Work is a gift, and work ethic resides in men and women of character, but in our idolatry, we can easily make work our god. Pastors have warned me, “Ministry can be a great place to hide out and a great place to burn out.” Ministry can be a haven for the workaholic. In most jobs overwork feels sinful and neglectful, but when serving in ministry, overwork can wrongly feel holy. Ministry can attract workaholics, those who find their worth in their work and can’t walk away from it, and give them a reason to justify their addiction. The strokes and accolades that come to ministry workaholics can add fuel to the addiction.
So how can we fight workaholism in ministry? Because I love the roles I have served in and the people I have been honored to serve alongside, I have experience fighting the temptation to be a ministry workaholic. Here are four ways to engage in that fight:
1. Look at your kids.
Go into your kids’ rooms while they are sleeping, look at them, and pray over them. While you are there, ask yourself if the project you are trying to accomplish will be there for you in ten years. Ask yourself who will most remember the disappointment of not having your time—the people you are so concerned about disappointing or your kids.
2. Listen to those who have lived before you.
A few years ago, a man twenty years my senior invited me to come speak at an event. It would have been a few days from home and I wanted to do it, but I confessed I was struggling with which events to take because I had such a strong pull to tuck my kids in bed at night. Instead of declining, I asked his advice. I will not forget the reaction of this godly man. As his eyes welled up with tears, he recounted a time when he disappointed his young daughter with an engagement that required travel. He said, “Stay home.” Those who have walked before us can help us evaluate what is most important in the long run.
3. Love your spouse more than your ministry.
Many ministry leaders make their ministry their mistress. The Lord is the One to build His Church, not us. We give a horrible example to our ministries if we value them more than our marriages.
4. Return to Jesus. Continually.
The pain in the heart of the ministry workaholic is a longing for affirmation or a longing to accomplish and succeed—to prove himself/herself. You cannot talk yourself out of that pattern. Instead, return to Jesus and receive His approval of you, His affirmation of you. Because of Christ, you are His son or His daughter, and He is well pleased with you.