my good friend (and the student ministries pastor at my church), brian berry has published his first book: As For Me and My (Crazy) House: Learning to Protect Your Heart, Marriage, and Family from the Demands of Youth Ministry. i can tell you it’s fantastic. in fact, i’ve already shared thoughts from it with multiple people in my youth ministry coaching program who had questions about figuring out how to have a healthy family life while in youth ministry, and they have found it immensely helpful.
i was honored to be asked by simply youth ministry to write the foreward; and i’m going to share there here, as a good long endorsement:
Maybe I should rephrase that. Balance is fine, but I think we delude ourselves when we pretend it’s achievable. I have often said that balance is something I only experience when I’m swinging past it on my pendulum swing from one extreme to its opposite.
I’ll even take that hyperbolic statement further: I don’t think balance is a biblical value. Balance is, as I see it, an American value. It’s a rational idea, born out of our obsession with systematizing.
You might think I’m nuts or merely exposing my subconscious justifications for my own imbalance. And you might be right. But even if we approach the question of balance from a purely pragmatic perspective, it simply doesn’t work. Matthew Kelly, in his helpful book, Off Balance, shows that decades of efforts in the business world to address the “work/life balance problem” hasn’t increased workers’ satisfaction—with either their work or personal life—even a smidge. In fact, as a whole, we are a less satisfied people than we were before all of these efforts.
There are better (and more biblical) ways of thinking and living. Sustainability comes to mind. The Old Testament approach to letting fields lie fallow every seven years isn’t a picture of balance; it’s a picture of sustainability. Jesus pulling aside by himself to pray wasn’t an issue of his reaching a point of equilibrium; it was about the Son staying deeply connected to the Father, so his integrated, passionate, all-in life was sustainable and effective.
Life in youth ministry (or any church role, for that matter) isn’t easily partitioned off into work buckets and home buckets. Our best lives are integrated. Sure, we need boundaries. Yes, we have to turn off our cell phones and intentionally disconnect from the never-ending demands of youth ministry. Absolutely, we need to prioritize our own spouses and children over the non-stop needs of others. But this best life isn’t one of stasis. Our best life—the one that gives the most to the kingdom and provides the deepest satisfaction—isn’t a teeter-totter in limbo.
I’m drafting this foreword on a Sunday morning, sitting in my backyard. My eighth-grade son is playing drums in the middle school worship band at this moment. My wife just woke up and is getting a cup of coffee. My high school senior daughter is still sleeping, but we’ll soon head to church together. I’m “working” on a Sunday morning. That doesn’t compute if my goal is balance. But in a scheme of sustainability, it makes perfect sense. Last night we had a fantastic family night, eating dinner together and watching Home Alone. By writing now, I can be more present to my family later in the day, when they desire my presence. Writing, this morning, isn’t a choice of balance, but it sure is a choice of sustainability and satisfaction.
Brian Berry understands this. Brian is 100 percent all in. He gives himself completely to his wife and five children. He gives himself completely to the youth ministry at his church. He gives himself completely to his friends, to his parents, to his Savior.
I have the privilege of observing Brian’s life close-up. He’s the youth pastor at my church. My own daughter is a student leader in his high school ministry. Brian’s freshman son, T.J., was in my middle school guys small group for three years. I’m currently the small group leader for Brian’s second son, Tyler (who’s in sixth grade). Brian was a participant in my coaching program for a year—a year in which he wrestled with many of the ideas in this book. And Brian is a close friend and confidant, often sitting in my backyard for hours of conversation about how we can be better youth workers, better husbands, better fathers, better Jesus-followers.
From this close-up perspective, I can state with certainty: Brian Berry’s life is not a model for balance. The dude is way overcommitted. I worry about him, because he’s one of the busiest guys I know.
But I can also state these facts with certainty:
1. Brian leads a stellar, world-class youth ministry.
2. Brian effectively empowers and serves a team of pastors who lead ministries from birth through young adults in our church.
3. Brian finds time for writing and speaking and teaching other youth workers.
4. Brian fluidly leads the youth workers network for our area.
5. Brian’s wife gets lots of his attention and focus.
6. Brian’s children all feel loved and known by their dad (his two sons that I know best revere him and aspire to be more like him—he is unequivocally their hero).
7. And Brian aces the seminary classes that usually bore and annoy him.
Brian Berry is the poster child of imbalance. But his integrated life is one of gorgeous sustainability. To be sure, his life is always teetering on the edge of unsustainability.
But maybe teetering on the edge of unsustainability, without tipping over, is the best, all-in, passionate life Jesus dreams of for us when he promises (in John 10:10), “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
In this fantastic book you’re about to read, Brian doesn’t position himself as a model or an expert, but a fellow traveler. However, you could do a lot worse than to learn from the imbalanced-yet-sustainable, full life of this author, my friend.
by the way, you can download a free sample of brian’s book on the simply youth ministry site, here.