by Joe McAlpine
It is 5 p.m. on a Friday night in December. The kids have finally decompressed from a long week at school and the fallout from the backpack emptying ritual has finally settled—I still don’t know why the school needs to send so much paperwork home. I am walking through the door after planning for the upcoming weekend services. My wife is fried from laundry, cooking, cleaning and all the other household duties that seem to never stop. We are finally ready to just kick back and be a family. Maybe we could order a pizza and watch a movie together.
My phone dings. We forgot . . . tonight is the Johnson’s Christmas party. It’s an ugly sweater party and there is a gift exchange we aren’t ready for either. Oh, and the party starts in an hour. We have to go because the Johnsons are our newest volunteers and really want to get to know us.
“It’s just a season,” I mutter to myself as my wife and I start barking orders to the kids so we can get out the door. This too will pass . . . won’t it?
Season. Every time I hear that word in ministry I cringe a little. “It’s just a season” means to me that for a period of time everyone is going to expect me to set my priorities for life aside and focus on whatever event that created the season as the most important thing in the world.
Sometimes we rationalize the imbalance of what a season can create saying to ourselves, “We are going on vacation when this is over.” The problem is that saying that to yourself is like laying out in full sun and putting sunscreen on afterwards. That is probably a bad idea.
Over the years, I have learned better ways to navigate these seasons in ministry. It is always my first priority to protect my relationship with God and my family from times when the demand for my presence might get to be a little too much. I must be honest: There was a lot of failure before I fully understood the concepts I am about to share with you. I believe, though, with a little tenacity and a lot of intentionality you can survive the attack on your home that any season in ministry can bring. Here are four thoughts to consider:
- Seek accountability. We all stepped into ministry because we are passionate about helping people. We want to do the best job possible. We tend to be overachievers. The greatest thing for me was realizing that I have a personality flaw (yes, it is a flaw) that causes me to get laser focused on the task at hand. The problem with this is that I miss the other things happening around me. When you know that a busy time is coming up, make sure that you ask people you trust in advance to help you remember what is really important. This takes a high level of self-awareness and humility to accept correction and criticism from others.
- Plan time off during the season. My wife and I recently fled to Arizona for a few days in the middle of a HUGE serving campaign at our church. It was planned, I knew that my family and my soul needed that respite for me to be able to engage where I needed to in life. Not everyone understood why I would do that, and some even were frustrated with me, but it is what stabilized my priorities during that time. Maybe it’s not a trip, maybe it is a day off here and there. It doesn’t really matter how you take the time as long as you take it. God designed us to take one day off for every six days of work. A healthy workday is eight hours. That means you should be taking 24 consecutive hours off for every 48 hours of work. Sleep doesn’t count. When you know that a busy season is coming up, go in your schedule and block out your time off in advance. When people demand your time during the busy season, and it is already scheduled off, then you can simply say: “I am so sorry I can’t make it. We already have plans.” No other explanation is necessary. This is the foundation of establishing good personal boundaries.
- Know what you are agreeing to in advance. Listen, a busy season is NOT the time to be an “exceeds expectations” type of person. It is labeled a busy season because the expectations are already for you to exceed. Before the season comes have the conversations you need to have so you fully understand what you are getting into. The middle of the season is often too late to realize you have too much on your plate. Ask questions before hand regarding what will be expected of you. Get the details. If you think it is too much, then have conversations to spread things out a bit more. When you know what you are walking into, you can plan in the best way possible.
- Don’t allow the poor planning of others to attack your peace. This is a difficult one because we can’t control other people. I believe, though, when you have done the first three this becomes easier. Not everyone is going to be as intentional and planned out as you are entering this time. There are most likely going to be times when someone expects their crisis to become yours. I am not saying that you shouldn’t help the people around you. What I am saying is that if you do a good job organizing, planning, and asking the right questions beforehand, then you should be able to navigate other people’s problems much easier. When someone approaches you with a crisis that they expect you to help with, then you have the ability to give them a choice of what must be sacrificed in order to solve the current problem. Let the person with the crisis decide what is more important.
In a nutshell, there should never be a holiday, event, or campaign at the church that demands for you to sacrifice your relationship with God or your family. If it does, then something is wrong, and you need to take responsibility to protect yourself and your family. Allow yourself to look at seasons through the lens of spiritual and relational health first. When you do that, then “seasons” won’t be as scary as they look.
Joe McAlpine has been in ministry for over a decade, serving in staff leadership at churches ranging in attendance from 500 to 7,000. In 2015, Joe joined the team at Slingshot Group and works toward helping great churches connect with great teams. Joe has been happily married to his wife Christy for longer than he can remember and has four children, Elijah, Selah, David, and Elisabeth. In his spare time, you can find him hanging with the family and playing his ukulele.