When I meet or have the opportunity to coach people with part-time jobs in ministry, I often ask how many hours they work each week and how many they’re paid for. Almost everyone responds with a chuckle. Many have given up on trying to do the job in the hours they were hired for. The whole idea is almost a joke.
But what’s not funny is the effect this discrepancy has on these leaders and their families. They feel underpaid, undervalued, and begin to believe the message that their work is of little worth. Some extend that sense of worthlessness to themselves. Others feel like failing parents and spouses. Those who are bi-vocational feel torn between two jobs, constantly frustrated by competing demands. Others nurse growing resentment toward their employers, hurtle toward burnout, or decide to give up ministry altogether.
So what’s the solution? Boundaries. Yet setting boundaries is a risky proposition that requires real strength and determination. And ministry is one of the places where it can be really hard to enforce boundaries—after all, the work is so important! Setting and sticking to boundaries, however, is essential when there’s no way you can possibly fulfill all your responsibilities in the time you have.
If you’re in this situation, it’s time to be honest with yourself and your employer, and to be ruthless in setting boundaries and sticking to them. It all starts with the right mindset.
1. Take Off the Cape
Start by acknowledging you have limitations, just as everyone does, and admit that you are not called to save the world. Many people in ministry are tempted with a sort of hero complex, a subtle belief that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders, and they are personally responsible to save or minister to everyone who crosses their path. They may believe the church will be crippled without their oversight or active involvement. This is not humility or self-sacrifice, although it often disguises itself as such. It is arrogance, and it can easily destroy leaders as well as the churches they serve.
2. Find Your Value
Next you must recognize you have worth and value apart from your job in ministry. For many, the thought of drawing boundaries at work is unthinkable because it means risking the loss of something they have built their self-concept around. You will be in a better position to set limits and hold yourself to them if you understand that your value does not come from your work. You matter for so many other reasons, most significantly because of the roles you play in the lives of people who love you. You have much to contribute to the work of God’s kingdom beyond your work in ministry. Ultimately, your worth is based on your identity as a child of God, adopted into his family and given an inheritance of righteousness and eternal life. Regardless of how you spend your days, your life matters because God created you and put you here. If necessary, seek a counselor, coach, or spiritual director who can help you embrace and live according to this truth. Then set up reminders for yourself—images, words, songs, gentle nudges from friends—that will help you remember this every day.