Is Balance Attainable in Youth Ministry?

For years, I pursued balance. I bought what I’d been taught: That a well balanced life, one where ministry, family, friendships, and personal pursuits were each given the appropriate “healthy” space in our lives, was the key to less stress, more joy, and more fulfillment.

And while I might agree with this in an ideal world, I’m less inclined to believe such balance is attainable in the real world in which I live. For a really good discussion on this topic, head over to my buddy Marko’s, blog, where he talks about the subject in a similar, though much more astute and wise, way!

I’ll keep my thoughts short, using pictures to help along the way (me likey pictures):

Below is a picture of what most of us believe our lives should look like: Each key area given fairly equal, well-defined time, and space. We use words like “balance,” “margin,” etc. to help keep all the boxes their appropriate size. The intent (I think) for those of us in ministry is to help ensure the never-ending, high demand, high pace nature of church work doesn’t storm the castle walls of the other areas of our lives.

The problem, however, is that ministry ALWAYS storms the castle walls! Our lives most often look more like the picture below, and we find ourselves constantly trying to force ministry back to its proper space.

But, what if we embraced a different picture of our lives? What if we simply recognized that life is messy and doesn’t lend itself to boxes, balance, and margin? What if we embraced the beautiful mess that seems to be the reality for most of us? Hurting parents call my cell phone on my day off. My son’s swim meet often takes place during work hours. I sometimes take an extra day off (without telling the HR department) to surf or ride my dirt bike. I barely see my family for the entire week heading into summer camp and take more time off to recover than my supervisor would approve. My point is that my life simply doesn’t fit into nifty little boxes. My life looks more like this picture:

Balanced? Not at first glance. But maybe over the long haul this results in, as Marko puts it, a sustainable approach to life.
Messy? Yes…but what a beautiful mess!

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Kurt Johnston
Kurt Johnston has been involved in junior high ministry since 1988 and is currently the junior high pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of Controlled Chaos: Making Sense of Junior High Ministry and Go Team! He loves providing resources for junior high ministry almost as much as he loves junior highers themselves.