Church Life is All-Consuming
Those of us in ministry have to come to terms with our desire to be all and to help all.
by Gabriele Rienas
Q: I am exhausted and I see no end in sight. Our church is very active in a small community. We believe in loving people and building strong relationships with the community. My husband and I work closely together with our two children, but this means that ministry takes up 95 percent of our lives. Our days are full, and we are busy every weeknight and every weekend. We have had 3 days off in the last 6 months. We even came home early from vacation for a funeral. I love ministry, but I do not know how much longer I can keep up this pace. My husband does not see a problem, and I do not want to be unsupportive.
A: It is nice to hear you work well together as a family in ministry, but I am concerned about what you describe. You may be extending beyond the limits of what you can sustain over time; something will give. I am talking about what happens when overload causes emotional, physical, or relational collapse. When that happens, the price is high and the consequences can be devastating to your family, not to mention the church.
Your exhaustion and implied stress level is a symptom that needs immediate attention. Let me talk about limitations. We all have them. Aside from God, none of us has unlimited strength, energy, resource, or time. When we attempt to extend past our limits, something will give. Use basic physics as an example. If I continually add weight to a table in 25-pound increments, the table will hold up until I reach its structural limit. After that it will not hold any more weight. No matter how gently I place the next weight on it, the table will collapse. In the same way, collapse will happen somewhere in your life if you exceed what God created you for.
Come to terms with your personal limits. These vary from person to person, which is why your husband may not be feeling pressure in the same way you are. God, however, is fully aware of your pressure and does not expect more than you can give. He expects you to manage your resources well, since it is He who made you.
Hebrews 12:1 compares life’s journey to a physical race: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (NKJV1). In ministry (“the race”) the key is to run with endurance so we can cross the finish line victoriously. Endurance involves, pacing, training, resting, and managing one’s body for maximum efficiency.
My good friend (who happens to be a pastor’s wife) runs marathons. Even though running is her passion, she took a break from it for several months when she sustained a knee injury. She missed the positive benefits of running, but she knew that unless her injury healed she was not going to be able to continue running over the long haul.
Assuming you want to be a team with your husband for a lifetime and not just short-term, you will need to manage with the end goal in mind. It is humbling to admit limitations, but it is absolutely necessary.
Those of us in ministry also have to come to terms with our own God-complex — our desire to be all and to help all. There is something powerful about helping people. It plays to our need to feel significant and important. Being indispensable feeds our insatiable need for recognition and affirmation. Fear of insignificance or irrelevance can drive us to overcommit and overextend ourselves in ways that risk overload. In no way am I judging your heart, but I encourage you to be open about this universal tendency and be willing to let it come to light if it is there.
I am also thinking about your family. They need to be a priority. If your family fails (i.e., you lose your children or your marriage), you will compromise your effectiveness with people and the community.
It seems that your family functions well together. I celebrate this. Take an honest look at what activities strengthen your bonds and what activities challenge them. Listen to what your children are saying and resist the urge to discount them or to spiritualize your response.
Speak honestly and directly with your husband about your feelings. In your desire to be supportive you may have missed clearly communicating what you are feeling and what you need. This kind of communication is important in a healthy relationship.
Take a hard look at everything you are doing, pray for wisdom, and begin to remove obligations that are stretching the limits of your endurance. Perhaps some things will need to be left undone, but if you prayerfully prioritize your life, God is fully able to fill in the gaps … or leave them open if He chooses. Perhaps you can equip someone in your congregation to take part of the load.
Finally, find time for fun and relaxation. It sounds like there is currently no time for these things in your life. However, they are absolutely essential to good self-management. You should be able to easily answer the questions:
- What do you do on a regular basis for fun?
- What is the next enjoyable thing you are looking forward to?
If you cannot answer these questions, drop everything and brainstorm until you can.
While ministry certainly requires effort and self-sacrifice, your output should be sustainable over time and circumstance. God calls and equips for maximum effectiveness. It is our job to manage well what He has entrusted to us.
1. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.