Ministry Needs Margin

For most of my life, I’ve done a terrible job of creating margin. I feel like the last person on the planet who should be writing on the subject. But I guess I have made some progress because I have figured out how to make time to write this blog! I would love to share part of what God has been teaching me about margin and its connection to ministry.

Maybe you can relate to some of my past issues with margin:

  • I found myself thinking that those who needed time to rest, take naps, or care for themselves in some way were weak, lazy and less spiritual.
  • I generally underestimated the amount of time it was going to take me to do a task. For example, I thought I could make a quick Costco run and still make it to my appointment on time, knowing fully there is no such thing as a “quick” trip to Costco.
  • I often found myself feeling like I was behind schedule and out of time before I got out of bed. My commitments and my task list were unrealistic for one day.

Until recently, there was very little incentive to make room for margin in my life because, the way I saw it, I had more important things to do. There were way too many pressing needs in the world for me to take time to evaluate the overload in my life.

But I started to see how my lack of margin was impacting my husband, my kids, and even limiting my ability to hear from Jesus. I saw that my ability to follow up with a guest I had connected with on Sunday or a friend going through a crisis was being compromised.

Then, my dear friend and mentor, Alicia Chole, invited me to read a book called Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson, and things started to change. According to Dr. Swenson, “Margin” isn’t for lazy people or weak people. It is a reserve of energy built into our lives that we save up for crises, the unexpected, or the opportunity to go the “extra mile.” These are things that present themselves frequently in ministry. When I thought about it this way, I realized I wasn’t being super spiritual by ignoring margin. I was being irresponsible.

Author Dallas Willard asserts that hurry is the enemy of spirituality and intimacy. I agree. If I am hurried and harried, it is difficult to be close, to listen, and to respond (not just react). I began to see the connection in my life with margin and intimacy—intimacy with Jesus, my family and those I am called to serve.

At Christ Fellowship, we believe that full things fill things. We know that we cannot give what we don’t have. Living in chronic overload is not the full life that God intends for us in John 10:10. Being full of God’s love is not in conflict with or opposed to margin; they are connected realities.

It hasn’t been easy. I began to study Jesus’ life, His pace and His words. I began to see that every time I said “yes” to one thing, it meant I was saying “no” to another. I had to learn to say “no.” And I’m learning to abandon my guilt for having limits, for needing to say “no,” for admitting I can’t do everything. I’m learning to believe that margin isn’t laziness. Margin actually makes being ‘full’ a possibility.

Following up with people, connecting the disconnected and listening to each other takes time and space. To do ministry and life well, it will take us continuing to cultivate margin in our lives.