Last week in “Setting Boundaries between Rest and Ministry Part I”, we discussed some of the dangers that we encounter when we fall prey to the false belief that the only way to serve God is through the doors of the church. We considered the importance of taking the time to prayerfully consider opportunities to serve and determining whether we have the time and energy to do so. This week, we’ll be looking at the tension which sometimes exists between our need for rest and our prior commitments to serve.
If you’ve been in any form of ministry for long, you already recognize that the energy you can commit to service isn’t a constant. Some days go better than others and, while we always want to give our best, it isn’t always possible to do so. An overlong day at work, a grumpy customer, or an irritating classmate can put a crimp in our day… and in our physical reserve. When this happens, our best bet is to pray and press through, allowing God to handle our energy deficit and enable us to accomplish His will.
Other times, however, the pressure which pits rest against service comes from within the congregation. There’s an old statistic (I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s true) that claims that 90% of the work is performed by 10% of the church. Once you’ve accepted one position of service, don’t be surprised if someone approaches you about another. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it isn’t always a good thing either. If you’re going to keep your sanity and get enough time for the relaxation that your body so desperately needs, you’ll need to learn to set a few boundaries. Here are a few top-notch ways of doing just that:
- Make a habit of considering each offer to serve on an individual basis. Just because you’ve helped out in a capacity before doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to do it again… nor does it mean that you may not be willing to do so in the future. If, after prayerful consideration (I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough), you determine that you can’t serve and get the sleep you need, feel free to say no. But don’t forget to let the party (or parties) asking that you may be willing to reconsider the situation in the future.
- If you have to decline an offer to serve, don’t feel obligated to explain why. In our overworked world, it isn’t that uncommon for people to have trouble understanding why someone else won’t overwork themselves. A full-blown explanation of the factors you considered while making the decision can sometimes lead to an argument… and may lead to your being cowed into doing something God didn’t call you to do.
- If you’re asked for an explanation, there’s no sin in keeping it vague. A simple “I had other obligations” is usually sufficient to stave off further enquiry and often goes much further than a statement that you failed to feel God calling you (even if the latter is more precisely the case). Your obligation is to God first and is expressed in obedience to His Word – even when that Word indicates that you need some time to yourself!
- Don’t feel compelled to answer every ministry-related call or e-mail immediately. Set specific hours during which you pick up the phone (though you may want to keep them to yourself) and let calls outside of these hours go to voicemail. If there is an emergency, the caller will leave a message. Don’t feel pressured to pick up just because the person on the other end happens to be your pastor or a particularly needy member of your Sunday School class. And don’t feel compelled to break your hours if the caller is persistent! They need their space and you need yours.
- Just because there is an event related to your ministry doesn’t mean you need to be there. This can be a particularly difficult boundary for others to accept, but a failure to set it may lead to exhaustion. If you teach a Sunday School class and everyone decides to get together once a week for dinner, you are under no obligation to show up. Weigh your commitments, then prayerfully make a decision.
- Don’t show up just because the ministry event will be “fun”. I admit to struggling with this. Truth be told, I really enjoy the ministries in which I’m involved… and I find it difficult not to jump at every chance to fellowship with certain members of my congregation. But just because an activity is “fun” doesn’t mean it’s also “restful”… and sometimes that means that I don’t need to be there.
Next week, we’ll be looking at the importance of respecting the boundaries of others when it comes to getting rest. Meanwhile, you can probably think of a few more good ideas to tack on to this week’s post. If you do, please feel free to share them in the comment box below!