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A Beautiful Mess!

 —  April 23, 2012 — 6 Comments

For years I pursued balance. I bought what I’d been taught: That a well balanced life, one where ministry, family, friendships and personal pursuits were each given the appropriate “healthy” space in our lives, was the key to less stress, more joy and more fulfillment.

And while I might agree with this in an ideal world, I’m less inclined to believe such balance is attainable in the real world in which I live. For a really good discussion on this topic, head over to my buddy, Marko’s, blog where he talks about the subject in a similar, though much more astute and wise, way!

I’ll keep my thoughts short, using pictures to help along the way (me likey pictures):

Below is a picture of what most of us believe our lives should look like: Each key area given fairly equal, well defined time and space. We use words like “balance”, “margin” etc. to help keep all the boxes their appropriate size. The intent (I think) for those of us in ministry is to help ensure the never-ending, high demand, high pace nature of church work doesn’t storm the castle walls of the other areas of our lives.

The problem, however, is that ministry ALWAYS storms the castle walls! Our lives most often look more like the picture below, and we find ourselves constantly trying to force ministry back to it’s proper space.

But, what if we embraced a different picture of our lives? What if we simply recognized that life is messy and doesn’t lend itself to boxes, balance and margin? What if we embraced the beautiful mess that seems to be the reality for most of us? Hurting parents call my cell phone on my day off. My son’s swim meets often take place during work hours. I sometimes take an extra day off (without telling the HR department) to surf or ride my dirt bike. I barely see my family for the entire week heading into summer camp, and take more time off to recover than my supervisor would approve. My point is that my life simply doesn’t fit into nifty little boxes. My life looks more like this picture:

Balanced? Not at first glance. But maybe over the long haul this results in, as Marko puts it, a sustainable approach to life.
Messy? Yes….but what a beautiful mess!

Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston


Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

6 responses to A Beautiful Mess!

  1. thank you for posting this. I haven’t read Marko’s blog post yet but I plan on it after this…just wanted to say i really enjoy that perspective on managing time and life in ministry and appreciate this post!

  2. So how do we communicate this reality to our church boards and supervisors. It seems like paid ministry is treated like a normal job by all the folks above me (numbered vacation days, hours counted, dress code) but very unlike any other job (unannounced visits by students, parents that are unconnected until they are upset, a congregation that is largely apathetic towards the work we do).

    I wouldn’t trade this job for anything, I love it, all the messy details. But I get frustrated when people talk about ministry like it’s any other job- when it is clearly not.

  3. nice, grasshopper. and, i assume you know that’s the name of my next book (though it’s not about balance)?

  4. Mike,
    I feel your pain, and I think the more traditional your church ministry structure, the tougher it is to truly live out this idea. Maybe it starts with baby steps….embracing the picture as more of a mindset than a day-to-day reality. Perhaps it becomes an image that helps you relieve the pressure of trying to keep things perfectly balanced.

    And, feel free to share the images with leadership at your church if the opportunity arises.

  5. Marko….I totally forgot about that being the title of your new book! And, I think it fits the subject of your new book as well, if not better, than the topic of balance.

    And since you didn’t mention it, I will: Marko has a great new book coming out soon that looks at what’s right in youth ministry, what’s still wrong with it and why it is such a beautiful, messy thing to give our lives to.

  6. Great stuff! I feel like I’ve tried to live in nice little boxes for far too long, and your picture of the messy life seems to work well for me. There are times that ministry does become the main thing, but there are other times when I am able to sneak away early to do thing with my wife and kids. One of the things that I’ve been doing a lot lately too is taking my kids along with me to some of our students events. They get to spend time with dad and the “big kids”, and the students get to see us at their activities. It really is a “beautiful mess”!

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