The future is in God’s hands, not yours…. Try only to make use of each day; each day brings its own good and evil, and sometimes what seems evil becomes good if we leave it to God…
—François Fenelon (seventeenth-century cleric)
The first step in finding work-life balance is to change our thinking. Our culture infuses us with deep and powerful values about the importance of constant work and activity that can lead to imbalance. As we’ve seen, the beliefs of many Christians, particularly those ideas rooted in the teachings of John Calvin, contribute to the problem. Yet there are other Christian beliefs, including many other teachings of Calvin, that can help us achieve better balance. Changing our thinking and reconnecting to these values can make the difference.
Although religion is part of the problem, it can be part of the solution. The Hebrew word for “work,” avodah, comes from the same root as the word for “servant.” If God calls congregational leaders to lives of service following the example of Jesus Christ, then seeking work-life balance does more than relieve our personal stress. It enables us to serve others as a way of honoring our relationship with God. I have found that the attitudes and actions of servanthood make me, and others I have worked with, feel more balanced. Moreover, when congregational leaders seek to honor God in this way, we can better understand the challenges faced by our congregants, particularly families with young children, and can guide our congregations to schedule programs at times that take into account the many demands on the time of church members. We can offer adult education classes on balance, and encourage our congregations to be more involved in changing national policies to promote balance.
Changing our thinking means developing attitudes to maintain a balance between using the gifts God has given us to work and care for children and family members on one hand and making space for activities and rest that help us rejuvenate on the other hand. I have found that my attitudes towards balance have been positively influenced by values and beliefs about four key concepts—stewardship, sanctification, self-care, and Sabbath—that have been shaped by my Reformed tradition.
John Calvin was concerned about idolatry—the tendency of humans to worship idols instead of God. Calvin believed God had revealed the severity of the sin of idolatry by making it the second of the Ten Commandments of the Hebrew Bible: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Calvin confessed that he was guilty of idolatry and wrote about the idolatry of the images he saw within the churches of his day. Calvin believed people should be engaged in the world, but warned of the danger of worshiping the human use of God’s gifts. Christians should worship God, Calvin urged, not human works.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church uses the Latin word accidie to describe “a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray.” 1 Today, we use the word sloth (one of the seven deadly sins) to describe this state. Calvin was concerned about the tendency of some humans to ignore or waste God’s gifts rather than following God’s call to be involved in the world. When a friend asked Calvin if he would slow down and stop working so hard, Calvin responded, “What! Would you have the Lord find me idle when He comes?” 2 Given his concerns about both idolatry and idleness, it is ironic that Calvin married a woman named Idelette. John Calvin and Idelette de Bure Storder had no surviving children and their home life was marked by Calvin’s very long working hours.
Between the two extremes of idolatry and idleness lies a balance. We should seek to use the gifts God has given us without worshiping those gifts or our use of them. That approach can lead to healthy balance in life.
As I’ve considered how my Christian heritage can support better balance, I have found four principles based on the four key theological concepts referenced earlier in this chapter, to be particularly valuable in seeking work-life balance: (1) Sometimes saying no is the right thing to do. (2) We should make rest a high priority. (3) We need to rethink what we mean by balance. (4) Living with balance requires that we be intentional about our use of time. We’ll explore each of these ideas in this chapter. After we’ve thought about the ways our attitudes must change, the next step is to develop practices that can turn our mindset into healthy habits for living. In chapter 5, we’ll explore how each of these attitudes can lead to specific habits or practices that can help us experience more balance in life.
- E. A. Livingstone, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 4.
- “The Life and Times of John Calvin,” www.ChristianityToday.com, October 1, 1986.
Adapted from Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Life by David Edman Gray, copyright © 2012 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
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Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Life
by David Edman Gray
In Governance and Ministry, Alban Institute senior consultant Dan Hotchkiss offers congregational leaders a roadmap and tools for changing the way boards and clergy work together to lead congregations. Hotchkiss demonstrates that the right governance model is the one that best enables a congregation to fulfill its mission—to achieve both the outward results and the inward quality of life to which it is called.
Gifts of an Uncommon Life: The Practice of Contemplative Activism
by Howard E. Friend
This book of ten essays is a breath of fresh air, a source of inspiration, a wake-up call, and a bold challenge for pastors, congregational leaders, and church members—both active and lapsed—who long for a new perspective, even a touch of creative irreverence. Howard Friend offers forthright, at times disarming, candor as he shares his personal pilgrimage of activism rooted in contemplation .
Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation
by Carol Howard Merritt
Much has been written about the changing landscape the church finds itself in and even more about the church’s waning influence in our culture. From her vantage point as an under-40 pastor, Carol Howard Merritt, author of Tribal Church, moves away from the handwringing toward a discovery of what ministry in, with, and by a new generation might look like .
In God’s Presence: Encountering, Experiencing, and Embracing the Holy in Worship
by N. Graham Standish
Vibrant worship services, argues creative and provocative author Graham Standish, are those in which the congregation obviously asks questions such as: Does our worship help people experience God? Does our worship open people to the presence of Christ? Does our worship encourage people to become available to the Holy Spirit? This book is about how to open people to an encounter with the Holy in worship, how to follow God in this pursuit, and how to lead those who have no interest in the Holy.
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