be sure your family, colleagues, and team won’t be sure either.
You get to set the boundaries that not only enable you to manage your time but also set an example for those who walk with you.
Boundaries communicate expectations.
- I expect to observe Sabbath. I will set time apart for it. No one can observe it for me.
- I expect that, if I communicate a boundary, it is not negotiable without my consent, but it is my responsibility to communicate them.
- “Unspoken expectations are just premeditated resentments.” Our dear friend, Beth Guckenberger once said that, and I’ll never forget it.
Boundaries are more of a mindset than a metric by which time can be measured.
Some weeks will chase you down because you care about the parent that showed up unannounced or the child that ended up in the hospital or the colleague who could really use an extra hand.
Some seasons are heavier than others.
Knowing where the tide goes out (and not getting knocked over when it comes in) is more about habits over time, than how to tell time.
Attending to Balance to Avoid Burnout
Left unaddressed imbalance can lead to burnout, resulting in a lack of vision, passion, and mission.
“Put simply, burnout comes from a deep imbalance. Too much stress with too few rewards. You’re exhausted, depleted. You no longer have patience, pleasure, or serotonin. This is the end unless you turn it into something else and find your path to recovery. Pick the pieces you want from your life and find a new way forward.”Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy, Season 18, Ep. 16
What are some of the red flags that may signal you’re out of balance?
You must know yourself, and you must learn to trust those who know you.
Listen to the wisdom of those who express concern for you.
Where do you get cues first: mind, body, or heart, and what are those around you noticing?
- Do I feel anxious or excited?
- Am I cancelling coffee dates?
- Do I get sick more often than I used to or am I unable to shake a cold easily?
- Am I procrastinating, chasing deadlines, or feeling like I’m dropping the ball?
- Have any friends/family been trying to get together and I can’t find the time?
- What has to give?
- What can I hand off?
- What am I missing out on because of the muchness I’ve taken on?
- Are my emotions sitting close to the surface?
As you discern how to manage your time, I would invite you to get super clear on a few practical pieces of information that will help you set boundaries.
- Know your job description: What are your agreed-upon responsibilities? Recoginze that children’s minsitry jobs are HUGE and encompass so many unspoken and unaccounted for tasks. However, you are hired for a specific job, and if the job description keeps growing without assessment (finanical compensation, time commitment, or pre-determined projects), you will be tipping out of balance before you know it.
- What are you leading vs. where are you serving? When you choose to serve, clarify your “why” and your “yes” around how God made you show up in the family. Say yes to the things that allow others to experience Jesus more fully, and bear witness to God’s image in you best.
Discernment is Key
I do not have the gift of discernment.
I have other gifts that others do not, and that’s what I get to share freely and lightly.
As a result, however, I need people with great discernment to walk with me when I am struggling to know where or how a boundary may be needed.
Discernment arms us with questions, prayers, and the next steps when learning to set boundaries.
In other words: decide how you will know if something is a yes or a no, whether working or serving, before answering an ask.
- Who will you pray with to ask Jesus?
- What is your capacity, and do you know your own limits?
- Can you ask for time to discern/pray about an opportunity?
- Can you humbly pray for God to show you who to invite to the request if it isn’t for you?
Habits Factor In
Time management is often about beginning with the end in mind.
What do you wany your ministry to feel like and be like? What kind of leader do you want to be?
When you know your goal, you will be more likely to make changes.
So what habits will give you the best chance at maintaining your boundaries and your commitments?
Here are some ideas:
- Get it on the calendar. Schedule your balance time, whether it’s Sabbath rest (we often do not get it at the same time as our families), a self-date, a coffee date, a long walk, or jazzercize, put it on the calendar and hold yourself accountable. If your family shares a calendar, put it there too, so that your family can honour your commitments and celebrate your accomplishments, too. Then, keep this as a practice over time.
- Find an accountability partner. If you are perpetually out of balance, you may be out of step with Jesus and need help to start or support new habits. All it takes is one right next step in his direction to get back on track, but you might need a buddy. Tell close friends and family of your intentions and be clear so that they can learn to not push past your boundaries.
Think of it in terms of daily boundaries, weekly habits, seasonal rhythms and annual evaluation.
Do not be caught off guard by the things you already know.
- Easter, Christmas, VBS—you know balance looks different in these seasons. You can borrow from low tides for high tides.
- Rest up in advance; have a plan for coming down.
You only have so many hours in a day; they all belong to Jesus.
Which ones are your job? Which ones are for you and those you love? Which ones are available?
Seek the Prince of Peace
Friend, know this: reset is always available. Grace is always available.
We serve the King of do-overs: new mercies every morning.
But I am confident that the more you pattern your ways after the ways of Jesus, the more time will begin to look different.
Jesus always had time to sit down and often invited those around him to sit down.
If you do not have time to sit down, make time for that first. Sit with him, then sit with others.
The extravagance of time and presence is evidence of a lavish Kingdom where we are invited to walk around the garden in peace and sit down with the King himself.
And peace is more of the presence of someone than the absence of something.
If you’re lacking peace in your schedule, turn to the Prince of Peace before turning another page in your planner.
Christie is impassioned by the imagination and faith that is hardwired into kids. Her own childlike faith enables her to believe in God’s promises, see in technicolor and celebrate God’s creativity. She’s excited to ignite sparks in adults and blaze trails for kids to step onto with kingdom purpose. Christie spends the rest of her time with her charming husband and three (mostly) delightful kids.