Ministry demands much from us. Our energy, our time, and often those we love can become frustrated if we don’t have boundaries to protect their time with us, or to protect them from unrealistic expectations on their role in the church. Today we tackle….
“What boundaries do you have in place to protect your loved ones?”
Carol Harston has served as Minister to Youth at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2007. Born and raised at Highland, Carol has found the joy of caring for youth in the same community that shaped her as a young person. Outside of youth ministry, Carol has her hands full as a mom to James (5 years old) and Collier (2.5 years old) and wife to Drew (orthopedic surgery resident and faithful youth volunteer).
What boundaries do you have in place to protect your loved ones?
Last night, one of my youth texted me at 10:00 p.m. to ask if my husband could write a doctor’s note so that she didn’t get in trouble at work. This is not the first youth who has asked this question. Perhaps it’s the perfect way to start identifying the boundaries I put in place in order to ensure that my family has ways to participate in my ministry without losing their integrity and their sanity in the process.
My loved ones are not objects to be used for the betterment of youth ministry. My kids are not tools for “oohes” and “aahes” and they are not fodder for SnapChat. My husband does not write doctor excuse notes nor does he serve as a youth leader at every event.
My family members are not objects but people – people who offer their personhood to the youth as they walk alongside them in this journey we walk together. My kids are cute but they are also a lot of work. Any of the youth who come over for mentor groups at our home watch Drew and I read books, brush teeth, and put them to bed (and then answer the gagillion requests that come afterwards). They see Drew in scrubs after work and they hear about cool surgeries from the day. They hear how many hours he works while he takes an hour and a half to meet with them and hear about their lives. The youth get to see their humanity as they ask the youth to share their own joys and struggles.
They are also not sacrifices to be made while I craft the perfect youth ministry. My spouse and children are the only ones with whom I’ve made a life-long covenant that can be called upon any hour of the day. This means that they are the ones with whom I must give my gifts of care, time, and energy. There are weeks when my work hours go beyond the ones I get paid to do, but I am diligent and insistent that a balance come in the week that follows. I do this not just to not overwork myself, but to ensure that I offer my best at home as I do at work.
As a youth minister, this is very difficult. Summer trips make it difficult. Those summers that lead into a busy August and September make it more difficult. And yet, they cause me to work as efficiently and productively at work so that I may protect my family from the over-stressed and over-worked mother that takes it out on everyone at the end of the day.
All of it is not lived perfectly, far from it. Rather, each day I rise and seek to follow in the calling I have received – as a minister, as a mother, as a wife, and as a person – to love the world deeply and offer my gifts however they are needed each day.
Tim Schindler serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Ministry Development at Georgetown Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky where he lives with his wife and four awesome kids. He studied at the University of Kentucky and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY and has been in youth ministry for 17 years, with the last eight at GBC. In addition to student ministry, Tim also leads the church’s contemporary worship music. Follow him on Twitter @timschindler.
Being in ministry is tricky. As with so many biblical examples of someone being called by God, when the word arrives, it doesn’t just involve the one to whom it comes, but it also drastically shapes that person’s family and loved ones as well. From the first instructions given to humanity, “be fruitful and multiply,” families were intimately(!) involved in fulfilling God’s instructions.
Take these for example: the task given to Moses turned out to demand a lot from his brother, Aaron, too. Joshua famously proclaimed, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” He put his family on the hook for his commitment to serve. Esther and her uncle Mordecai were partners in God’s plan to save the Jews during the reign of Xerxes. Even Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, became leaders of the early church.
Abraham is a prime example here. His original call was complicated by his nephew, Lot, who left Ur with him but had a propensity to hang too close to Sodom. Multiple times Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was a part of ill-conceived plans, and it was the son of the promise, Isaac, who Abraham was ordered to sacrifice as a test of faithfulness. The boundaries of God’s call will always bleed into family relationships. It’s just how calling works.
However, be very careful: God’s call and your specific church ministry are not the same thing. Ministry is different and absolutely requires certain boundaries.
It’s one thing for your spouse to share with you the burden of wanting to see students come to know Jesus, but it is another thing to expect him to supervise twelve hours of a lock-in. In the same way, it’s one thing for your kids to know that you care deeply about teenagers, but it’s another thing to rarely see your own children because everything your students are doing takes priority.
What your church and your family needs is an emotionally integrated, healthy, and self-aware individual who believes that your first ministry is to your family. The reality is that if you don’t take control over both you and your loved ones’ time and space, others will make demands on them that you may have a hard time reclaiming. So early on it’s important to recognize where pressure is coming from and set some boundaries for the sake of your family.
If it seems like the church has some boundary issues, it would be a good idea to have a conversation with your senior pastor or other leaders in the church. Your staff might even be able to become the biggest champions for each others’ families. However, often it is our own inward desire to be successful or make everyone happy that drives us to neglect our family for the sake of the ministry. So it may be that you have to give yourself guidelines to make sure you’re not putting your family farther down on the list of priorities.
It will probably look different for your context, but for me here are some of the things I pay attention to. I pay attention to the expectations people put on my wife, including myself when I’m desperate for volunteers. She is able to freely tell me when and how she would like to serve, which right now happens to be with children’s worship and youth small groups (though she’s free to change her mind and drop stuff whenever she wants). She doesn’t attend both worship services, she doesn’t teach Sunday School, she isn’t involved in music ministry, and we don’t host people in our home very often.
I also pay attention to my time. In the evenings as much as possible I try not to miss more than one bedtime or dinner time a week. When I go to ball games or concerts for students, I usually try to take one or two of my kids with me to get some time with them. I pay attention to summer trips and taking family vacation so that I’m not gone all the time. And I try to volunteer in my kids’ schools occasionally (a win for both your church and your family). My wife and I sit down with the calendar regularly to plan ahead.
This year my oldest son entered the youth group as a new seventh grader. I’m still figuring out how to care for him and guard our relationship in this new phase of life, but so far I love how some of our other adult volunteers have stepped up to be a youth pastor to him already. And as much as anything, I am trying just to have frequent talks with him at home about how he’s feeling about church and be honest with him about my own awkwardness and hopes for him. I don’t plan to make him go all the time or be involved in every event so long as we can keep the lines of communication open. So far it’s going well and he’s giving me a lot of grace!
Yes, unfortunately, some negative aspects of ministry will probably bleed over into your family life, but we must be diligent in protecting our loved ones from becoming casualties of it. I believe I could have the most successful ministry in the world, but if I lose with my family, I will have failed.