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Six Steps to Building Margin in Your Life

Too many church leaders serve out of exhaustion. But leaders need margin. It’s crucial for healthy ministries.

In my previous article, I told you why margin is so important for ministry leaders. This week, I’m sharing six ways to build it into your life so you can be more fruitful in ministry. 

  1. Accept your limitations.

As ministers, we often feel the weight of the world upon our shoulders. We want to help as many people as possible. 

But we’re not God. We’re not even Superman. The rules apply to us, just like everyone else. 

Psalm 119:96 says, “I have learned that everything has limits” (GNT).

Our culture tells us the opposite of Psalm 119:96. It says, “We can do anything!” But we know that’s not true. In fact, if we want to build more margin into our lives, we need to recognize four specific limitations God has given us. 

  • We have physical limitations. Our energy will not go on forever.
  • We have emotional limitations. Everyone faces this limitation, but it’s especially important for pastors to recognize. We can’t carry everyone else’s burdens. We’re simply not designed to be that strong.
  • We have mental limitations. We can only handle so much information.
  • We have time limitations. We’ll never have over 24 hours a day. 

When you hit any of these limitations, you’ll get a warning light—like fatigue or irritability. You need to recognize the warning light and adjust your life.

  1. Ask, “Why am I driven to overload my life?”

We always need to ask ourselves the tough questions. This is one of them. Solomon described this question centuries ago: “This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, ‘Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?’” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 NLT).

Some people overwork out of insecurity. Others out of fear. Ecclesiastes tells us that some people overwork because of envy. 

Your story is unique. It’s important to understand why you’re overworking so you can make better decisions.

  1. Expect problems and delays.

We know this, but we often continue to act like everything will work out. (In John 16:33, Jesus told us to expect trouble!) Airlines build margins into their flight schedules. We should too!

Foresight is a sign of wisdom. Proverbs 22:3 says, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty” (NIV). You can’t build proper margin into your life without doing a little planning. You will have problems and delays. Expect them and build extra time into your calendar to deal with those delays. 

  1. Add buffer space in your schedule.

If you want more margin in your life, you can’t fill up every moment with activity. No one else will build buffer space and downtime in your schedule if you don’t. 

God reminds us of the importance of building rest in our schedules in Psalm 127:3. “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones” (NLT).

I’ve always taught that, when managing our finances, we should give first to God (our tithe) and second to ourselves (savings). The same is true with our time. We should give our time to God first, and then allocate time to ourselves for recharging. Then we can spend the rest of our time on our commitments. 

By the way, you’ll need more rest in your busiest seasons. The faster you go, the more margin you need. 

  1. Prune your activities regularly.

Growing plants, such as vegetables, fruits, or roses, requires regular pruning. This process involves cutting off not only the dead wood but also the unopened buds. It might seem painful, but it results in healthier plants with more blooms in just a couple of months.

The same principle applies to our lives. Each year, we add additional activities, but we can’t keep piling them on without removing some of the old ones. If we don’t prune our commitments periodically, we’ll become less productive and fruitful.

Ecclesiastes 3:6 reminds us that there is “a time to keep and a time to throw away” (GW). What in your life and ministry should you “throw away” or stop doing?

  1. Walk with Jesus and learn.

I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.”

No one has ever been more effective in ministry than Jesus, but we never read of him running to do ministry in the Gospels. He always had just enough time to do the work the Father laid out for him.  

We can learn from Jesus about how to be faithful to our ministry calling without exhausting ourselves.


Read Part 1 of this article, here.

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