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Sustainable Success: Balancing the Demands of Ministry and Life for Long-Term Happiness

Leading a growing and successful ministry can sometimes involve long hours, late nights, and sacrificing personal time. This can lead to burnout, feelings of exhaustion, and disengagement with work. Achieving sustainable success is not about working harder or faster but instead striking a balance between the demands of life and work for the long term. In this article, we are not talking about time management, although that is important; we all have the same hours in the day. Time is a fixed commodity. With excellent management, you cannot create more hours. However, when it comes to our energy, the amount available to us and the quality of that energy is still being determined. And we alone are responsible for how we manage it and how that allows us to live the purpose and plan God has for us in leading and living as ministry leaders.

The key to this balance is having a clear cycle for refueling your energy. We must ask ourselves, "Do you know what refuels you?" It's a legitimate question. Most people cannot answer right off the top of their heads because they accept what someone else says about refueling energy. When they feel tired or burned out in ministry, most people say, "I need a day off" or "I need a vacation." In reality, that is only true if those things refuel your energy. Let's be very clear about this. We live in a culture that pushes and tells us we need more time off. We already have more days off than at any time in history and more than God designed us for (one day a week of rest). And yet we as a culture are drained. It's not time management but energy management. Are you doing things on your days off or vacations that give you energy or drain your energy?

I love my days off and vacation time with my wife and family. But that is not what refuels my energy in and of itself. What you do on your days off, or vacation, is the key to being energized! That is different for everyone. To grab hold of sustainable success, we must figure out what personally refuels our energy.

Filling Your Energy Tank with the Right Stuff

When I was in college, a friend got a job refueling semi-trucks with diesel fuel. On one of his first days on the job, he filled a diesel semi-truck with a full gasoline tank. That meant they had to drop the fuel tank, empty it and clean it out because diesel engines cannot run on gasoline. Wrong fuel!

We often fill our tanks with the wrong fuel to get energy. Instead, we are told to take a vacation, have coffee with friends, or binge-watch some TV show. These things may be enjoyable but have different results for everyone.

Let me illustrate. I will go with my kids and grandson on a trip to Disney. I love being with them and value our time relationally. However, being around crowds drains my energy. I wouldn't trade that time with them, but I have to plan a few days after the trip to do the things that give me energy before I return to my office for work. It might be surprising for some, but what refuels me is being productive through spending time at my easel painting.

Identify Activities

You need to identify what activities do energize and refuel you. In contrast, identifying what drains your energy is a critical element of doing so. With this understanding and thinking, you can create a life rhythm of managing your energy through expenditure and refueling, for some Pastors preaching on the weekends drains the energy out of them. That doesn't mean they shouldn't do it. They can be great at it. While others, preaching gives them energy. In either case, it is a part of being a lead or senior pastor. And can be rewarding to both those it drains and energizes. It's not right or wrong. It is a matter of understanding how to manage your energy.

As a pastor, I get a lot of energy from weekend preaching. It energizes me. However, the study and prep work needed to prepare for those same sermons drains my energy. One of my solutions for dealing with this is ensuring all of the prep work is done on Monday - Wednesday, knowing that it will drain energy. I take my days off on Thursday and Friday after the study is behind me, and I refuel during that time to prepare to preach and be with my people. My refueling is usually time in my studio painting, out in nature on the golf course, or doing an activity with my wife or kids - all those things are refueling for me. For some, it might be reading a book or having a day of rest. It is not and cannot be prescriptive. You have to get clarity on what works best for you. We are all created very differently.

The bottom line is that finding a balance between the demands of ministry and life means understanding what refuels your energy and then making time for it (Time Management). When you can find the activities that refuel your tank, you won't have to rely on a quick-fix solution or wait for those vacation days off here or there. With the right balance of refueling activities, however, it is possible to maintain a healthy state of mind and keep your ministry running smoothly over time. By understanding what refuels you and sticking with those habits, you can ensure that your energy levels will remain high and that you can achieve sustainable success in both your personal and professional life.

The key is: Filling up your tank with the right stuff! What refuels you? Are you doing it?

How to discover what refuels you.

1. Start with a list of things you may think to refuel you.

If the concept of energy management is new to you, you may have to go through the cycle of a week or month to be aware as you are doing things. Does it give you energy or drain you? Make a note.

2. Clean up the list. Start taking things off the list as you realize that they drain you.

You will want to end with a short list of 3-5 things that refuel you. You will still do the things that drain energy. Still, you will begin managing them differently to sustain energy.

3. Now get specific.

This takes some thought and energy in and of itself but will pay off in significant ways in life. Let me illustrate my life. I said earlier that painting energizes me. Getting specific now for creating a "cycle of refueling," I need to say how much painting or what kind of painting refuels me. For instance, if I paint for 12 hours a day, I usually hit a point of diminishing return on energy. Painting a commission painting does not refuel me as just deciding what I want to paint. If you say something like "hiking," refuels me, get specific. How often do you need to go hiking to be refueled? "Hiking once a week for an hour refuels me." That is the specificity you need for your "cycle of refueling." Then when you go a week without it, you know you are not refueling. You should get this specific with the 3 to 5 things that refuel you.

4. Measure how you are doing.

Are you faithful to live out and do the things that refuel you? I love using the red, yellow, and green method for doing this.

  • Red, you are not doing it.

  • Yellow, it's hit or miss.

  • Green, you faithfully live out this piece of your "refueling cycle."

If you are the once-a-week hiker and last went out 6 weeks ago, that's red. Suppose you are making it out every other week. In that case, that may be yellow - be aware you are probably not being refueled enough to have sustainable success. If you are hitting the trails weekly, you are solid green. You get the idea. Do this with each of the 3 to 5 things that refuel you.

In summary, sustainable success is not about working harder or longer hours but about managing our energy levels and finding a balance between the demands of ministry and life. To achieve this, we must identify what activities refuel our energy and make time for them. It's not enough to take a day off or go on vacation; we need to be intentional about doing things that give us energy and recognize the ones that drain us. By creating a refueling cycle specific to our needs, we can sustain our energy levels and achieve long-term, sustainable success in our personal and professional lives. In doing so, you will live more fulfilled, energized, and productive lives. And that continuously adds value to your leadership and your relationships.

Let's prioritize energy management and fill our tanks with the right stuff!


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