Balancing Life and Ministry, Part 1 by Jim & Tamara Graff

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It doesn’t take long to realize that there are a lot of seasons in life. We’ve been in ministry 32 years, and they go fast. You know how they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun?” I was swinging our grandson in our backyard the other day, and I realized it wasn’t that long ago that I was swinging his dad. Seasons go fast. It’s been fun, but we’ve had to learn how to balance life and ministry. It was a fight, honestly, and it felt like we were losing the first year – even to the point that we considered quitting the ministry. As we went through the fight, we found that if we stayed on course with just five keys, we were going to stay refreshed in the ministry.

The first key is is that our calling keeps enthusiasm alive in our hearts. This is true whether it’s in the heart of a person, a marriage or a church. If the “why” we are here doesn’t become strong, the “what” we have to do becomes burdensome.

When our kids were little, people from our church would call – sometimes revealing a family issue, sometimes a death had occurred in their family – and we’d find especially our girls hiding around the corner, listening in. They are all in ministry today or super-involved in church because they saw the difference church makes. They didn’t only see the “what,” they saw the “why.” It wasn’t burdensome to be part of a church that made a difference; it was a thing of joy!

Our calling refreshes us. If we’re counseling a couple who’s lost the “why” in their marriage, all they want to talk about is how bad the “what” is. But if we can get the “why” back, then we can refresh hearts and get moving toward answers. This happens to pastors all the time. We know the burnout statistics, and burnout really does start with the loss of the “why.” 

To keep your “why,” you have to have clearly written objectives.  If you’re going to do something for the long haul, you have to make adjustments. We had a number of objective statements and we said, “This is going to be our life by faith.” When you do that, instead of feeling like you’re just going through the motions, you expect your life to be a grand adventure.  

We schedule a three to five-day planning retreat every year. But the truth is, a few years we got so busy we didn’t take it. And later we realized we should have, because we need to lay out the visionary experiences we want to have that year, from services we want to enjoy to the schedule we need to keep based upon kids’ education and experiences. These retreats are a necessity for us personally, for our family and extended family, and so we can be good friends to our friends and pastors to our church.

We can’t do everything, can we? We’d like to. But we’d have to be omnipresent like God to do it all. Objectives help us set priorities. We first identify the areas of life where success matters to us. Then we write down the objectives that will make our hearts happy if we hit them. Clear objectives help us prioritize our calling and keep our hearts enthusiastic about the future. Nothing does this like vision. The Bible says that without vision the people perish, the heart doesn’t want to do it anymore.  

That brings us to our second key: An action plan will help us live for what is important today, not just urgent. I’m sure you’ve experienced the tyranny of urgency. Nobody feels that more than pastors do. We have so many things clamoring for our attention.

In addition, we discovered as we wrote down our plan that we had more vision than we had time. At least we realized why we were so tired! Writing down our action plan causes us to get our priorities right. When you have a plan, your life becomes a mission that matters, not a mundane road trip.

How do you write an action plan? You start by writing down your objectives and activities. In most cases, you’ll find out that you’re trying to do too much, which is why you’re tired. We as leaders often try to do a couple of years’ worth of work in one year’s time, and that’s not fun! And why do we even do that to ourselves? Because activity is an accomplishment.  

Check out Habakuk 2, where Habakuk was complaining about something and he said he had enough sense to go to his rampart.  He wanted to pray about how to do things. The Lord said to him, “Write the vision plainly so whoever leads can run with it.” That tells us a lot! It tells us we can’t get much done without people in it with us! 

A good action plan identifies what needs to be done and how long it will take. For instance, if one of our objective is to see our children living closer to God, with a greater sense of identity and more bonded to us at the end of the year, that won’t just happen. It takes time fishing with them, coaching with them, playing in the backyard with them, and having enough talks. Kids don’t instantly open up about things. We need to spend time in their world and answer other little questions they have. Then the bond is formed for when bigger things need talked about.

We’ve learned to come out of our planning season-with a 12-month action plan for the year. And then when the urgent tries to sneak in, when people ask us to do something, we can say, “I’m sorry. I have something scheduled.” And we minister through another pastor or leader if the need is there. We still have to handle the big things, like when a member asks us to do for them what we couldn’t do for a hundred of them. That’s just like with our kids. If one of them asked me if I can do something with them, I multiply it by four in my head because I don’t want to be unfair to the others. I want all my kids to love me. You do the same with the church. When you make that clear and reasonable, the best people in your church become thrilled that you’re focused on what the Holy Spirit wants you to do and how you’re making things happen. 

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