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Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part II

27 Sep

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

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Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part I

20 Sep

Rushing home from work, I crammed my dinner down my throat.  Taking a quick glance at the clock, I hopped in for a three minute shower, then out of the tub, back into my clothes, out the door, and to the church.  A long day at the office resulted in my leaving late and everything between that and the time I walked through the doors of the sanctuary was just a blur.  I was exhausted, but the night was still young.  Inside were kids (lots of them) waiting for my attention.  “Did I even eat dinner?” I asked myself, truly wondering whether I had as I plopped my Bible on the music stand.

We’ve all been there.  School and work can be tiring and sometimes overly so.  We look forward to our time off, but before we reach that blessed relief, we find another demand or two knocking on our door.  Unlike the demand for an education or the money to pay our bills, these demands are more persistent: they come from the church.  Often wrapped in the sentiments of “will you please pray about God’s call regarding your service” or “could you do this just once… no one else will”, it can be hard to see these demands as “optional”.  After all, if we love God, we should be about His work.  Right?

While it’s true that those who belong to God will serve Him (John 12:26), we are severely mistaken if we believe that the only way to do so is through the doors of the church.  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “Go into the world…” (Matthew 28:18), not to ask it to come to us!  The result is that, while service within the church is important, a good deal of our work as believers ought to take place outside it… in the halls of academia, in supermarket aisles, and even in the company break room.  It is in these places that our ability to shine the light of Christ matters most because here, the darkness is greatest.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that we ought never to serve in our local body of believers.  Scripture is pretty clear about the importance of service within the body of Christ.  (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10)  What it does mean is that we ought never to serve simply because we (or others) feel that service is somehow more “godly” if it is done from a pulpit or the front of a classroom.  There are plenty of ways to be a useful member of the body of Christ and each of them is important to the health of the whole!  (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 7:7 and 12:4-31)

How does this relate to rest?  Quite honestly, it means that whenever we are given an opportunity to serve, we need to prayerfully consider the whole equation.  Has God gifted you for a particular task?  If He has, doesn’t always mean that He’s calling you to exercise that gift right now.  Take the time to consider whether you have the resources in both time and energy to do the job well.  If not, there’s a good chance this isn’t the right time for you to commit to being the church organist or teaching a preschool class.

While some would argue that those whom God calls, God equips, there are others who equally rightly point out that there is a time and a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).  Take some time to pray about the opportunity.  If you receive peace and the pieces fall into place, say yes.  If you don’t, bow out gracefully.  You may disappoint others, but I can guarantee that you’ll disappoint them more if you show up grumpy and unprepared because you really did need some rest!

What about those who are already in regular ministry?  We’ll take a look at that next week, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

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