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Couples in Ministry: A Balancing Act

Sherry Surratt
Sherry Surratt Monday February 19, 2018
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Serving in numerous ministry capacities together, Geoff and Sherry Surratt have valuable lessons and observations to pass along to couples seeking to serve in ministry together. Following is an excerpt from their invaluable book: Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry.

One of the biggest challenges for a family engaged in ministry is learning to balance church activities, marriage, kids, extended family, finances and all the needy people who seem to come along with the job. Leading a church, or just a ministry area can be a 24/7 endeavor.

Your volunteers can’t meet during the workday, crises almost always occur in the middle of the night, and weekends are sometimes the busiest time for someone in ministry. In the midst of the chaos are recitals, ball games, and graduations, along with all the other needs of a healthy family. Somewhere along the way you’re supposed to have family meals, date nights and vacations.

Balancing all this endless activity requires a spreadsheet, a calendar app and a daily to-do list. And no matter how hard you try, something always seems out of balance.

Sound familiar? Either ministry or family seems to always get shortchanged. How does anyone successfully balance all the demands of ministry, friends, and family?

Balance is a Myth

My husband Geoff and I have been in ministry together for 30+ years and here’s what I’m learning: balance is an impossible myth.

Even Jesus didn’t live a balanced life. He healed the sick, taught the disciples, preached to thousands and rebuked the Pharisees. All in one day. And then he said, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). That just doesn’t sound like a balanced life.

Geoff and I are learning our goal can’t be balance, but it can be healthy rhythm.  In the midst of even the busiest ministry seasons, it is possible to have a healthy marriage, a healthy family and a healthy relationship with God. Here are a couple of ways we’re getting there.

We Tell the Truth

I’ve always been a ‘time optimist’ which is a kind way of saying I over-commit. I always think I’ll be able to get that meeting knocked out in an hour or finish up all those emails in 20 minutes. No way. Instead of saying ‘I just need a few more minutes’, I’m learning to say, ‘I under estimated how long this is going to take and I’m going to need some grace’.

When Geoff is prepping for a message, he’s honest when it’s going to take days instead of hours. It helps each of us to deal with especially busy seasons when we give the other a heads up and invite their help.

We Diffuse Emergencies

Everything in ministry can feel like an emergency. The sermon has to be ready for Sunday, a new children’s ministry volunteer has to be recruited by the weekend, and an attender’s marriage has to be fixed tonight.

All the good intentions of focusing on family go out the window when the phone rings and it’s time for all hands on deck to put out the fire. The little known secret of ministry however is many emergencies can be delayed, defused or dealt with in advance and we’re learning how to ‘sift’.

We ask ourselves, Did this crisis just arise or is it something that has been brewing for awhile? Is this a crisis we can solve tonight or will this be an ongoing challenge? Is there a compelling reason this crisis can’t be addressed during normal business hours?

Obviously, there are moments in ministry when you do drop everything to run and help. But creating a plan to sift those moments helps your family feel like it’s a bit more manageable.

We Ask Each Other For Help

We help each other notice what we’re not noticing. I give Geoff the permission to tell me when I’ve drifted into an unhealthy rhythm and he has given me the same. We’ve agreed we’ll gently call each other out when our time demands have gotten out of control and we’ve agreed we’ll stop, listen and change.

Here’s the bottom line: Ministry will never be a nine-to-five, Monday to Friday job, so creating a healthy rhythm for your family needs to be a lifelong endeavor. If you don’t set your priorities, everyone else will do it for you.

Sherry is the former CEO of Mothers of Preschoolers International as well as a shoe junkie and coffee lover. Before joining MOPS, Sherry served at Leadership Network and as a staff pastor at Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Sherry is the co-author of Just Lead! A No Whining Guide for Women Leaders in the Church, Beautiful Mess, a bible study for real moms, and the author of Brave Mom: Facing and Overcoming Your Real Mom Fears. The proud mom of Mike, Brittainy and daughter-in-love Hilary, she is also ridiculously proud of her granddaughters, Maggie Claire and Mollie Rose and lives with her pastor-husband Geoff in Parker, Colorado.