Home Youth Leaders Youth Leaders Blogs Sustainability vs. Balance

Sustainability vs. Balance

i’ve blogged some of my thoughts about our (misguided, i believe) cultural artifact of the pursuit of balance before (most completely in this 2-part article: part 1, part 2). but it came up again in a conversation with a youth worker recently, and i thought i’d add a bit.

a recap: we talk a lot about balance in the american church. we go so far as to claim it as a biblical value. entire books are filled with this notion; and it’s the centerpiece of many discipleship “programs”. i learned, and taught — for years, the navigator ‘wheel of discipleship’, which was all based on the notion that scripture, prayer, fellowship and witnessing need to be equal spokes in a wheel for a balanced life on the christian journey. with a ‘hub’ of christ, and a ‘tire’ of living it out, this all sounds — on the surface — good and logical. but that logical approach is the root of the problem: logic isn’t the root of the passionate life we’re offered, or called to live.

any time i talk or write about this, people push back that it’s only semantics; that, certainly, we need to watch for imbalances and compensate for them. but i simply don’t agree with that mental framing. the very metaphor of a balance is flawed when used to talk about a fulfilled life in the jesus way. balance, by its very definition, is about things being equal. even the navigator wheel is built on the metaphorical implication that those four spokes have to be equal lengths, that when one spoke is missing, the wheel collapses, and when one spoke is shorter than the other (this is where the balance metaphor breaks down, i think), we live a lopsided life.

but let’s be honest here — we all know those parts aren’t equal in the real world. and, i’m not sure they should be (in fact, i don’t think they should be). for example: for someone with a passion for and gift of intercession, i would expect that the prayer spoke would be longer than some of the others. of course, the other spokes should still be present — but that doesn’t mean they’re equal.

and, stepping out of the wheel, we usually use balance as a metaphor for how our time is spent. i agree with the notion that some forms of imbalance can be problematic (the youth pastor who thinks he needs to work 70 hours a week, causing his family life and his own soul to suffer). but the implicit inference of ‘equal parts’ doesn’t take into account so many truly biblical realities: my unique wiring, my personality, my passions and interests, my gifting.

bottom line: the way we talk about balance is an artifact of a modern, scientific approach to the christian life. it’s more about sameness than it is about passionate living; it’s a reflection of an assembly line approach to spirituality.

so, what’s a better metaphor?

i think sustainability is a substantially better metaphor, and has plenty of cultural connectedness these days. we talk about sustainable food, sustainable business approaches, and sustainable forestry. and we need to talk about the sustainable life, not the balanced life.

a sustainable life will look very different for me than it will for you, because of our god-given uniquenesses. my life would be completely unsustainable for my wife, for example, who is wired and gifted much differently than i am.

when we use sustainability as a metaphor for healthy christian living, we can identify those aspects that threaten sustainability or nurture sustainability. while some of the threats to sustainability are fairly universal, others are more personalized. same with those nurturing aspects. and sustainability provides space for seasons — when life is intensified or relaxed, as part of a rhythm that works over time.

so the questions to ask shift from ‘is everything equal in my life?’ to ‘is this way of living providing me, over time, the life i was designed for?’ and, if the answer to that question is no, then we take a deep look, in a prayer of examen sort of way, at those aspects that are life-stealing, moving toward those things that are live-giving. all of this, as i wrote in those earlier posts, needs to be tied off to our values.

questions:
– is the pace of my life sustainable? what will suffer if i maintain this pace?
– are the ways i use my time, energy and focus adding to sustainability or cancerous to sustainability?
– what aspects of the way i use my time, energy and focus nurture my life in a sustainable direction? how can i give those aspects more room to breathe?
– what aspects of the way i use my time, energy and focus bog me down or tear away at my desire to live sustainably? how i can rid myself, or at least decrease, those aspects?
– who can i ask to speak into this, with potentially painful honesty, about my life?
– where do i need the work of the holy spirit in my life to bring transformation that will align me with my unique god-intended way of living?

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moestreicher@churchleaders.com'
Mark Oestreicher is a 30-year veteran of youth ministry, and the former President of Youth Specialties. Marko has written or contributed to more than 50 books, including the much-talked-about Youth Ministry 3.0. Marko is a speaker, author, consultant, and leads the Youth Ministry Coaching Program.