I have been working in ministry for over 12 years and during my time in ministry I have seen many cases where my colleagues lives have fallen apart in the midst of working in ministry. I have seen priests leave the priesthood. I have seen marriages end in divorce. I have seen many fall to sexual sin. I even know a fellow youth minister that ended up in a federal prison. These may sound like extreme cases, but the reality is, those of us that work in ministry know the demands of ministering to people in God’s Kingdom. I have learned that it is absolutely crucial to keep balance in one’s life if we are going to minister from a position of health.
Below are five symptoms of an unbalanced life in ministry. I must confess, over the 12 years that I have worked in ministry, I am guilty of every single one of these faults. If you find yourself in the same boat, it isn’t too late to correct the course in your life.
You Have No Prayer Life
I’m ashamed to say that there have been periods in my life in ministry where I have abandoned my prayer life. A relationship with Christ is necessary for anyone that works in ministry. A relationship with Christ is only possible through prayer. It doesn’t count if your only prayer time is when you are doing ministry.
If we work in ministry, we should be spending time at Mass, Reconciliation, reading the Word of God, praying the rosary, spending time in Adoration and most importantly talking to Jesus. If you find yourself lacking in your prayer life because you are too busy working in ministry, then you have the wrong priorities in your life.
Your Family Comes Second in Your Life
When I first started working in youth ministry, the ministry came home with me every night. I constantly thought about how I could improve the ministry. I answered emails for work while I was at home, My pastor would call me at all hours of the day to ask questions. My teens texted me. Parents contacted me on my phone. In addition to giving work full access to my life when I was home, I also would work 4 to 5 nights a week and would miss my wife in the evening.
I quickly found that the way I was living my life was sinful. I have seen too many spouses become ministry widows and many marriages end in divorce because of an imbalance between marriage and ministry. My vocation was being neglected so that I could serve in my apostolate. Now, I seldom think about work when I am at home. I don’t answer emails at home, and I don’t answer my phone. There are seldom “ministry emergencies,” that have to be dealt with when I am at home. My children and wife get my attention because they are my priority. It is my responsibility to work to get them to Heaven.
You Have No Time to Work on Self-Improvement
I once knew a campus minister that wrote down every book that he read each year. If he read less than 8 books in a given year, he knew that he was slacking in life and he committed to reading more the following year. The books that he read could be self-improvement books, theology books, practical ministry books, business strategy books or philosophy. He was constantly striving for self improvement.
One of the things that the Church (and her ministers) are guilty of is never changing. If we are intentional about working on self-improvement, our ministries will constantly be changing. Self-improvement brings about change in a person’s life. Every year, I allow myself time to go on a retreat, go to a training conference, attend diocesan training events and I spend time reading.
Your Health is Neglected
Recently, I made it a priority in my life to lose weight and exercise. I lost 30 lbs. in 6 weeks and my energy level has considerably spiked. It took discipline and intentionality to plan my meals and prioritize exercise within my day. I realized that I had become a slave to convenient foods (junk food) because I was focused on eating quickly so that I could get back to work in my ministry.
Too often, I meet people that work in ministry who neglect their health because it is too much of an inconvenience to take care of themselves. Ministry is demanding, and if we desire to have longevity in ministry, we need to take care of ourselves. Eating good foods, exercising, sleeping and taking care of mental health are essential to have energy to sustain the minister.
You Are Always at the Church/Office
Occasionally, I meet youth ministers or lay ministers who are expected to work 9 to 5 in their office, in addition to working nights and weekends for ministry gatherings and events. The rationale from the business manager and/or pastor is that the person is a salaried employee and therefore they just need to expect that working non-stop is part of the job.
This is an abusive expectation and I would NEVER work under those expectations. Ministry does not happen from 9:00 – 5:00 and it does not happen in the office. While office hours are important to get ministry and administrative work done, a job description should never require a person to put in (on average) more than 40 hours per week for the job (TOTAL).
I generally strive for 20 hours a week in the office and 20 hours a week doing programming, ministry events and/or meetings. If I do an event that requires me to be away from my family for a period of time (i.e. retreats, conferences, camps or mission trips), I always schedule a few days after the trip for recovery with my family. That time is NOT taken as vacation.
All of these “boundaries” were agreed upon with my pastor before I was hired in a ministry position. A good pastor recognizes that a person needs to separate their personal life from their apostolate to prevent burnout. If a minister burns out, it is neither healthy for the person nor for the ministry.