Boundaries are becoming increasingly hard for ministers to keep. In a world that demands that we give almost all our time to our work, ministry can sometimes be even more demanding with its often weird hours and “always available” mindset. We are taking a month to focus on boundaries. Today we start with….

“What boundaries do you have in place to protect your free time?”

Kristin Belcher

Kristin is a native of Danville, Kentucky and a graduate of the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. She resides in Frankfort and joined the staff of First Baptist Church in July 2012. She has spent many summers working for Passport, Inc. Kristin is also the Interim Office Manager for the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship. Kristin loves spending time with her nephews, Jaxon and Parker.

Developing healthy boundaries around our free time as a youth minister can be a difficult thing to do regardless of full-time or part-time status.  We cannot leave the job at the office when we go home at the end of the day.  Let’s be honest, though, most of our job doesn’t occur in an office to begin with.  We are busy doing and planning and being with the youth at our respective churches.  We spend time checking social media to keep track of who’s doing what.  We attend ball games, dance recitals, musicals and more all in an effort to connect with our youth.  These are good things to do.  But, we must also schedule time for ourselves.  One way to do this is to schedule free time.  These are days or times when we intentionally don’t plan anything work related.  Learning to say no to people is a difficult thing for some of us.  We create unrealistic expectations for others and ourselves when we say yes to every invitation.  We cannot always ignore our own needs for the sake of others.  Learning a healthy balance of work life and personal life is key.

In youth ministry, we go through seasons of super busyness (think summertime) and seasons of semi-super busyness.  At the end of a busy summer, before the fall semester starts back, it’s a good idea to take a break.  Go on vacation.  Do something non-work related that gives you life.  When planning for the fall and spring semesters, sit down with your calendar and schedule days off.  And work to keep those days off.

It is equally important to communicate why we are being intentional about setting and keeping these boundaries.  People are more understanding when we are up front and honest about needing time for ourselves.  It is okay not to check email or respond to text messages on our days off.  But we must communicate to let people know our work schedules.

Communicating also means keeping track of how we spend out time.  For example, how can we strategically plan going to the ball games, musicals, etc.?  Are their multiple youth on the same sports team?  Or is there a time when one team is playing another team (where both teams include youth from your group)?  Are there opportunities to connect with youth during the workday?

Protecting free time also means making the most of our work time.  Procrastination is an easy trap for all of us to fall into.  When we fail at managing our work time wisely, we fail at guarding our free time.  Our family and friends will appreciate us all the more when we can focus our attention solely on them instead of dividing our worlds.

josh plant

Josh Plant is serving in Orlando, Florida. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for undergrad and then got his M. Div. at Truett Seminary. He is married to Camille and enjoys the Texas Longhorns, Netflix, and Chick-fil-a. He isn’t cool enough to have any pets…yet.

Simply put, I am absolutely terrible at this.  The reason is that I am, by nature, a workaholic.  I love to work.  This may sound strange, but it relaxes me.  I also understand that I am the weirdo in this situation, so if you are reading this and wondering why you have never felt that way a day in your life, please do not feel like there is something wrong with you.  So, for workaholics and non-workaholics alike, what do you do in a profession that already demands the majority of your time?  What do you do when the people you serve already demand more of your time than you should probably legally be willing to give?

You go to the beach.  You just go to the beach and put on sunscreen and hope you see dolphins out in the distance.

I recently moved to Orlando to begin serving in a new ministry role.  As most of you know, the first six months of being in a new job are usually the most hectic and involved, so it’s tempting to work seventy-five hours a week so that you can catch up and no one can say you aren’t trying.  Instead of falling into this trap, I’ve spent every Friday driving an hour to the beach and spending the morning there.  Maybe you don’t live by the beach and you’re hating me right now.  At the risk of sounding like a Corona commercial, what’s your beach?  It can be anything: Netflix, reading, going to the lake, serving in a soup kitchen by yourself…whatever it is, you have to find something meaningful to take up your time and help you relax or you will find it easier and easier to give up your free time.

We can’t escape to our beach every day, though.  Sometimes the problem is an excessive amount of emails that all need answering.  A wise pastor friend of mine once told me his policy was that he and his staff made sure to answer an email by the end of the next church business day.  That may not be for everyone, but it keeps me from having to stress about answering emails at 11pm.

I also try to have set family time.  For instance, Friday night is “go try a new place to eat” night for my wife and me.  If nothing else, we have a dedicated two hours that we have set aside just for each other.  Every once in awhile there will be an event I have to take care of on a Friday, but we just move our two hours to another time, like Saturday night.  My mindset is, “I’m going to always use this time to hang out with my wife.  So I will not purposely allow others to have that time.”

Sometimes it’s helpful to set a standard for yourself in how you spend your work time.  I’m of the belief that youth ministry is all about relationships, so I make it a point to put my time in the relationship bank.  This means I attend activities and games and events that the students are involved in outside of church to show my support.  That’s Youth Min 101, right?  I have to set a standard for how much is enough and how much is too much when it comes to visiting these events, though, or I will spend all my time doing that.  I made it a personal goal to attend at least one but no more that three student events in a week.  They love when you’re there, but not when you’re arriving with a begrudging look on your face.

Finally, most pastors and churches will allow for formal or informal comp time.  If you have a retreat weekend where you work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday straight through, it only makes sense for you to take Monday off in addition to your normal day off that week.  The trick here is YOU have to be intentional about this.  YOU have to make sure and talk to your pastor ahead of time and say, “Hey, I’m going to be on this retreat all weekend.  Would you mind if I took Monday off?”  In my experience, most pastors will demand that you take comp time because they know how hard you work.

I would caution everyone, though, to not make free time boundaries a central piece of your working personality.  Like it or not, this is not a normal job…it’s a calling.  This calling doesn’t carry with it the same rules that a normal 9-5 job does…but you already know that.  All ministry is ninety percent about showing up, but youth ministry often requires that we show up at some of the most inopportune times (for us).  Sure, we cannot work ourselves to death, but we must be willing to sometimes abandon our free time for the sake of those we serve.  Trust me, you’ll get it back.

So that’s it…boundary advice from an a person admittedly prone to being terrible with free time boundaries.  I hope that you can take something from these ideas and make your situation better.  Feel free to email me if you have any questions or objections!