By Kevin McDonald
I’ve been a pastor for almost seven years, and one of the biggest struggles I’ve faced is staying balanced. Balance isn’t hard just for people in ministry; it’s hard for just about every human being.
During my first year of ministry, I hit the ground running. I worked every day for seven days a week and labored from sunup to sundown (and even after the sun went down). While I was thriving in ministry, other areas of my life began to suffer. My relationship with Christ was stagnant, my wife was craving for me to spend some time with her, my kids desperately wanted me to just have fun with them, my finances were struggling, and I began to experience some physical health problems from exhaustion.
While I’m not an expert at living in balance, I have learned some things over the years that have helped me become healthier and I would like to share these seven tips to help you live a more balanced life in ministry as well:
1. Spend time with God first and early.
The reality is that a relationship with God takes time. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is the importance of spending time with Him early each and every day. This time completely sets the tone for my day. I don’t want my day to begin without spending time alone with Him, so I seek Him first in the morning. I would challenge you to sacrifice sleep and get up early and spend time with Him in prayer and in His Word before the busyness of the day begins. Take the time to spend time with Him first and let Him direct your priorities for the day.
2. Go on a date with your spouse at least twice a month.
God ordained marriage before He ordained ministry, so our marriage to our spouse must be a priority. However, we know full well that ministry demands much of our time and much of our schedule. We must also show our spouse how much we love them by taking them on a date often. It’s a good idea to put your date night on the calendar so it’s not forgotten. And a good suggestion would be to turn off your phone when going out on the date. And if finances are an issue, just a simple meal together at a restaurant is better than not going out at all.
3. Spend individual time with each of your kids.
I have three kids (two boys and one girl). Each one means the world to me. Part of my job as their parent is to spend individual time with each of them. I try to find their interests and then spend time participating in doing what they love. If they love a board game, I will play a game. If they like superheroes, I will watch a superhero movie. If they like playing doctor, I will volunteer to be the patient. I don’t want my kids to feel like they don’t mean the world to me. I want to intentionally invest time in each of their lives.
4. Take at least one day off a week.
We’re commanded to take a Sabbath and honor it, but as pastors, we generally work on the weekends. For me, I have services on both Saturday and Sunday. When Monday morning rolls around and most people are going back to work, I’m exhausted, so my Sabbath has to fall on a weekday.
I need to take one day a week and just rest, not focusing on ministry but on God, my family, and maybe just catching up on more sleep. So many pastors are operating in exhaustion mode. One day of rest can work wonders in your ministry, so make sure you set aside one day a week to recuperate.
5. Have someone hold you accountable.
I once heard a great definition of a mentor: ”Someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there.” It’s important for everyone to have a mentor and to have them ask the right questions. They need to ask the tough questions about our marriage, about our ministry, about our relationships, about our finances, etc. We need someone to hold us accountable to make sure we live in balance daily. Mentors can also help us if we lose balance to coach us back into balance. If you don’t have a mentor, ask God to bring someone into your life to help.
6. Operate off a calendar.
I love technology. I don’t love it because how cool it is; I love it because it keeps me organized. Technology has allowed me to become more organized. I operate daily off the calendar on my phone so I never miss a meeting. Every morning I look through my calendar to prepare for my day and what’s coming up. I would challenge you to live off a calendar as well. You have so many people pulling for your time that the best way to manage this is to put all your commitments on a master calendar and then let the calendar manage your time.
7. Set and live off a budget.
Many people in ministry live in horrible financial balance. My wife and I have learned to live within our finances. Every pay period we operate on an agreed budget and we put money into savings to plan for an emergency. I want to challenge you and your spouse to set an agreed budget every time you get paid. This will help prevent overspending and will help with saving for an emergency. Living in healthy finances frees you up to not have to worry about money.
Kevin McDonald is a lead pastor Gateway Church of the Nazarene, Murrieta, Calif. He has planted 15 new churches and travels the country speaking and teaching on church planting and church renewal.