Setting Healthy Boundaries: Home and Church Life

When you work for a church or ministry you may have office hours, but you are also aware that you are never fully “off the clock.” Whether it’s answering an urgent text from a student who is in crisis, dealing with a “when was the camp signup” question from a parent, or attempting to finish something at home, we all know the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.

However, it isn’t healthy to go at top speed at all points in our lives. If this is how we continue to go we will experience burnout, bitterness, and hurt from all that we continue to do. I say this not to make you feel badly over all you have been doing, but as someone who has been there and experienced this in my own life. We must have healthy boundaries in place to protect ourselves, our families, and the ministries we serve. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how I’ve managed to set and protect certain boundaries in order to preserve myself, my family, and my ministry.

Make sure time off is time off.

So often we see our work as necessary and kingdom focused (which it is) but so is our ministry to our spouse and family, and to ourselves. Let me encourage you to allow your time off to be time off. Try to not do work during those moments, fully engage with your family, and rely on God when the doubts and fears creep in that tell you that you are failing because you aren’t going 100 miles per hour. Having healthy time off will allow for you to be a better minister because you will be filled and whole rather than tired and fractured.

Be on the same page with superiors.

When I started at my new job I told my superiors that date night was on Fridays and I wanted to honor that with Elise. I also asked about hours and weekend commitments because I’ve been in positions before that required more hours than what I was paid for. My superiors explained that days off were for just that and my work hours over forty were extra hours that could be applied to time off. There are special circumstances of course, but the church and I were on the same page, so when I share with people I am off the clock I know I have a team who has my back.

I am also aware that I am blessed with church leadership who care and honor the right priorities in the right order, but others of you may not have that same experience. I would encourage you to first talk to those in leadership over you and see if perhaps the priorities align but simply haven’t been stated. Regardless of how that conversation goes, you can begin to set the tone within your own ministry setting and lead out to your people and students. Use the options you have and look to protect your time as best you can. You may not always have the support you would like, but you can still lead out and set healthy boundaries and parameters within your context while still honoring your superiors.

Don’t let work take the place of family.

When was the last time you took a work call or text, or answered an email at home or during family time? When was the last time you did the reverse? We are prone to allow work to become the number one priority in our lives, but the order of our priorities should be our relationship with God, our relationship with our family, and then our ministry. God called you first to Himself, then to your spouse and family, and finally as a shepherd to His flock.

That means we must not allow work to displace our family time, and our families must be given the attention and love they deserve. This is hard to do and yes there are always extenuating circumstances, but our families should never be second tier to the church. And honestly, if your church doesn’t affirm this, I would consider going to your superiors and asking hard questions about this topic in a Christ-honoring way. You have to make sure you are caring for your health and the health of your family.

Be transparent about time off.

I love to talk about date night in front of students and our church when I preach. Why you may ask? Because I want everyone to know I love my wife and time with her, but also to set the precedent that we want and deserve time together just like everyone else. It has been refreshing to hear church members who we bump into on Fridays want to honor our date night time, but also I’ve had countless people say they have learned they need to be better about dating and protecting their spouse. When you are open about who you are and where your priorities are, people are welcomed in and more apt to respect them.

Make sure your actions and words match.

This should be true in the church and the home. If you say date night is a priority to the church, make sure you honor that at home. If you ever wonder if your words and deeds match, consider asking your spouse and kids. They will be honest with you and allow for you to grow and become even better by working as a team. We can’t say family time is a priority but postpone it for “work stuff.” What our church and our families see should match. Our spouse and children should hear what we say and see it acted upon at home and in our relationships with them.

And the same should be true for our work. If we tell people we want to prioritize our families but continue to come to work while sacrificing family time, it shows that our word and deeds don’t match. If that is how we are governing our lives, it points toward a heart issue: “who/what are you working for.” Too often a workaholic mentality tends to point toward a pride issue or a desire to please man over God, and we need to look at our heart to make sure our actions and words match as we seek to honor God in all aspects.

Utilize your “do not disturb” option.

I’ll be honest: I struggle with not using my phone for work when I’m at home with Elise. I’ve been practicing something new this week and have been putting my phone on do not disturb. I began to realize how I was worrying about texts, calls, or emails and with “do not disturb” turned on, it has helped me so much in not worrying and making Elise more of a priority. Try it out and see how it works. We preach freedom from technology now it’s time to put it into play in our lives.

Empower your team.

For each of us the word “team” may look different. It could be a student ministry staff team, your volunteer core, or just you and a couple of regular leaders. Whatever the context is for you, empower your team to lead in your place. We cannot allow ourselves to be the only person for our students and leaders. If that is what we do we will always be the on-call person. But if you encourage others to lead, direct students to small group leaders, and allow your team to fulfill their roles, you are then empowering others while allowing space for yourself to breathe and experience balance in your life.

Navigating Marriage and Ministry: An Interview

One of the things Nick and I love about student ministry is that we individually have a passion for it, and get to do it together. It was something we both felt called to before we met, and it is something we have pursued throughout our marriage. It’s special to share a similar calling, something that we both believe in and value.

But we know it isn’t like that for everyone. We all have varying degrees of involvement in our churches and ministries–both as church-employed spouses, and not. In this interview-style post, we will approach the topic of spouses doing ministry together. Nick and I hope that our experience can offer some encouragement and insight to other married couples who may be navigating (or preparing to navigate) this whole marriage + ministry world. For the sake of clarity, Nick is employed full time by the church, while I volunteer as a small group leader and work outside the church.

Question: As the spouse employed by the church, how has support and participation from your spouse helped you in your ministry role?

Nick: I honestly don’t know where I would be without Elise. Having someone by your side who shares your passions, champions you, and bears the weight of what you are doing has been so encouraging and life giving. It has helped me to know that I have someone I can talk to who understands what I am feeling. I have been able to bounce ideas off of Elise. I can get a girl’s opinion on topics, conversations, and the ministry which is so needed. Without Elise I wouldn’t be where I am today, and honestly she has made me a better pastor by challenging and pushing me in what I am doing. She has been my biggest and most vocal supporter, especially as we have candidated together.

Q: What advice would you give a couple considering jumping into full-time ministry?

Nick: Make sure you are both on the same page with what you are doing. I am not saying you both need to have the same level of passion, but communicating about what you desire, where God is leading you, and what you want out of this are huge conversations. I have seen many friends struggle because they didn’t share their heart with their spouse and they have had to stop pursuing ministry to heal their marriage. So be open and transparent is the first part.

The second is protect your spouse who isn’t on staff. Often times churches look to hire two people for the price of one. Unless your spouse is getting a paycheck, they aren’t an employee and shouldn’t function as such. Talk through expectations as a couple, and then with the church staff.

Third, protect your time together. Don’t let ministry keep you from spending time with each other or your family. Don’t let ministry become a mistress.

Elise: Communication is key, both before you jump in and while you’re in the midst of ministry. Talk through what your ideal level of involvement looks like, and what areas you want to pursue. I would also recommend coming up with a mission statement of sorts, something that will help keep you centered on your ministry goals as a couple, and something you can revisit over the years when your goals might change.

It is also essential to set your priorities. My first priority is my relationship with Christ and my spiritual well-being. This means I often have to say no to things so that I make sure I’m being filled. I can’t give out of a dry well, which for me means I can’t be a leader or volunteer every time I’m asked. My second priority is to my marriage, and to support my spouse in his ministry role. Personally, I love being involved in student ministry, but I have to make sure I’m pouring into my husband even more than I am the students I serve.

Q: What has been one of the hardest aspects of pursuing ministry as a married couple?

Nick: Honestly, the hurt that comes with doing ministry. I am fiercely protective of Elise, and it has been so hard watching her get hurt by the church. Because we do ministry together, she knows when I am hurting and I know when she is. Ministry has extreme highs but really low lows too, and those cut deep. Let me encourage you to always protect and stand for one another. To always be each other’s champion and greatest advocate, but to also bring in people you trust. Have people you can go to who can speak into your lives and help care and guide you.

Elise: One of the hardest things for me has been sacrificing personal desires for the sake of God’s calling. And honestly, you will experience this whether you’re the one hired by the church or not. But for me personally, it’s meant letting go of some of my career goals and past jobs. It’s meant re-ordering my personal priorities in order to run wholeheartedly after what God is calling us to. It’s meant re-learning what it looks like to live a valuable, fulfilling life, as defined by Christ and not society. I’ve had to learn to identify the lies I tell myself, and speak truth into my heart and life.

Q: What advice would you give spouses not employed by the church, especially if they are struggling with being in a ministry context or knowing where to serve?

Elise: Again, communication is key. You need to communicate with God and with your spouse. If you’re struggling, tell God about it. Yes, He already knows, but the act of dialoging with Him about how you feel will help. It’s also important to make sure your spouse knows how you’re feeling, not in a way to guilt them but so that they can support and help you. Don’t blindside your spouse with your struggles when they become too big to suppress and inevitably blow up.

My other recommendation is to take action. If you’ve been serving somewhere and feel burned out, take a break. If you haven’t been serving and aren’t sure what to do, try getting involved in a ministry that interests you or could utilize your gifting. Sometimes the best thing to do is make a change–step back or step in and evaluate. I do encourage spouses of youth pastors to give student ministry a fair chance if they haven’t already. It doesn’t hurt to check it out and see if God is calling you to that area.

Nick: This is tough for me because personally I haven’t been on that side of ministry. But what I can tell you is this: if you are serving in ministry and your spouse isn’t, make sure to communicate often and clearly. Make sure to talk about schedules for work and for home. Make sure to set aside time for you as a couple, and also be willing to not just talk about “work.” Ministry is exciting and challenging and we want to share that. But that can be hard for your spouse if they aren’t involved with your area of ministry.

Let me also encourage you to help your spouse find where they need to be. I am thrilled that Elise serves in student ministry with me, but if she didn’t I would be okay with that. In fact if she served somewhere else, was using her gifts, and pointing people to Jesus, I would be beyond thrilled. Encourage your spouse to serve where they are passionate and their gifts line up.

When we were searching for jobs this last time, I had a huge prayer request: God help us to find the church we are called to and one that has a place for Elise to find deep friendships and affirmation of her gifts. I didn’t mind if Elise would want to serve elsewhere, I just wanted her to be affirmed and valued in her relationship with Jesus. That is what we should be desiring for our spouses.

Q: What if I don’t want to serve in student ministry? How can I still support my spouse who is working in that area?

Nick: I just want to say, it is okay that you don’t serve in student ministry. You don’t have to and you shouldn’t feel pressured to. What I would say is rejoice when your spouse shares good news and God stories. Get excited with them. Let them know how proud of them you are. Also, be understanding of the differences in schedules and time commitments, but make sure you talk through those as a couple. If you are finding time together isn’t a priority share that rather than harbor it.

Elise: I think one of the best things spouses can do is create a safe place for their church-employed spouse to come home to. I like to think of our home as an oasis, a calm in what can sometimes feel like a storm. No it isn’t always clean, and it is a rental, but I try to make it feel like home. I want it to have a calming effect so that when Nick gets home, he feels like he can rest, unwind, and recharge.

Q: Whether one or both spouses serve in student ministry, how do you set healthy boundaries? How do you make sure your marriage is a priority and that ministry issues do not bleed into your family time?

Elise: I think it’s essential to have “us” time built into our week. For us, this looks like regular weekly date nights and intentional time together on days off or over dinner. It doesn’t have to involve a ton of planning or a big production. It can just be take-out and a movie, or board games and snacks. Whatever it looks like, it’s time for just us to be together as a family, and to intentionally take a break from talking about ministry. Depending on the context, it also means not allowing phone calls or texts to interrupt our time. I strongly recommend having at least one “no-interruptions” time each week so that it is clear that your family is a priority.

Nick: I have worked in a variety of ministry settings with the workloads and hours being different in all of them. Having served in ministry for fifteen years now, I finally feel like we are beginning to have better boundaries.

The first thing I do is set hours for myself at work based upon a forty hour a week cycle. Now I know there are times we have to put in more hours, but we shouldn’t die to serve our ministry, we should die to self so Christ is glorified. And in order to die to self that means our priorities need to be correct: God, family, ministry. So for me, that means in order to have a healthy family life, I need to make sure I balance my work life.

I also try to limit work at home. When I am home I want to be fully present with Elise, and I would challenge you to be wholly present with your family as well. Sure I get the random texts and calls, the work emails, the Facebook messages, the Instagram tags, but my priority is my family and I am honest with people about that. If people don’t call me, I don’t hold it as a priority unless I see something that says otherwise. I try to create healthy boundaries between work and home.

I would also say making sure to have time with your spouse is huge. Elise and I have regular date nights on Fridays, and we talk about it. Not just to each other, but our students know, parents know, the church staff knows. In fact every Friday as I walk out, one of the receptionists asks what are our date night plans! It is awesome because people see the value that family holds in our lives and frankly, as a champion of family and student ministry it should. People should see it, and they should value and respect it. One of my favorite things is when our students see us out on a Friday and come say hello, but also ask how date night is going. They love it! And it helps to show young women what they deserve and how they should be treated, and it shows young men how to respect, honor, and uphold their sisters in Christ. Let people see you love your spouse and family, and they will intrinsically see how you love Christ.

Q: As the spouse not employed by the church, what are some ways your church-employed spouse can support you?

Elise: I think a big thing ministry-employed spouses can do is simply encourage their spouse, regardless of the context. Call out their gifting, support their passions, speak truth into their life. Sometimes it can be easy to feel discouraged, like we could be doing more, like we’re living in the shadows, or like we’re not contributing. Take time to uplift your spouse, and to encourage them to pursue their talents, hobbies, or interests.

Also, make sure time with your spouse is a top priority. I don’t want to fight against the ministry in order to have time with my husband. That’s a battle that can be difficult to win. Rather than make your spouse fight that battle, create intentional, quality time together. Take a break from whatever you’re working on and don’t bring it with you.

Q: I serve in student ministry full time and my spouse serves in a different ministry. How can I actively ensure I don’t leave them out of important decisions?

Nick: Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is huge! I can not say this enough. Make sure you talk through your schedules and calendar dates, and I would encourage you to plan six months out. Most ministry calendars are done by month or semester, so you know what is coming down the pipe. Take a day or evening and compare your calendars and make sure to show each other what you are doing. But even more than show, share the heart behind the events and planning. Let them hear and understand why things are happening when they are.

A few tips:

  • Create a shared Google Calendar of ministry events, work days/hours, and key meetings.
  • Periodically go to each other’s events to support one another and show unity in your marriage and the Body of Christ.
  • Share your heart and passions with each other.
  • Never value your ministry and calling over your spouses – God has uniquely called and gifted each of you and neither ministry should detract from the other.
  • Never use a ministry as weapon or assault. Don’t say “my ministry wouldn’t do that or schedule this way.”
  • Be transparent about what you are doing and with whom.
  • Be willing to admit when you mess up or don’t communicate.
  • Always be transparent and honest about how you are feeling – never harbor hurt, frustration, or anger. Those are seeds that the enemy would love to cultivate.
  • And once again: COMMUNICATE.

Q: I feel like we have a good marriage/ministry balance. Now what?

Nick: Praise God! That isn’t always the case, but if that is where you are keep pursuing it. Never get complacent in that, because when you do satan will love to throw a wrench into your marriage. This could be a time issue, a communication issue, or the issue of your work becoming your mistress. Keep protecting your time, relationship, and ministry balance.

I would also say that you should find ways to share this with others. Are there other couples you could pour into and mentor? Are you demonstrating this to your students? Have you shared about balance and healthy living? Find ways to not just keep a good balance but to equip and help others find theirs.

Elise: Keep up the great work! Because ministry and life are always changing, I don’t think we can get too comfortable. Keep pursuing your spouse, keep setting healthy boundaries, keep pursuing Jesus. And while you are doing that, find others who you can come alongside and encourage. Look for a younger couple to mentor. Share what you’ve found helpful with other ministry couples. Encourage those who are struggling. We must remember that none of us can do this alone, we all need each other.

We’d love to hear from you! Share your insights into maintaining a good marriage/ministry balance, how you set healthy boundaries, and the ways you prioritize your spouse.

The Art of Rest

Recently I shared with our student ministry that rest is vital and necessary in our lives, and in fact is commanded by God throughout Scripture. Rest is something I have never been good at. I am a high capacity person: I wake up early, can run on little sleep, and just go. Rest has been something I have struggled with for so long, and after walking through the message I shared with my high school students, I knew I needed to share this with others and keep preaching this to myself.

Rest is holistic; it isn’t just sleeping or napping or tuning out, but a state of refreshment by pausing and being with God, allowing Him to take your burdens, and stopping to enjoy what He has given to you. I find that I can be with God but I don’t always give my burdens to Him or pause to enjoy life. Even on vacation I catch myself counting the days we have left, and thinking about what will happen when I return, rather than enjoying the time away.

As I was self-assessing, I came to this realization: there are others in ministry who function in the same manner. We understand our calling and mission and will sacrifice our own time, energy, bodies, and whatever else it calls for to see that mission fulfilled. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how un-biblical that actually is. God doesn’t call us to kill ourselves, but instead to find our rest and strength in Him. He sustains and empowers us.

From this understanding and some evaluation of past ministries and ways of living, let me encourage you to think about implementing these tips into your life to help you in resting and staying in ministry longer.

Spend regular time with Jesus.

This is one of those that we teach and espouse often, but it is also true that in our lives this can be the first area to suffer when we don’t rest well. We may still read our Bibles and pray, but when was the last time you spent quality time with Jesus? When was the last time you truly worshiped and just rested in Him? This is a challenge for anyone, but we as ministers of the Gospel must make this a priority. Truly our rest only comes when we are with Christ and giving Him everything.

Spend time with your spouse and family.

We are called by God to first be in relationship with Him and then to be ministering to, loving, and sharing life with our families. Often the priorities get misplaced in ministry with family being the number three priority (or less in some cases) because ministry becomes an idol. In fact, in the Epistles you see Paul talk about having your marriage in order before serving in ministry, because a marriage reflects into the ministry regardless of health status. But in order to rest well, and to be refreshed, we must pour into and care for our families. If we aren’t sharing where we are at with them, the stress will continue to grow, and potentially we may view the family as a contributing factor. Bring them in, share life, love them well, and watch as family changes into a refuge for you.

Have regular date nights and honor them.

Man, I wish I had done this sooner in my marriage. When Elise and I were first married, our schedules did not work well together. Hers was fluid and changed each week, and included working weekends. Mine was Sunday through Thursday, and there were some weeks we saw each other only as we went to bed. Date nights weren’t a thing because nights together didn’t happen often. Because of that we ended up not growing as a couple, and we knew something had to change. We picked a day (Friday nights) and have become very protective of that. We tell everyone about it, and now even our students ask what we are doing on date night. In essence we are setting an example for the families we serve by leading out. Let me also encourage you that when, not if, you are out and a church member or student stops you to not cut off the conversation in a rude way, but be honest and let them know you are on date night. It may feel awkward, but you have to protect your time together.

Honor your days off.

Let me say this: you get days off, treat them as days off! Don’t do work on your days off, don’t just “pop into the office for a few minutes.” Don’t be checking your email, or responding to a work-based text. We, you, deserve days off and rest like anyone else. This may mean you have to set up or reestablish boundaries at your job and within the context of your ministry, but it is healthy to do so. Yes, in ministry you can feel like you have to always be “on” but don’t let that detract from your time away and with those you love.

Find a hobby and do it.

Often when it comes to rest, people still need to be doing something. Rest doesn’t mean idleness or laziness, but resting in God and who He designed you to be. For me I have gotten into various hobbies over the years: cooking (let me know if you want my truffle, oatmeal cookie, or burger recipe), candle making, reading, biking, and much more. It hasn’t always stayed the same, but it allows for me to decompress and commune with God. Often during these moments I find myself talking to God, humming worship songs, thinking about Scripture, and finding ways to just be silent and rest in Christ.

Use your vacation time.

I will be honest: I am horrible at this. I always have extra time at the end of the year, and I am so bad at looking to use that time. In a way I feel guilty because I am taking time from where God has called me. But the reality we must face is threefold:

  1. Your vacation is part of your employment package so use it – letting it go to waste is like wasting your paycheck. One of my bosses made it clear to me that you were given this time because you deserve it and are worth it, so use it.
  2. By not taking your vacation time, you are essentially telling your family they aren’t worth your time, and the church is more important than they are. You must set an example for them that God has called you first to them, and then the church. And one of the ways you show this is by being with them, not just on days off, but on vacations and special moments.
  3. You aren’t the cornerstone of your ministry, Christ is. I think sometimes we worry about taking time off because we don’t have anyone to run the program. I get it, I have been there. But one of the worst feelings I have ever felt is when I had students and parents look me in the eye and say “this ministry will die because you are leaving.” If that is the way we run our ministries my friends, then we have failed. Our ministry should be rooted in Christ, and as such we should be building teams of people like He did who can do what we are doing. We should be training others to do what we do, which will allow for them to grow and bring freedom and peace into your own life.

Keep track of your hours, responsibilities, and other duties as an employee of the church.

Many times we just give of our time and it is easy to overextend yourself, especially if you are salaried. However, that isn’t healthy or needed. If you find you are always working, always doing, always on-call, start tracking what you are doing and bring others in. If needed, go to your supervisor and let them know what is happening and be honest with them. Let them know if you are struggling. Let them know if you need help or are drowning. I know this can be terrifying because the “what ifs” begin to abound. But if our leaders are truly following Jesus and being sensitive to His heart and leading, they should be good shepherds who care about their staff. This starts by being open and honest with them about where you are at.

Take time away from social media.

Social media can be defeating and debilitating. The sin of comparison can often make youth workers feel inadequate, envious, and lesser because of what they see others doing. If you are feeling exhausted or burned out, don’t just take time off, take time away from social media. It can be a fast for a day, a week, or month, or it can be by having regular unplugged days for you and your family. Elise and I have done this periodically in our marriage where we noticed we weren’t always communicating because we we using technology to fill that need. Eventually we took Monday nights and said no technology. It was awesome! We talked, played games, went on walks, and bonded as a couple. Let me encourage you to consider doing this as well.

Rest is hard, especially when you are in ministry. But we must rest. In order to be effective disciples of Jesus, spouses, parents, and ministers, we have to be resting in Christ. Let me encourage you to build healthy habits of rest and refreshment in your life, and to make sure your priorities are in order. Now go take a nap, spend time with those you love, and lean deep into Christ for sustainment.

Balancing Marriage and Ministry: Why it Matters

We all know that maintaining a healthy marriage is important. We’ve probably all read enough how-to books and articles that we could write our own. But in the shuffle of everyday life—between church activities, Bible studies and meeting with broken students—it can become easy to forget why.

We feel torn in so many different directions, torn between our marriage and the needs of our ministry. It can feel selfish to set aside a night each week for date night. It can feel selfish to turn down activities and time with students or to screen calls and text messages. We feel like we can and should do more for our ministry and that those we serve should receive the best of what we have to offer. But the truth is, for married couples, a healthy marriage is the best we can offer to the church.

I know we forget this. Growing up in the church has given me a front-row seat to the heart-wrenching ending of too many marriages. I’ve been a sideline viewer for most of my life and it wasn’t until I got married that I learned the enormous responsibility I had shouldered by entering into marriage.

The world tells us that marriage is just about two people in love, and if they fall out of love, it’s okay to end a marriage and move on. But the reality is there is so much more at stake. The responsibility we assume is this: by entering into marriage, we have agreed to exemplify the relationship between Christ and the church (see Ephesians 5:22-33)—a commitment that will not be broken. Because of this, a strong and lasting marriage is not only essential to the two people in it, but to the entire church.

The church is longing for and strengthened by healthy marriages. Healthy marriages reinforce what is preached from the pulpit. Healthy marriages have the privilege of displaying the life-giving love of Christ for His bride. And healthy marriages help pave the way for the next generation.

This reality is especially true for youth ministry leaders and volunteers. Students are watching and learning from the marriages lived out in front of them and unfortunately in too many cases, what they see and learn at home or school does not exemplify a biblical marriage. Married youth leaders have a unique opportunity to model a healthy, Christ-centered relationship for each student they encounter.

In a culture where divorce is normal and common, young people need examples of strong, loving, godly marriages. What they see and learn will influence their view of marriage and their treatment of and response to the opposite gender.

The reality is that marriage is about so much more than two people. The next time you’re struggling to make time for your spouse, I encourage you to remember why it’s important. Remind yourself of why you are doing what you’re doing, and how many people are relying on you to do it well.