Sometimes the very characteristics that equip people for this ministry are the same characteristics that allow them to become burned-out, frustrated, overwhelmed and feeling under-appreciated.
Whether paid or volunteer, part-time, full-time, or all-the-time, people called to the ministry of Christian formation can be characterized by their generosity of spirit, creative energy, and most of all, their love for God and the people they serve. Yet sometimes the very characteristics that equip people for this ministry are the same characteristics that allow them to become burned-out, frustrated, overwhelmed and feeling under-appreciated.
Recently, Emily Rutledge, the Children, Youth & Family Minister at Our Saviour Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia posed a question to a group of formation folks:
“What is the best thing you’ve put in place to keep yourself sane, fulfilled, your personal life honored, and balance kept?”
The question clearly resonated! This first article names many of the practices and protocols that help formation folks keep balanced and set boundaries. The next article addresses the practices that encourage spiritual health, including the reminder that ministry isn’t a solo performance.
Seven Ways To Establish and Maintain Healthy Boundaries
Communicate working days and hours – Jean Heffernan, the Children and Youth Missioner at Christ Episcopal Church, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin explains that she realized only by accident that parents in her congregation assumed she was employed full-time when in fact she is a part-time employee. Setting and posting working days and hours on the church website, in email signatures, voicemail greetings, worship bulletins and newsletters establishes the appropriate time and place for communication.
Communicate sabbath days – Dabbs Woodfin, Formation Minster at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan uses a work email signature “My weekly day of Sabbath rest is Friday.” Not only has this drastically decreased the number of emails on Fridays, more importantly it started a number of formational conversations with the families at his church about what sabbath rest means.
Define “emergency” – While suggesting that true emergencies are best directed to the pastoral emergency line, there can be critical information that needs to break through the sabbath. For example, directing volunteers who are unable to meet their Sunday commitments to include ‘URGENT: SUNDAY’ in an email subject line or message. Agreed-upon protocols as to whose responsibility it is to find substitute volunteers are also important.
Specify communications channels – Explicitly indicate which communications platforms should be used. While texting, WhatsApp, Facebook messaging or other chat platforms can be helpful for real-time updates (“We are running late, be there in 5 minutes!”) discourage the use of these platforms for important information that should be retained as part of an ongoing record. Email establishes a much more robust communications trail. Don’t be afraid to kindly interrupt people who try to share important information verbally with the request, “Please email me about this – this is important information and I want to make sure it doesn’t get lost.”
Keep a paper trail – Refuse to accept cash for anything unless it’s in a clearly marked envelope with the name, amount, and purpose. Keep receipts for all purchases and, if possible, make all purchases on a church credit card or account rather than personal one. Require receipts from anyone else making purchase on behalf of the ministry. Insist that paper forms (such as permission slips or medical forms) be printed and submitted.
Track your hours – Keep a tally in a note on your phone or calendar, or by using an app such as Toggl, but make sure to accurately include all hours. Demand an honest accounting of hours spent on overnight lock-ins, sleepovers or mission trips. While you might be “sleeping” (does anyone really sleep when responsible for teens?) you are still on-call and responsible for young people. Insist that those hours be counted as time on-the-clock.
Use technology wisely – With a little intentionality, the same technology that allows 24-7 contact can also be used to put effective boundaries in place. Consider:
– Turning off mobile phone notifications for both email and texts
– Not checking emails in the evenings or on weekends
– Leaving the laptop at work
– Using “out of office” replies to email and phone messages on weekends and/or days off
– Removing work email from mobile devices or using a designated device, such as an iPad for work related email that must be addressed outside working hours
– Refraining from giving out cell phone numbers
– Setting digital calendars to show blocks of available and unavailable time
While clear communications and boundaries are critical, they only address part of the question. Our next article focuses on maintaining spiritual health and cultivating intentional practices to encourage a sense of balance, purpose, and joy.
As the Director of Digital Ministry for Membership Vision, Lisa Brown works with faith-based organizations to map their ministries onto the digital landscape. She is passionate about creatively enriching spiritual lives through digital storytelling, experiential learning, and collaborative art. Lisa contributed to John Roberto’s Faith Formation with a New Generation and her book The Best VBS Workbook Ever! was released in 2017. Lisa is a member of the General Convention Task Force for the Formation & Ministry of the Baptized and represented the Diocese of Pittsburgh as a Deputy for General Convention in 2018.