For those in full time ministry (and others) there is the ongoing challenge of our availability to the many who want our attention or help. Most go into ministry because they have a deep love for God and people and the people needs are many. Where do we draw the line on our availability? What boundaries do we set so that our own health is not compromised? This is especially an issue for pastors.
Let's start with the proposition that there are always more needs than we can meet. That means there are limits to our ability to help. Too often, however, the only thing that keeps us from doing more is that we are so exhausted that we cannot. At some point physical or emotional exhaustion kicks in and forces us to back off but that is already an unhealthy place to be. The more we bump up against physical or emotional limits the greater our own risk of being the one in need!
How do we know when too much is too much? All of our circumstances are different but let me suggest four questions that can help us evaluate when we need to back off.
When my availability to others keeps me from getting the rest and refreshment I need or the time with Jesus I need, it is too much! Running on empty is not a healthy place to be for any period of time. Only healthy people can help others and when our own health is in jeopardy we are too available and need to back off. If my ministry for Jesus detracts from my time with Jesus, we have our priorities askew, and many in ministry fall into that trap.
When my availability to others starts to negatively impact my marriage and family life, it is too much! On one of our many vacations to Montana my kids threatened to throw my cell phone in the Gallatin River if I took one more call (yep I was fishing at the time). They were tired of me doing work on our family vacation. Our marriages and our families are our first priority and if we start to compromise them to help others we are in dangerous territory.
When my availability to others takes me away from those key things that God has called me to do, it is too much! I know that God has called me to pay attention to certain priorities in life and ministry. It is easy to allow those things to slide because of the many needs around us but it is also a mistake. Remember, we are not the answer to all of the problems people have. There are others who can help and we have limited time and energy. If my life or ministry priorities are compromised by the time I make myself available to others (which could consume all of my time) I have not put appropriate boundaries around myself.
When my availability to others creates within me a sense of anger or frustration, it is too much! Ironically, when we make ourselves too available because we like to help people we start to become irritated by those very people: not because they are irritating but because we have reached our own emotional limits and we cannot handle giving more time. Whenever I find myself frustrated or angry that I am being imposed on I know that it is my issue and that I need refreshment and rest myself.
Boundaries matter. If you are married and in ministry, ask your spouse how they would answer these four questions. They will be more objective than we will be.