Finding Balance



Balance in ministry results from pursuing the right goals, and finding a pathway to balance those goals. The first step requires identifying life issue goals. The second step requires identifing work issue goals. To find the pathway toward balancing the goals, we invite you to implement the following eight-step research-proven process. However, make sure that you have completed the process of developing your life issue goals and work issue goals before trying to implement the following eight-step process. The process will seem impossible without concretely defined goals in hand.

  1. Reduce conflict between your goals.
  2. Revise the goals that make you unhappy.
  3. Refine your goals to promote emotional health.
  4. Build two or more pathways toward each goal.
  5. Build faith toward your goals.
  6. Make goals and strivings realistic but just manageable.
  7. Identify dual-purpose activities.
  8. Look toward God to confirm your goals.

Reduce conflict between your goals

The development of well-defined goals doesn’t necessarily mean that you can accomplish them. Sometimes our goals conflict with each other. Emmons (1999, 75) found that when our personal goals conflict with each other, the goal conflict can drive us into burnout and depression. Emmons found that this aspect of goal development affects well-being more than any other characteristic about goals (Ibid., 60).

Emmons, Cheung, and Tehrani (1998) show that “spirituality fosters optimal health through a reduction of overall conflict [between goals].”

Goal conflict is defined as a situation in which the attainment of one goal interferes with the attainment of a second goal. Whenever our goals conflict with each other, we usually fail to accomplish either one. Snyder (2000, 113) states, “…the aim of psychotherapy is to remove these goal-blockages (and enhance hope) by increasing agency and providing effective pathways to desired goals.”

An Example of a Minister’s Daily Strivings

  1. Spend quiet time with God.
  2. Spend quality time with spouse.
  3. Maintain a clean home.
  4. Appear well-groomed.
  5. Eat a healthy diet.
  6. Exercise regularly.
  7. Plan times of rest.
  8. Plan for financial independence.
  9. Care for my extended family.
  10. Express appreciation to family and friends.
  11. Find time to be alone.
  12. Find time to study and learn.
  13. Minister to others.

Ministers often face at least three goal conflicts unique to their occupation:

1. A minister may find a significant conflict between his or her ministry goals (such as sample strivings 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, above) and those that the extended family wishes him or her to adopt (such as striving number 9). More than other members of their immediate family, a minister is often viewed as the spiritual, emotional, and financial savior of their extended relatives. Since the minister preserves stable religious values, stable ethical values, and has learned interpersonal skills that enable him or her to deal with ambiguous situations, the extended family may eventually recognize the value of the minister, and rely on him or her to resolve their problems. Almost every minister eventually experiences this particular goal conflict.

Thus, conflicting goals and strivings often arise when family members insist on elevating the minister into a role as a family leader. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with assuming the role as head of the extended family, the minister needs to make sure that he or she feels willing to pay the price financially, emotionally, and physically. Most ministers retain a very limited amount of energy and time available after pursuing their calling and caring for their immediate family. The extended family may easily assume that the minister wants to meet all of their personal needs. After all, he or she possesses the Fruit of the Spirit including kindness and compassion, right? So, they sometimes assume that the minister wants to meet the needs of the extended family even more than pursuit of ministry. Without strong personal boundaries, a minister may find that their personal and ministry goals conflict with goals to help the extended family. And when these goals conflict with each other and the conflict goes unresolved, the minister’s personal and ministry goals rarely get accomplished.

In North America, almost everyone has access to Medicare and Social Security. I frequently hear a minister say, “If I don’t care for my extended relatives, no one is there to do it.” Usually, this represents a gross overstatement.  Insurance, Medicare, Social Security, churches and community resources provide assistance to most of our relatives. Extended family members can sometimes offer care. Regardless, other sources almost always exist to provide care besides the minister. Nursing a chronic medical condition fatigues the best of care givers and can quickly undo your calling. Help your immediate family members find resources appropriate to their budget. However, guard yourself and your divine calling against those with goals which would conflict with your calling.

Conflicting goals may also arise when family members insist on becoming enmeshed in the minister’s life. As parents and children become less able to care for themselves due to age, illness, disability, or personal crises, they may latch onto the minister, assuming that he or she feels duty-bound to care for them and meet their emotional and social needs. Indeed, most ministers really want to care for family members, especially for aging parents or struggling children. However, it is usually unwise to enmesh your life into someone else’s life, much less the life of someone who needs chronic care. Many ministers deal with intense guilt over trying to retain personal space, time, and a debt-free lifestyle while caring for parents or children. Sometimes, the parents or children would like to ignore the minister’s personal goals and boundaries, and sometimes the minister simply wants to offer care for them. Thus, an intense conflict develops between one’s goal to care for relatives, and goals to maintain personal space, spiritual interests, and a calling into ministry.

2. Conflicting goals invariably arise when ministers send children away for an advanced education (such as college). Many children seem unprepared for independence. Regardless, minister parents still want to help their children. Thus, ministerial goals inevitably conflict with personal goals to nurture their children, especially as their children mature into college age adults. My (Nathan’s) mother experienced her deepest depression after I returned to the United States, alone, for college. She recognized her 18 year old son’s immaturity. The conflict between her goals seemed almost too much to bear. For parents who want to give up during this time, I want to point out that their feelings are normal. In many countries, an 18 year old child possesses the legal freedom of choice. Therefore, they invariably make good and bad choices regardless the proximity of their parents. Minister parents who blame themselves for their adult children’s poor choices accept inappropriate blame. Minister parents share none of the blame when their adult children fail to seek their advice. With modern technology, wise parental advice remains only an e-mail or Skype call away. For myself, technology could not provide access to parental advice. However, I found surrogates who offered wise council. Hundreds of Christian parents will gladly offer wise council to any “preacher kid” (PK) or “missionary kid” (MK) who seeks it. The choice remains with each adult child, not the parent.

Differentiation from one’s family of origin remains a hallmark of emotional maturity. If your goal to care for relatives and children conflicts with your personal or ministerial goals, carefully brainstorm and discuss the many options that preserve your personal space and goals even while helping your relatives and children. Enmeshment rarely offers a healthy option. Endeavor to maintain physical and emotional privacy even while caring for others. Without physical and emotional privacy, you risk burnout and depression. Once depressed, you cannot care for others.

3. Conflicting goals invariably arise when PKs and MKs choose to reject God. Every minister wants their children to know God—a primary personal goal. When an adult PK rejects God, an intense conflict arises between personal and ministry goals. The minister wants to spend every resource available to minister to his or her child. Meanwhile, the local church also needs the time and attention of the minister. Almost every minister eventually faces this conflict, and it sometimes leads to ambivalent ministry and even attrition.

When a PK rejects God, most minister parents tend to blame themselves. However, the child retains a free will, and so parental self-blame represents inappropriate blame.

Most parents want to keep influencing their adult (eighteen year old) child. If their PK learned healthy differentiation, then their decision to accept or reject God results from a personal choice, independent from their parents. The parent can continue his or her calling knowing that the Holy Spirit will keep pursuing the PK in ways which the parent cannot understand.

I (Nathan) and my sister each rejected God by the time that we reached the age of eighteen. However, the Holy Spirit continued to pursue us. Today, we both feel proud that our parents remained in ministry.

Reflection: Please compare each of your goals to your other goals.

  • Which of your goals might conflict with another?
  • After identifying goal conflicts, brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate conflicts. For instance, exercising regularly might conflict with maintaining a clean home since each activity requires time. One enterprising individual eliminated the conflict by cleaning the home while jazzercising to some lively music. Another individual found that spending time with her spouse conflicted with finding time to learn oil painting. However, she eliminated the conflict when she enlisted her husband in a class to learn their new hobby together.
  • What are some potential ways that you can reduce conflicts between your goals?


Revise the goals that make you unhappy

These are goals or strivings that, if you are successful, make you unhappy. For instance, you may want to pursue a goal to exercise one hour each day. However, if you hate physical exercise, you may feel unhappy if you succeed at accomplishing that particular goal. Similarly, you may want to pursue a goal to eat a healthy diet. However, if you hate vegetables, you may feel unhappy at the prospect of a diet that includes vegetables.

Reflection: Identify the goals that you never seem to complete. That is, do you seem to procrastinate about completing any particular goal? Refect for a moment if any of them possess a feature that could make you unhappy.


Brainstorm ways to make the goal, or activity, more enjoyable (e.g., if you hate to exercise, try doing it with a close friend; if you hate vegetables, get a new cookbook with interesting vegetable recipes). As a general rule, most individuals fail to retain goals very long if the goals create unhappiness. You will achieve your goals much more easily if you identify ways to make the activities enjoyable. How can you revise your goals to make them more enjoyable?

Refine your goals to enhance emotional health

Some types of goals remain emotionally unhealthy and simulate apathy, burnout, and even depression. Snyder (2000) offers the following research-proven guidelines to refine your goals.

  1. State each of your goals in a focused, precise way. It is difficult to develop step-by-step plans toward vague goals. For instance:

Vague: “I want to serve as a minister.”

Focused: “I want to teach (a particular subject) in (a Bible School), in Kenya.”

Similarly, many ministers aspire to the lofty goals of 1 Thessalonians 5, but never state them in a focused way. As we state the goals precisely, we can then develop step-by-step plans toward them.

Reflection: Looking at your goals, which goals can you now refine into a more focused and precise goal?


2. State your goals using positive terms instead of negative terms. Negative goals seldom produce positive results. For instance:

Negative: “I want to argue less with other ministers and church members.” You can achieve this by ceasing all communication with your peers. However, this approach fails to produce good communication and kills relationships.

Positive: “I want to develop better communication skills with my peers.”

Reflection: How can you revise your goals and state them in positive terms?


3. Develop approach goals instead of avoidance goals. Avoidance goals seldom result in the intended benefit. For instance:

Avoidance: “I want to avoid unhealthy foods.” Although one may avoid fatty bacon and candy bars, the resultant diet may also avoid fruits and vegetables. A diet based on avoidance may still remain quite unhealthy.

Approach: “I want a balanced and healthy diet for each meal.”

Reflection: How can you revise your goals as approach goals?


4. Develop intrinsic goals instead of extrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals are based on your internal values, shaped by God. Therefore, intrinsic goals usually energize you. Extrinsic goals seem more like obligations, and are based on someone else’s values. For instance:

Extrinsic goal: “I will clean the office toilets because I am obligated to do whatever my supervisor tells me to do.”

Intrinsic goal: “I want do this task because I am dedicated to becoming a servant like Christ. I am dedicated to tasks of service because I want to become more like Christ.”

Reflection: Which goals can you refine as intrinsic goals rather than extrinsic?


5. Develop high value goals—ones that benefit the majority of individuals over the few or yourself. High value goals benefit the majority of individuals, or, better yet, develop your skills so that you can benefit others. Most individuals feel energized when they perceive a broad benefit to their goals.

Reflection: How can you revise your goals to represent higher value goals?


Build two or more pathways toward each goal

Faith in a goal is defined as the belief that a goal remains attainable coupled with the energy to pursue one or more pathways toward that goal. James seems to agree, “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (James 2:20, NIV)

As expected, multiple pathways toward a goal usually generate more faith than a single pathway. That is, a higher likelihood exists that something might block a single pathway than two or more pathways. Thus, multiple pathways enhance faith by ensuring that the goal can be reached even though something or someone blocks a single pathway.

Frustration and apathy result when our goals seem firmly blocked (Snyder, 2000, 139). If someone feels apathetic, the person’s apathy often results from blocked goals. Examine what blocks your goals. For instance, the apathetic “pew-sitter” usually retains one or more firmly blocked goals. With their goals blocked, they retain no reason to keep trying—apathy sets in. When apathy continues long enough, they give up all goals and not even recall his or her original goals, much less what blocked them. Sometimes this is called “learned helplessness.”

Almost all pew sitters (and ministers) at some time in the past energetically pursued a ministry. As others differed with their service and blocked one or more of their goals, apathy set in. Thus, most individuals can benefit from building two or more pathways to each goal. If something or someone blocks one pathway, they can shift horizontally to implement an alternative pathway. And when we differ with a coworker, we can usually preserve their motivation more by helping them develop an alternative pathway instead of blocking their existing pathway.

Reflection: How have you noticed this principle working in your past, or in the past of another minister? Do you know ministers who have switched to a different ministry, changed ministry, or even quit ministry because their sole pathway to a goal was firmly blocked?


Many individuals report that they find it difficult to develop multiple pathways toward each goal. Some individuals report that this seems easier if they imagine watching themselves in a movie, performing the steps and sequence of events needed to accomplish each goal. To develop multiple pathways, imagine alternative ways to the same theme as if you were watching a movie. Consider making the pathways as concrete as possible—“the more specific the goals, the more likely they are to be attained”, and “the clearer the steps are to a goal, the greater the likelihood of success (Snyder, 2000, 139).”

Snyder suggests the following checklist (shown with permission) for developing multiple pathways toward each of your goals (Ibid., 140):

Break each long-range goal into steps or sub-goals.
Begin your pursuit of a distant goal by concentrating on the first sub-goal.
Practice making different routes to your goals and select the best one.
In your mind, rehearse what you will need to do to attain your goal.
Mentally rehearse scripts for what you would do should you encounter a blockage.
Assume that you didn’t use a workable strategy when you don’t reach a goal, rather than harshly blaming yourself.
If you need a new skill to reach your goal, learn it.
Cultivate two-way friendships where you can give and get advice.
Be willing to ask for help when you don’t know how to get to a desired goal.

Reflection: Consider how goal blockage affected your apathy in the past. Which of your current goals are most easily blocked? What is an alternative pathway toward each of your ministry goals?


Build faith toward your goals

Hope grows from three factors:

  1. Multiple healthy goals (goals in each of the nine domains of personal and relationship goals).
  2. Multiple pathways to accomplish each goal.
  3. Faith—a belief that one can initiate and sustain the pathways, and energy to do so. For Christians, faith grows as we team with others, including God, and as we trust God to provide energy and resources.


Reflection: How will you develop a team of God and others to accomplish each of your God-given goals?



To whom will you be accountable to pursue the pathways?


For a Christian, faith building starts with dependence on God. Trust is most effectively built as we “look for hopeful stories” (Ibid., 140). Almost nothing increases faith more effectively than the testimonies of other Christians telling about God helping them through their time of difficulty.

Snyder (Ibid., 141) also suggests the following checklist (modified for ministers) for initiating and sustaining each pathway:

Tell yourself that you have chosen the goal, so it is your job to go after it. For a Christian, God probably chooses your goals, but you still retain the choice to accept it. Once you accept the goal that God lays on your heart, it is your job to pursue it.
Learn to talk to yourself in positive voices (e.g., I can do this! God will help me succeed).
Anticipate roadblocks that may happen.
Think of problems as challenges that arouse you. Go to God with your challenges—Don’t let the challenges get the best of a goal that is God ordained.
Recall your previous successful goal pursuits, particularly when you were in a jam.
Laugh at yourself, especially if you encounter some impediment to your goal pursuits.
Find a substitute goal when the original goal is blocked solidly.
Enjoy the process of getting to your goals and do not focus only on the final attainment.
Focus on your physical health, including diet, sleep, physical exercise, and avoiding damaging substances (caffeine-laden products, alcohol).
Closely observe how God is working in your local world, including the little things happening all around you.

Make sure that your goals and strivings are realistic and just manageable

Due to crises or any number of physical or political problems, some previously held goals may no longer seem possible. If you can no longer accomplish your previous goals, substitute alternative goals. Continuing to pursue totally unreachable goals will merely cause a negative outlook on life. If you find that a goal is firmly blocked, adjust by finding an alternative goal. It is appropriate to grieve lost goals. It is also appropriate to move on to alternative ones.

If you are physically unable to accomplish a particular goal, is there someone else with whom you can team? Please discuss your goals with your leadership, with those whom you love, and with those who can function as mentors. Obtain ideas from as many sources as you can find.

Snyder (Ibid., 216) recommends setting goals that are just barely manageable. These goals tend to be the most rewarding because they “stretch” the individual to develop new skills and relationships. If you are unable to accomplish a particular goal, such as running a mile, substitute another goal that is just barely manageable, such as walking a mile.

Reflection: Consider the following to make your goals just manageable:

  • If you develop a physical handicap, are you physically and emotionally unable to accomplish a goal, or can you team with someone else?
  • If you are redefining your ministry role (such as transitioning to a new assignment), is each goal in line with your calling?
  • Will you retain enough control to ensure that you can accomplish each new goal? What are some potential pathways to gain the needed control?
  • How will you develop a team to help you reach each goal, or how can you join an existing team who shares the goal?

Identify dual-purpose activities

Most ministers pursue more goals than they can possibly reach in a 24 hour day. By the time that anyone identifies all their life-issue goals and all their work-issue goals, they usually have enough goals to fill a 50 hour day. Thus, dual-purpose activities provide one of the few tools that enable ministers to reach their numerous goals. Dual-purpose activities are those that enable an individual to pursue two or more goals through a single activity. For instance, if you engage in daily physical exercise with a friend or spouse, you might simultaneously reach your goals for health and fitness while also reaching your goals for a closer relationship. Alternatively, if you and a friend jointly pursue an academic goal together, you might simultaneously build a stronger relationship while achieving your academic goal. Can you identify some other ways that a single activity could serve your goals in two or more domains? Generally, most ministers cannot find enough time in a 24-hour day to accomplish their goals across all twelve domains unless they identify dual-purpose activities. Find and develop as many dual-purpose activities as possible. Otherwise, you probably will not have enough time to accomplish all your goals, and you may set yourself up for failure.

Reflection: What potential dual-purpose activities can you pursue that accomplish two or more goals at once?



Look toward God to confirm your goals

Reflection: How has God started confirming (through open doors, Scripture, answered prayer, other individuals, etc.) your goals?


Closing thoughts:

Emmons shows that we obtain more pleasure from making progress toward our goals than we do from achieving them. Pursuing the strivings related to our divine call provides more than happiness. It provides joy.

May God bless you as you intentionally refine your goals and pursue strivings related to your call.

Has this exercise helped you balance your goals? If so, please let us know by leaving some comments.


Emmons, R.A. The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns. New York: Guilford Press, 1999.

Emmons, R.A., Cheung, C., & Tehrani, K. (1998). Assessing spirituality through personal goals: Implications for research on religion and subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 45, 391-422.

Snyder, C. R. Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, & Applications. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2000.

© 2013 Nathan Davis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>