As pastors, our relationships and roles overlap and, at times, overwhelm us. We may acknowledge the boundaries that should exist, but we are constantly tempted to ignore them—those relational and vocational borders that separate our pastoral responsibilities from our personal needs.
Navigating Rough Waters
Our familiar territories of commitment usually include marriage, parenting, administration, community involvement, denominational responsibilities, preaching, counseling, hobbies, ecumenical relationships, personal exercise, the care of aging parents, and more. A kind of continental divide separates these roles and activities into public ministries and private pursuits. Mental, emotional, and spiritual health demands that the boundaries be recognized and respected.
We pastors and Christian leaders are like everyone else in that we want to have a sense of joy, productivity, recognition, and financial reward through our work. But we, too, would like to be able to enjoy family, friends, and activities apart from our role as pastors, and we need mental vacations from pressing, incessant responsibilities. The failure to separate the two can lead to problems such as career restlessness, passive or active resentment, and even ministry-damaging behavior.
In light of our need for a crucial public/private boundary as pastors, we need to make wise decisions about the competing demands that come our way every day. Here are four points of the compass that can help us successfully navigate the sometimes rough waters between our public worlds and our private lives:
Go west, young pastor!
We must head in a predetermined direction. When at work, we should work—work hard, focusing on the task at hand and keeping our shoulder to the plow and our fingers to the computer keyboard. That requires having a long-range ministry plan, a weekly work rhythm, and a daily "to do" list.
Realize the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.
Ted Engstrom, of World Vision, used to say, "Put off to tomorrow what you do not need to do today."
There comes a time at the end of every day to say, "That's it!" Tomorrow is a gift from God to be used and appreciated. Besides, we have other responsibilities every bit as important as those at church, and we need to save some energy for them. It is not fair to our families—or ourselves—to have only the dregs of our physical and mental energies to give.
Head south for the border.
In other words, we must take time to play. If we have worked hard, we should have no misgivings about playing hard. A change of clothes on days off and after work helps remind our bodies that we've crossed the boundary. Our congregation needs to see us in casual attire at the grocery store, shopping mall, or football game. So do members of the community. The temptation to "pedestalize" a pastor won't be so strong when people recognize that pastors are people with private lives, too. When at home, we need to be at home. One way is to use an answering machine.
Remember the arrow always points north.
We look first to our calling for a sense of direction. Although we take off our work clothes when we arrive home, our true collar—our submission to God's will—always stays on. In many people's eyes, we represent God wherever we go.
Obviously, as much as we may attempt to honor the boundaries between public and private commitments, the nature of the ministry requires flexibility. Our calling to serve the Lord takes priority over everything else. The volunteer fire fighter in a rural community remains a firefighter whether on duty or not. The same is true of the committed church leader.
Greg E. Asimakoupoulos, Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology, Volume 3: Leadership and Administration; A Private and a Public Person, pp 6-7.