4 Ways to Balance Your Ministry and Family

I grew up a PK (pastor’s kid) and was blessed with a father who authentically lived out in our home what he taught at church. He loved others, including his family, unconditionally and served them sacrificially. But like most pastors, he was rarely home due to his responsibilities and meetings at the church, both day and night.

One Sunday, on my tenth birthday, I remember my dad counseling and praying with many people after the service while I waited in the back, hoping to get home for my birthday celebration. Even though my mom’s homemade lasagna and a lemon birthday cake with powdered sugar sprinkled on top were waiting for me, I knew deep down that serving the hurting was part of my dad’s calling . . .  even on my tenth birthday.

Years later—when I had a family of my own—I was invited to work full-time at a large church as their Women’s Ministry Director. My family was excited about this opportunity for me, and they wanted me to accept the offer. But I knew I wanted to keep careful boundaries so that the ministry didn’t take me away too much from my husband and two daughters (sixteen and fourteen at the time).

I was able to keep a healthy balance between home and work for the first year, until the ministry began to grow and the church required more of my time. In addition to women’s ministry events, it was expected that I’d be at most of the weekend services, including all Christmas Eve and Easter services. Though my family was willing to make those sacrifices, it began to take a toll on our quality time together.

Looking back, I wish I had been more careful about guarding time with my family in the midst of ministry leadership. That pull between home and ministry can be tricky for all ministry leaders.

Practical Ways to Guard Your Time

Here are four practical ways to guard time with your family as a ministry leader:

1. Pray for wisdom.

Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment for how best to balance ministry leadership and commitments to your family. He will be faithful in making a way for you. Often you’ll find yourself trying to serve the women in your church and your family in your own strength. That can go on for a while, but it will ultimately lead to burnout. Ask your leadership team to cover you in prayer and to hold you accountable about keeping careful boundaries for balancing ministry and family time.

2. Protect family time.

We can get used to a certain rhythm of ministry focus and time with family that becomes our new normal. Before we know it, most of our energy and time can be poured into the ministries and women we’re leading while our families get less of us.

While writing this article, I asked my husband and our daughter about those years, asking them to be honest. Rick said, “I was grateful you could use your gifts and thought it was important for you to be in pursuit of that. I don’t think it distracted you from being a wife and mom, but there were times we missed you when you had to be at the church so much.”

I asked my daughter—now married and in her late twenties—how I could have balanced my ministry and time with her better. This is what she shared: “I think it is harder to establish boundaries when you are in a ministry/counseling role. You cannot easily say, ‘Sorry, can't talk to you even though you are crying and broken right now. My daughter has been waiting in the car for an hour for me to take her out to lunch.’ I understood why those boundary lines were blurred and needed to be, but still it was something I did not appreciate about my mom’s role in ministry.”

In that same conversation, I asked her, “If I could do it again while you’re still home and I’m leading a ministry, what advice would you share to balance home/mom and ministry hats better?” Thankfully, she said, “I think you did a pretty great job from what I could tell. I always felt like I came first.”

That, of course, encouraged my mother’s heart, but I know I could have been more careful to protect my time with my precious family.

3. Guard against pride.

As leaders—especially those of us with the gift of mercy—it’s easy to fall into a messiah complex of thinking those we serve need us as much as they need Jesus! Or that He couldn’t do this ministry stuff without us.

That happened to me when I was almost desperate to find a way to visit a woman from our church who had been hospitalized for depression. Torn because my daughters needed me home that night, I was scrambling to find a way to visit the woman in the hospital. I’ll never forget when the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart as if He was saying, “Judy, I think I can handle this one on My own.” Ouch.

Pride can be our undoing as ministry leaders. I had a deep fear of disappointing the women I served, which led to long hours, exhaustion, and forfeiting time with my family. This is where choosing a gifted leadership team is key.

4. Be bold.

Often the boundary lines on your time as a ministry leader can keep getting moved as your church or ministry grows and the top leaders expect more of your time. Sometimes we have to be bold and say, “Enough! My family needs me at home more than the church needs me.”

I had to do that when our home was in the target zone of a raging forest fire and our church expected staff to be at the church to counsel those who might lose their homes. I knew my place was with my family after we were evacuated and awaited news of our own home. I boldly said, “No, I can’t be at the church right now.” I told them that women from my leadership team, whose homes weren’t in the line of the fire, would be honored to be at the church to pray with those who needed support. I know God used those women more than He could have ever used me in that situation.

A raging forest fire is probably an extreme example of when it’s okay to say “I need to be home,” but I encourage you to be bold to put your family first, as that is your highest calling.

Seek our faithful God for His wisdom and discernment. He will make a way for you to balance your focus on ministry leadership and your family.

Hope for Your Soul

Though I didn’t do it perfectly, I’m grateful that my family supported my calling to women’s ministry leadership and for the sacrifices they made for me to follow that call.

I pray the same for you as you serve Him faithfully. May these ancient words from Isaiah 40 breathe hope and strength into your weary soul as you seek His wisdom for your service:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (vv. 28–31).

About the Author

Judy Dunagan

Judy Dunagan is an acquisitions editor for women's books and Bible studies at Moody Publishers. She has a heart for discipleship and making God's Word and prayer come alive in everyday life. She is the author of the book The Loudest Roar: Living in the Unshakable Victory of Christ. Judy and her husband Rick live in Colorado. Connect at Judy.Dunagan.com