By Dennis Garcia
Hi, my name is Dennis and I’m a workaholic.
There, I said it. For those who know me, this doesn’t come as a shock. I really struggle to unplug. Even when I’m physically away from work, it’s still on my mind.
No one suffers more than my family.
I realized several years ago I needed to be intentional about prioritizing time with my family. Now, I’m not talking about creating a healthy work/family balance. I believe that’s an elusive myth.
The reality is, there’ll be seasons when you spend more time at work (during Easter, Christmas, VBS, etc.) than with your family. The inverse is true as well. Instead of balance, I’m talking about creating healthy boundaries and margin.
As church leaders, we commonly feel the pressure to be on call 24/7. Sometimes, this expectation is imposed by our church or ministry. Other times, it’s an internal pressure with little basis in reality.
Either way, if we plan to be in ministry for the long haul or want to remain married, we must be willing to set healthy boundaries and protect our time away from the office.
In my first few years as a lead pastor, I failed to create and protect time with my family. I would say yes to every meeting, every event, and every outreach opportunity that came my way.
It didn’t take long for me to realize how unhealthy this was for my family and myself. To remedy this situation, my wife and I worked together to establish the following strategies. I hope they will benefit you as well.
1. Make Use of Quiet Hours.
There are times you’ll receive an emergency call in the middle of the night. Most of the calls I was receiving in the evenings, however, were far from emergencies. Most of the time, it was something that could wait until the next morning.
To help filter and prioritize calls, I started using “quiet hours.” This is a feature now standard on iPhones, but there are also 3rd party apps available on both iOS and Android platforms.
The technology is simple. When activated, the system automatically sends all calls to voicemail unless the caller is on a select list which allows their calls to come through. It does the same for text messages.
What about an emergency?
I knew if there was truly an emergency at the church, I wasn’t usually the first person to hear the information. I included all staff and key leaders on my “white list” which allowed their calls to come through.
For urgent calls, there’s a great feature in the settings that allows a call to come through if the number/caller calls twice within 5 minutes.
2. Protect Family Nights.
This was one of the most important strategies we implemented in our family. Every Friday night is family night. Most nights we order pizza, watch a movie, and have dessert.
These nights have become a vital part of our weekly family rhythm. All week long we look forward to family night.
Now, life happens, and there’ve been a few times over the last five years where a conflict arose that interfered with family night. If it was something I could decline or reschedule, I usually did.
There’ve been times, however, when I couldn’t get out of the commitment. On those rare occasions, we moved family night to another week.
Since I worked diligently to protect these nights, my family understood the occasional need to change and didn’t mind making the accommodation.
3. Take Time Off.
This is one I can’t stress enough. Take your day off. Use your vacation time. Ministry is too demanding for us to go long periods without a break.
I believed in this so much as a pastor. I insisted my staff took their days off and used all their vacation time. In fact, it was part of their annual evaluation.
Use your day off each week to do something you enjoy outside of ministry. For some, this might be golf (not for me) or other sports. For others, it might be going on a hike or hitting the road on your bike.
For me, it usually means spending time with my family or sitting in a coffee shop with a good book. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it involves quality, life-giving time for you and your family.
Likewise, use your vacation, even if you don’t leave town. If you have children, take time off when they’re out of school.
I usually take vacation time on spring break, Thanksgiving, and Christmas break (after Christmas Eve services, of course). We also try and take a vacation during the summer.
We don’t always leave town or even do anything big and fun. Instead, this is time to take a break from our busy schedules and reconnect.
4. Be Available.
After taking a call during dinner one night, my wife asked me, “Why do you take calls from church people during family time but send me to voicemail when you’re meeting with others?”
Ouch. But she was right.
I was always available for others, yet busy when she called. So, from that day forward, when my wife calls, I always answer the phone.
I don’t care who I’m meeting with or how important of a meeting I’m in. When I see her name on the on my phone, I politely say, “This is my wife, I always take her call. Please excuse me for a moment.”
While it isn’t always polite to take a call during a meeting, I always take hers. This communicates both to the person I’m meeting with—and more importantly to my wife—that she’s my priority and that I’m always available for her.
I understand every family and situation is different. But these strategies have worked great for our family. If they don’t work in your context, that’s OK.
The important thing is for you to find strategies to help you create healthy boundaries.
As S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, wrote, “We tell Operators (franchise owners) the worst thing that can happen, other than to drop dead, is to lose your family. What does a man gain if he gains the whole world and loses his family?”
Dennis is the husband of Toni, father of Miranda and Kephas, and church planting catalyst serving in Southern New Mexico for the North American Mission Board.