I grew up in a great church (Hillside in Succasunna, New Jersey), and I’ve been on staff at three churches I absolutely loved. I love how God uses me for the good of others. I love seeing good things happen in the life of the church and in the lives of the folks in the church. I just love being a part of the organism that is the church . . . and I’ve found that my passion for the church can easily become obsessive.
I think I might be a church junkie.
If it weren’t for my life outside of the church, I could easily spend 24/7 on the life of the church. But there are dangers that can come from that way of thinking and living:
If you give yourself completely over to the church, you can isolate yourself and become out of touch with the world around you. A few years ago, I read in a handbook for church elders that elders must be engaged in the world around them in order that they might understand it. It’s not good to live life in a bubble.
If you give yourself completely over to the church, you risk burnout. In any profession workaholism will always lead to a fall. I watched a movie about Wall Street with my wife, and I noticed that the characters who lived only for their jobs peaked by midlife—and they sacrificed everything of significance to reach that peak. But there was a character in the film who was successful (though not as successful as his executive peers), and he had a more balanced and healthy approach to life—he didn’t burn out.
So how do you guard against burnout? Here are a few suggestions:
- Get a hobby.
- Have people in your life who understand the pressures of the church but aren’t a part of your church, and talk through your issues with them.
- Set aside time to spend with your family, and guard that time.
- Be available—but don’t feel as if you need to be available 24/7. There’s wisdom in turning off your cell phone or not always answering it.
- Set realistic goals for your ministry, and realize that programmatic goals aren’t the ultimate measuring stick. Encourage your Elder Board (or whoever you’re accountable to) to understand the demands of ministry and to not expect more of you than is fair or reasonable.
If you give yourself over to the church, you risk the relationship you should be cherishing the most: your relationship with your family. If you’re single in ministry, this may be tougher to see right now—but your relationship status may change, so keep this in mind. I encourage you to see the hierarchy of relationships like this:
- Relationship with God.
- Relationship with those in your home.
- Relationship with those in your influence.
When #3 overtakes #2 or #1, you invite chaos into your life.
As I was writing this post, I started thinking about what I—as a church junkie—must look like. And you know what I pictured myself as? I pictured myself looking like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. I pictured these leaders totally immersed in their studies and only focused on themselves rather than on the work of God, because they were building their own kingdoms. I pictured those men overflowing with pride for all they had done.
And the more I thought about how those men lived and did “ministry,” the more I shook my head and hoped that their way of doing ministry wasn’t echoed in me. I think that when we give ourselves over to the church in obsessive and unhealthy patterns, we’re at risk for living like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
Do you see any church-junkie tendencies in you?
When I see the church junkie in me, I know I need to
- be reminded that ministry isn’t about how much I accomplish or how many programs I start or run;
- adjust relational hierarchies;
- share my ministry, and give it away for others’ edification;
- balance my inside-the-church experiences with my outside-the-church relationships; and
- have passions that have nothing to do with church.
Your ministry is God’s gift to you and to those around you, and when you over-prioritize your ministry, you misuse the gift.
I hope this helps you and the ministry God has given to you.
Mark Johannesen has been working with students and their families for about twenty years. He is a part of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren which offers a high view of Gods Word, a strong emphasis on world missions, a strong emphasis on having a personal relationship with Christ with a simple low-church style of worship in a law-gospel context. He received a Bachelors Degree in Youth Ministries from Northwestern University in St Paul MN and following that a Masters of Theological Studies at Bethel Seminary in St Paul MN and a Masters of Divinity from the Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls MN. He has served four churches in Minnesota, Washington State and Pennsylvania in positions ranging from youth director to associate pastor to senior pastor. He grew up in NJ and came to faith at an early age. He and his wife have been married for over ten years and have one child. In addition to his pastoral position he is a part of his denominational youth conventions planning team, he leads borderlessmidwest (a multi church Mexico mission trip partnership) and he serves is denomination networking youth workers and as a blogger. He also loves being with his family, 80’s Rock, travel, baseball, NY pizza, slurpees and youth ministry.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.