Ministry is tough work. It is demanding of our time, energy, and presence. The reality of stress and burnout is always there. One of my favorite lines that I have ever written is this: “Those who work in ministry walk a fine line between being motivated by our mission and being overwhelmed by it.”
Many smart people write and speak about the need for ministry leaders to find balance in their lives. Balance your ministry, family, and personal responsibilities, and you will succeed! I’ve read several books and articles and listened to many seminar speakers address this topic. They are well-intentioned and do point out the many dangers of living an unbalanced life. Here’s the deal - I think they are wrong. They get the problem right - stress and anxiety. However, their prescription of balance to solve what ails you is wrong - and could be harmful.
I am not fond of the word balance. Here’s why:
4 Reasons You Should Stop Striving for Balance
1. Balance is nearly impossible to achieve
Balance is like a unicorn. You can spend a lot of time and energy searching for it but never find it. Two weeks ago I looked at my calendar and realized that I had a ministry-related meeting or event 7 nights in a row (including the weekend). I knew that this would be stressful and I wouldn’t be spending much time with my family - I would be out of balance. I looked to see if I could get out of some of the meetings. Nope. I was leading 6 of them! Ugh. It was a busy week. If you work in ministry, you know what I know - finding the zen-like state of balance and staying there is nearly impossible. There are busy seasons in ministry that demand more of you. You can attempt to implement more balance in your life, but you are unlikely to achieve balance. You will always be neglecting something. I cannot think of a time when all of my work, family, and personal responsibilities have been balanced. Balance is not realistic. It is not attainable.
2. Seeking balance causes stress.
Think of a tight rope walker at a circus. They are balanced as they carefully walk the rope. One step at a time, carefully placing one foot in front of the other. There is a reason they always look nervous and tense - one little slip-up, their balance is ruined, and they fall. Who wants to live their life like that? In order to achieve and stay in balance, you are always walking a tight rope. One thing goes wrong, one unexpected event occurs, and your state of balance crashes. Those who focus on achieving balance live in a constant state of stress, worrying that something will go wrong to upset that balance. Balance promises less stress in your life, but by its’ nature, balance is stressful.
3. Your ministry will suffer.
You know that there are times when you will have to give more to your work, and you will feel unbalanced. If you are trying to attain balance, there will always be a low-grade tension aimed at your ministry for keeping your life out of balance. This tension will eventually turn into resentment. You will blame your ministry for your unbalanced life. Live like this for a while, and you will flame out. If balance is your goal, you won’t be leading your ministry from a strong foundation.
4. Your family will suffer.
Balance naturally pits one thing versus another. If you are walking a tight rope, it is the weight on your right side versus the weight on your left side. If you are trying to balance your weight and diet, it is calories in versus calories out. If you are a ministry leader trying to achieve balance it is often ministry versus family. Balance sets up an either/or scenario. Either things are perfectly in balance, or you are favoring one at the expense of the other. Either your family wins, or your ministry wins. There are almost always more family and work demands than we have the energy for, so in reality, neither wins! Don’t intentionally pit your work against your family for the sake of balance. Neither will win. You will lose.
Balance is an awful goal. It is a worse strategy for ministry leaders because it ends up causing the problems it intends to solve.
If balance is not the answer, then what is?