You need time boundaries in ministry

I had just sat down to a dinner out with my family.deadline1

We had only been in the community a couple of months as I started my new ministry at the church.  Between hosting families for dinners, youth events and ball games, a night out was rare for my family.  We were enjoying the evening off.

No sooner had I ordered my dinner than my cell phone rang.  I looked at the caller ID.  It was one of my students.  Reluctantly, I answered the call. The student just wanted to chat and I, being somewhat new, didn’t want to miss an opportunity to connect.  Dinner was cold by the time I actually ate it.  My family had already finished theirs.

So much for a night out with the family.

We’ve all had those moments.  A student (usually the same one that always needs to talk) calls at an inopportune time.  We make the quick decision to take the call and soon regret it.  That important conversation wasn’t important at all.  What’s worse, we’ve alienated our friends or family for interrupting our time together.

In youth ministry, you have to have time boundaries.  During certain times, unless it’s an emergency (and somebody better be on the way to the hospital), you have to be off-limits to your students.  I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.  Cold dinners and upset spouses just add stress to your ministry.  It’s not worth it.

It’s more than just phone calls.  Texts need to be ignored too.  It may not cool your dinner, but constantly grabbing your phone to text can cool the conversation.  It also tells others that what’s on the phone screen is more important than they are.  That’s certainly not something I want my daughter to think.

I know some youth ministers that literally turn off their cell phone from 5-6:30 p.m. daily for dinner with the family.  I know others that don’t take it on dates or family nights.  I’m not necessarily advocating going to those extremes, but there are times when you need to ignore the cell phone and get back to the student later.

Here are few times when students need to take a back seat:

During dinner

Date nights

When watching a movie

Family gatherings

Ball games or school activities involving your children

Day trips or vacations

If you don’t set time boundaries in your ministry, students will soon fill up your free time, your study time and your family time.  If you don’t get rest or family time, your ministry will suffer.  Nobody – especially not the students – wants that.

So take some time to take some time away from the phone.  Give yourself permission to send “THAT student” to voicemail.  Make your family and rest a priority.  I promise you, the ministry will be right there after dinner.  It won’t go away.

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