the shape of leadership

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Three keys to maintaining balance as a bivocational ministry family

Rebecca Burtram on June 11, 2018

Many ministers today are bivocational to keep their families afloat and fill the financial gaps. Since planting a church together, my husband and I are among them. Needless to say, between ministry, family activities, and our marketplace work, our lives are full.

Bivocational ministers are burning the candle at both ends. So, how do we keep from burning out? Here are three ways to keep the fire of your ministry passion going:

Share the Calling

When you both believe deeply in what you’re doing, ministry energizes the marriage instead of draining it. Rather than feeling jealous or bitter about how much time and energy it takes, you can roll up your sleeves and pursue God’s purpose together.

Develop unity and keep your marriage strong by talking openly and frequently together about what you are learning in your devotional times and what God is putting on your heart for the ministry.

We also share our calling with our children. We planted our church as a family. Our kids helped tear down and set up every Sunday for a year and a half while we were mobile. They are excited about inviting guests and help us plan community events. The kids have caught the vision and share their dreams for the church with us.

Carve out Family Time

You must make time to be together. Some weeks are more hectic than others, with child-related obligations filling our calendar. The kids sometimes get less personal time with us than we would prefer, but showing up for what matters to them is crucial. If they have a game, performance or ceremony, at least one of us will be there.

Our children know they matter because we demonstrate their importance by moving other things around to show up for them.

There are a few things we decided early in our marriage to prioritize in our schedule. One was family dinner, and another was bedtime. Dinner is not in front of the television, and phones are off limits at the table. This time to reconnect is important for the whole family, even if the meal is fast-food carryout.

Sometimes there are good things in life that aren’t good in the moment if they take away from our top priorities.

We also make it a point to end the day together. We always hug and kiss our kids goodnight. There is a temptation when your children are older to let them drift to bed on their own, but that time in the quiet before sleep is when you often learn about things they are thinking or doing that they might forget to communicate to you in the hustle and bustle of the day.

A nighttime routine isn’t important only for the kids. It can energize your marriage as well, as you talk, cuddle and reconnect emotionally and physically.

Aside from your daily connection points, you also need to prioritize dates with your spouse. You might not be able to make it happen every week, but determine how frequently you need the time away, and then put those dates on your calendar. We go on dates together every two to three weeks. Do what works for you and your spouse.

If childcare is an issue, ask a church member, friend, relative or neighbor to support your ministry by watching your kids once a month so you can strengthen your marriage. Your ministry will not make it if you marriage is failing.

Know Your Limits

Establishing boundaries has been the hardest thing for me. I want to say “yes” to everything, and I want to do it all myself so it will get done my way. I’ve had to learn say “no” and to release some control.

It also means knowing when to ask for help. Cleaning the house has truly become a shared task. Everyone in the family chips in, and when there just isn’t enough time, we outsource or leave the tasks for another day.

This past year, I was able to say “yes” to helping a young lady with a financial need by paying her to help me with a time need. She has been coming over every few weeks to clean our floors and bathrooms. I decided the money was worth it if it freed our family to spend more time together. It has also been a surprising open door for ministry to the young lady along with her family and boyfriend.

I have had to say “no” to foster care placements, ministry ideas and even events with friends. I don’t turn down these things all the time, but I have learned to take a rain check when I have nothing left to give. Sometimes there are good things in life that aren’t good in the moment if they take away from our top priorities.

As an English teacher and a minister, I find there is always more I could do. I can rework every lesson to improve it. I can spend more time working on communication with leaders. I can easily justify pouring more time into the church and my classroom.

However, I have to set limits or I will burn out myself and my family. I have had to learn to set time limits and stop, whether there was potentially more work or not. I am certain that this lesson has been one of the biggest factors in avoiding burnout.

We can only faithfully do what we can do. After that, we have to trust God to do with it what only He can do.


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