Work & Rest: A Theological Response to Workaholism
The theological response of Jesus as the solution to workaholism lies in his role as the embodiment of the Sabbath, offering rest, renewal, and a right understanding of human flourishing in the area of work and stewardship as it relates to the cultural mandate found in the Scriptures. By looking to biblical wisdom, we can balance a right balance in our work in ministry.
Recognizing the Importance of Boundaries
In the fast-paced world we live in, where demands and expectations seem endless, it can be challenging to strike a balance between our ministry responsibilities and our marriage. As pastors, we are called to serve and support our congregation, to pour ourselves into God's work, and bring His love to those who need it most. However, in doing so, we often find ourselves neglecting our own well-being and the health of our marriages.
It is crucial for us to recognize the significance of setting boundaries both in ministry and marriage. Boundaries act as safeguards, protecting our physical, emotional, and spiritual health, while also preserving the longevity of our relationships and the impact of our ministry.
When we fail to establish boundaries, we risk falling into the treacherous trap of workaholism. As pastors, it is easy for ministry to consume every waking moment of our lives. The relentless demands and expectations can lead us to neglect other essential aspects, particularly our marriage. However, we must remember that a healthy marriage is a foundation for effective ministry.
Furthermore, recognizing boundaries means acknowledging the limitations of our roles as pastors. We are called to serve, but we are not meant to do it all. Delegating tasks and responsibilities within our ministry team can help alleviate some of the pressure and create room for personal and familial fulfillment.
In order to establish healthy boundaries, it is essential to assess our priorities and reassess them regularly. Continually evaluating our commitments and adjusting our schedules enables us to stay aligned with our values and prevent burnout. It is crucial to remember that our marriage is a sacred covenant that requires constant attention and nurturing. It can be appreciated the term that Albert Mohler coined. Theological Triage: is essentially a system of prioritization. It is often used in medical contexts. For instance, if you are a doctor on the battlefield, you cannot treat every wounded soldier simultaneously, so you must develop a process to determine which injuries you treat first.1-2
This idea of triage should be something that we can integrate into how we prioritize the work that needs done in ministry. As we prioritize, we can more effectively carry out the work and/or appropriately delegate to those that are equipped to address the need. Part of the role of the pastor is to equip the members of their congregation to help carry the weight of ministry. The church should be a place of healing and we should be able to do more for hurting people than merely give them a counseling referral to a licensed professional or add another morsel to the plate of the busy pastor. The pastor should prioritize the work of equipping the saints to bear one another's' burdens in order to protect the longevity of their ministry.
Strategies for Establishing Healthy Work-Life Integration in Ministry
1. Prioritize Self-Care: Differentiate the difference between self-care and self-worship. One of the crucial strategies for establishing a healthy work-life integration in ministry is to prioritize self-care. As pastors, we often tend to prioritize the needs of others above our own, which can lead to burnout and strained relationships. Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish but necessary to maintain your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Set aside regular time for rest, relaxation, and hobbies that bring you joy. This will not only recharge your energy but also enable you to be more present and effective in both your ministry and marriage. Dr. Tim Elmore writes of this idea in his Habitudes series. He paints the picture of a starving baker. The baker in this illustration works and works to feed everyone but himself. He has the resources and ingredients right in front of him, yet every one else receives bread but him.3
2. Embrace Effective Time Management: Work-life integration in ministry requires efficient time management skills. Begin by setting clear and realistic goals for both your ministry and marriage. Set aside specific blocks of time for different aspects of your life, ensuring that you allocate sufficient time for both ministry responsibilities and quality time with your spouse. Learn to delegate tasks and seek support from your team or congregation when needed. By managing your time effectively, you can strike a better balance between your ministerial duties and personal life.
3. Set Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries is vital in maintaining a healthy work-life integration in ministry. Communicate openly with your spouse about your commitments, time availability, and expectations. Define specific times or days in a week dedicated solely to your marriage, where ministry-related interruptions are avoided unless absolutely necessary. Additionally, establish boundaries with your congregation and colleagues, helping them understand and respect your personal and family time. Healthy boundaries will not only protect your marriage but also enhance your overall effectiveness in ministry.
4. Create Intentional Space for Communication: A thriving marriage requires open and regular communication. Amidst the demands of ministry, it is essential to create intentional space for meaningful conversations with your spouse. Set aside designated times to listen, share, and connect with each other. This could be through daily check-ins, weekly date nights, or regular retreats. By making communication a priority, you can foster a deeper understanding, strengthen your bond, and navigate the challenges of ministry together as a team.
5. Seek Support and Accountability: Recognize that you cannot do it all on your own. Surround yourself with a supportive network of mentors, fellow pastors, or trusted friends who understand the unique challenges and demands of ministry. Share your struggles, seek wise counsel, and be open to accountability. Having people who can offer guidance and support will not only alleviate the burden but also provide fresh perspectives and insights.
Remember, creating a healthy work-life integration in ministry requires intentionality and continual evaluation. It is an ongoing journey of seeking balance and making adjustments as necessary. By implementing these strategies, you can nurture both your marriage and ministry, finding fulfillment and longevity in your calling.
A Cultural Example
A stifling example of a poor balanced life can be found in the Japanese work culture called “Karoshi”. In recent years Japan’s grueling work culture is again under the spotlight after the death of a journalist at Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) due to overwork.
The man, who was in his 40s, died from what is termed “karoshi” in October 2019, according to NHK officials at a Sept. 2 news conference. He headed a team of reporters covering the Tokyo metropolitan government.
NHK officials said that in the five months before his death, the reporter put in overtime in excess of the threshold for determining karoshi. The threshold is either 100 hours overtime a month or 80 hours overtime on average over the previous two to six months.
The man was found dead at home by family members.
In the month before his death, the man clocked up about 74 hours of overtime, but the five-month average came to 92 hours.4
A Biblical Response
How relatable is this story in the context of our busyness in ministry? This happens when our purpose, identity, and work-related worth is found only in the work that we put out.
We can appreciate that we are, as believers in Christ, both temporal, physical beings, as well as, spiritual. The interconnectivity of the physical and the spiritual means that the health of the body affects the health of the soul and vice versa, and it’s not always easy to figure out the contribution of each to our problems! But we cannot neglect one realm and expect the other not to suffer the consequences (Prov. 17:22; Ps. 32:3–4).5
We must therefore follow Jesus out of a works based approach for our fulfillment and identity, and follow him into right balance of rest and work according to the creation mandate given to us from the Almighty. That cultural mandate in the context of the New Testament being: 6
The Sabbath as a Model for Rest and Balance
The Sabbath, as portrayed in the Scriptures, serves as a significant model for rest and balance in the midst of workaholism. Jesus, being the embodiment of the Sabbath, offers profound insights into the importance of rest and renewal, which are crucial elements for achieving human flourishing in the realm of work and stewardship. Jesus is indeed the Sabbath rest in which we find we lack nothing.
Now, the concept of the Sabbath originates from the creation narrative in the book of Genesis. In the account of creation, God rested on the seventh day, setting it apart as a day of rest and worship (Genesis 2:2-3). This act of rest was not due to weariness or exhaustion on God's part but served as a model for human beings to follow. By observing the Sabbath, individuals are able to find rest from their labor, renew their physical and spiritual energies, and gain a proper perspective on the purpose of work. The Church today must, however, not implant the idea of Sabbath as it relates to Levitical Law. That is something we tend to do when it comes to certain commands and promises from the Old Testament. We hear a theological kind of phrase, promise, or command and “hyperlink” that idea into something that we should do out of a posture that can easily lead to a form of legalism. What should be understood here is that the Sabbath rest we truly seek is in Jesus Christ as he is the fulfillment of the Law and therefore our justification. But, even with that in mind, we must have a right balance in what we are indeed called to.
In Jesus' ministry, he consistently emphasized the significance of rest and renewal in the lives of his followers. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus invites all who are weary and burdened to come to him and find rest. This invitation encompasses not only physical rest but also emotional, mental, and spiritual rejuvenation. Jesus understood the human tendency to become consumed by work and the need for intentional pauses to regain balance and strength. He demonstrated this by withdrawing from the demands of ministry and seeking solitude and communion with God (Mark 1:35). What is interesting in this passage is that there is still a yoke and burden upon the believe, yet it is one that is spiritually tied to the ability and authority of Jesus. I appreciate what Paul David Tripp say in his video series about parenting. “You are never left to your little package of resources because your savior has invaded your life with his grace.”7 Whether it's raising your children, ministering to the church community, providing counsel to the hurting, you are not left to your own to handle that. You have a Helper as John 14 states. You also have at your disposal the wisdom of the Word of God and even the community of believers around you to help carry out the task of ministry.
Jesus is indeed our model and place of rest in our constant battle for balance in the face of workaholism. The significant work in which we are partakers of is a matter of stewardship. If we are not rightly finding our rest in Christ, we run the risk of not stewarding things well and driving our lives, health, marriages, and ministries into the ground. If you are to find any flourishing in ministry or fulfillment in life, realize and recognize that the work of ministry is ultimately to honor God and serve one another. Workaholism has a solution in Jesus. He provides rest. He provides renewal. He provides wisdom. He provides strength.
1. Ortlund, Gavin. "Finding the Right Hills to Die On" ( Crossway 2020). Kindle Edition.
2. Mohler, Albert. "The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness" (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2009), 1-8.
3. Elmore, Tim. The Art of Self-Leadership [Faith-Based] (Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitude).
4. THE ASAHI SHIMBUN. September 3, 2022 at 15:07 JST. https://www.asahi.com
5. Murray, David. Reset (p. 37). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
6. Edgar, William, "The Cultural Mandate in the New Testament" (lecture, Westminster, Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA, August 2023).
7. Tripp, Paul David. "Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family". (Crossway 2016). Kindle Edition.
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