In a discussion last weekend, someone mentioned that a big concern for ministries like Catholic Worker houses (soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc) is "sustainability." Keeping the place from being run down, for example, so that it will be available and useful for many years. Or keeping an orderly environment, so people can bear to stay and work there for longer periods of time and don't get burned out. And this is usually achieved by putting limits on its usage, making rules, telling people no, etc.

This causes some tension in a place like a Catholic Worker house, where there is usually a resistance to making rules and using our power to shut out those who are the poorest and weakest. But it's understandable that with overwhelming needs and demands from people, the assumption is that such service couldn't last long without laying down some laws. That seems to be the only way the ministry can be sustainable.

I do think there are good reasons for saying no to some requests, but when I look at Jesus ministry, I have a hard time finding a model of sustainable management. The only instance I remember of anything like this is in Mark 6.31-34 (and here the disciples don't get a break after all):

[Jesus] said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.

Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
What's worse, the next thing the disciples know, Jesus is telling them, "You give [the crowd] something to eat." Sustainablity?

And it seems Jesus' ministry was not actually sustainable for long--within three years he was killed. Perhaps it could be said that his means of sustaining his ministry was to recruit and train disciples to carry on. And that's true. As long as we also recognize that he taught his disciples to follow his example, which was not an example of sustainability. No properties, no secure source of funding, no way to defend themselves. Like Jesus, they also were to go all out, giving everything, living a life of extreme witness, and expecting persecution and the cross. It wasn't a model for the long haul. The only way the ministry would be sustained is if their example inspired others to step up when they fell.

I think one thing that stands out in Jesus' ministry is how much it is not bound by concerns for sustainability. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day." (Mt 6.34) The fact that it is sustained is then the miracle.