balancing work

Finding Balance: Setting Boundaries to Prevent Burnout in Ministry

"Why did you bring your work bag?" My wife looked a little confused as we were unpacking for a week at the beach. I didn't have an answer for her. Deep down, I felt like I needed it. I had this sinking feeling that someone would text me with a problem, compelling me to fix it. I was mad at myself for feeling this way. Even though no one interrupted my vacation, the mere presence of my work bag haunted me. Work seemed to be begging me to "check in."

I'd love to tell you that, with all the boundaries and guardrails I have set up in my life, I'm able to avoid working during my downtime and vacation. But it's become harder. I used to venture into the woods without worrying about anyone reaching me. However, last year, as I was descending into the Grand Canyon, a parent tried to get in touch with me about a camp that wasn't for another four months (so much for ignoring the away message). Before the smartphone era, I could turn off my cell phone and shove it in a drawer. Now, I need it for GPS, paying for things, and communicating with everyone else who doesn't have a house phone. Disconnecting when you need to is a new challenge. When you are in ministry, it's essential to have those guardrails because people will want to ask you questions or inquire about your ministry at the oddest hours and most awkward moments.

While I'm not perfect at creating these boundaries, here's what has been working for me:


In my house and at work, there are places where my phone does not go. At home, the dinner table is the biggest phone-free zone. It's not in my pocket or next to the plate; it's in the next room. This time is precious for family, and I can't be distracted by an alert or text.

At work, no phones are out during meetings. I try to leave the phone on my desk or in my work bag. During these times, I want to focus solely on the agenda and ensure I'm listening to the team.

This principle extends to prayer and Mass time. I've been tempted to check the text messages buzzing during the liturgy, hoping it's not a surprise from a volunteer not showing up or a parent wanting to speak to me as soon as Mass is over. The truth is, I'm not trusting God. Putting our phones down to be present in any moment means trusting that God has us right where we need to be.


My work email does not go on my phone. Likewise, email is not always open on my desktop. I have designated times throughout the day for checking it. If I want someone to get something to me without falling into the inbox black hole, I have them share it through our cloud system.

I designate specific times during the day to check my messages. I avoid checking first thing in the morning because I want to accomplish at least one or two tasks, just in case an email sidetracks me. Similarly, it's not the last thing I do, to avoid being late getting home.

Figure out a time of day dedicated solely to going through emails. Read each one, delete those that are not relevant, reply to the important ones, and delegate the rest. Setting boundaries around when and how you access your emails ensures your inbox doesn't control you.


Ministry is not a 9-5 job; however, you don't need to be constantly available. If you prefer not to be bombarded, simply let people know when you are available. I tell people the best time to reach me is Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, from 8:30 am to 3 pm. They can send me an email at any time, but if they want to talk, they need to catch me during those times.

I also make sure my coworkers and teammates know when they can and can't disrupt me on my days off. If it's not important, they can email me (remember, it's not on my phone). If it's critically important, then a text message is appropriate.

Being available 24/7 is not realistic, but you can still be accessible by communicating specific hours. As long as people know when to reach you, they'll respect your time. If they don't, you have the opportunity to redirect those expectations.


There are people in my life who can ask, "How's it going?" and say, "You're doing too much." They are individuals I meet with regularly because they help me stay within boundaries and focus on what matters most. Having them around reminds me that I'm not alone.

To build accountability, start with a peer in ministry or someone you look up to for wisdom. Meet with them

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