I was recently asked by a friend how I plan my time as a full time ministry worker. In other words, how do I know when to work and when to have time off? Do I take a day off? Do I work 9 to 5 (that’s a joke)? What do I do?
Here’s the dirty little secret: as a missionary, and many other full time ministry workers, it’s your choice how much you work. There’s really no one checking in on me every day to make sure I’m up on time, or in the office, or punching the clock. Yes, I am accountable to several people – namely my pastor from my home church (fbt.org) and the missionary leadership I work under here in the Philippines (globalsurge.org). But day to day, I have to be self motivated.
With that understanding, it’s pretty easy to see how it’s possible for a missionary to be lazy. Unfortunately, I know of some lazy missionaries.
On the flip side, it’s also very easy for a missionary to overwork themselves, ignore their families, and burn out.
I’d like to land somewhere in the middle. Never being accused of being lazy, but never being accused of ignoring other important things in my life.
Andy Stanley says, “don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.” Well, it’s very possible for a missionary to do that, because there is no one telling you to “go home”. There’s no one closing the office down at the end of the day. And there is ALWAYS a “ministry fire” burning.
I would say a majority of pastors and missionaries set their own schedules and agendas.
So what’s a full time ministry person to do?
The first step is to set a goal of balance. There is a healthy middle between laziness and working too much. Your job is to find it.
One strategy that I have adopted to maintain balance is tracking the hours that I’m working.
Set a benchmark: anything severely above or below that indicates a problem. If I am well below the benchmark, I probably missed some responsibilities and need to pick up the pace. If I am well above benchmark in a week, I probably have not spent enough time at home with my wife and boys, and it will manifest itself in stress throughout the home. Maybe your benchmark is lower or higher than mine, but whatever it is, you need to have one, and you need to be aware of it.
I use an app called HoursTracker (available in the iTunes app store) to track my time. There are other similar apps available. I simply “clock in” when I am working and doing ministry and “clock out” when I’m done.
My struggle is not a lack of work, as we have many ministry activities to participate in. My struggle is not reserving enough time for family. So on those weeks that the tracker notes that I’ve reached 70 hours, or more, I know it’s time to take some time with family. And those weeks are real. As Dave Ramsey likes to say, “sometimes you have to get the hay in the barn”. But they key is, after the harvest is loaded, I take time to rest and enjoy my family.
That’s how I handle being a “self-employed” ministry leader. What about you? How do you maintain balance?