“What is this word ‘balance’ you speak of?”
“I’d say it’s more work life integration vs. work life balance.”
“I’m trying to protect myself and my days off, but also have grace for people.”
When talking about how to have balance and boundaries when your church is your work, I’ve heard all three of these comments—just in the past week. Sure, it was the week leading up to Easter and everyone both on staff and volunteering at a church is feeling that tension.
But the thing about this tension is that it’s constant. Serving the church will always feel personal, because it is. You care a lot about the work you do because you recognize the eternal, kingdom-building impact it can have. You love the people you work with because they’re your sisters and brothers in Christ who have joined you in doing this work.
However, just because you love the church you serve, the people you serve with, and the work you do doesn’t make this tension between work and life disappear. In fact, it makes it worse. It makes it easier to justify not having balance or boundaries.
I have some good news for you, though. It’s not better than the good news we worked so hard to share on Easter Sunday, but it can help you get to Sunday without losing your mind. Here it is: It’s possible to create personal boundaries and still serve your church well. You (yes, even you, church staff member!) can have healthy boundaries between church and the rest of your life. Here’s how:
1. Get Your Definitions Straight
One of the underlying causes of not having boundaries between work and home is not having clear definitions of work and home. Anyone working or volunteering at a church is likely to struggle with this even more. I’ve even heard volunteer leads say, “I basically live at the church.”
Keep your work at work and your home at home as much as possible. It’s easy to make excuses for your work to always follow you home when it’s a ministry you lead or something only you know how to do. But it’s still work, and you need to ask yourself what counts as work and what should stop when you get home. Cut the loose definitions.
2. Set the Expectations
It’s been said that you teach people how to treat you. It may sound harsh when you apply it to your work at your church, but it’s true. If you teach people that you’ll respond to texts and emails within two seconds any time of the day or night, that’s what they’ll do. If you teach people that no day is your day off, you’ll truly have no days off. If you teach people that you’ll do every little thing they ask whenever they ask (even if it’s something they could Google themselves), they’ll send you every request knowing that you’ll take care of it for them even at the expense of taking care of yourself.
You set the expectations when it comes to boundaries. You may think that people just don’t have boundaries, but it’s because you haven’t shown them that you do.
3. Mind the Time
It’s simple: the best way to stop getting notifications at 10 p.m. is to stop getting notifications at 10 p.m. Turn them off. If you desire to create personal boundaries in your life, you have to literally create them—choose a time when you stop answering work emails/texts/calls and choose a day when you don’t answer or do anything work-related at all.
When you set up boundaries, everyone starts getting used to them. The people you work with start getting used to you not answering texts at a certain time, so they save them for tomorrow. They start to remember that Saturday is your day off. They remember that you said you’d reply within two hours and start to respect that boundary. And you get used to the peace that this balance brings.
4. Have Graceful Reminders Ready
Even with your boundaries set up and advertised to everyone you know, here’s the reality: it’s still hard to manage ministry and life, and people will cross those boundaries from time to time. You’re doing the right thing by creating some space so you don’t burnout, and your church will understand eventually (or adjust).
Just be ready when that moment of boundary breaking comes so that your response is graceful and not hateful toward the person who crossed the line. Chances are, they’re coming from a place of stress themselves, didn’t mean to make things harder for you, and could probably use some help creating boundaries of their own. It can be as simple as, “Thanks for asking, James, but I’m no longer at the office and take evenings to spend time with my family. I’ll get back to you first thing in the morning.” or “Hi Carol, Saturdays are my rest day. I’ll check on this tomorrow. I love serving with you and thank you for understanding!”
Remember that you’re not disappointing Jesus or the church by having boundaries in your life. You’re creating space so that you can be an even better servant leader.
For more help on creating healthy boundaries, check out our book You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators.
Shannon Whitehead wrote this originally at Church Marketing Sucks .