BOUNDARIES IN MINISTYRY
Boundaries and self-care in ministry are vitally important. The statistics for burn out, depression, fatigue, and suicide are on the rise for not only churchgoers and church leaders but for missionaries as well! Research shows that 80% of missionaries burn out and don’t finish their ministry. 90% report experiencing some type of mental illness and 87% of those have received a diagnosis of depression. And these are just the ones who were willing to report! There is still a high level of shame, guilt and fear around discussing mental illness and admitting to burn out and fatigue. So what do boundaries in ministry look like?
The word “boundaries” is often met with a flood of negative associations; selfish, rude, lazy, unkind, unwilling, ungodly, disrespectful, definitely not Christ like. The thought that there is no room for boundaries in ministry is a lie, not based on biblical standards. Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
I believe there are two key phrases in this verse: “don’t use your freedom to satisfy sinful nature” and “use your freedom to serve one another in love.” How can the lack of boundaries be satisfying sinful nature? Good question. First off, if we are not using wisdom and discernment in our decision-making, then we are acting based off our own perception of what is and is not “right” or “good”. We may be saying “yes” to things based off pride, approval, status, people pleasing, and comparison.
This leads to point number two, serving others in love. When we are serving others based on our own need for acceptance or approval we often start to become resentful and bitter towards others or ourselves. We take on too much and pretty soon, lose sight of what we are actually called to do. God does not ask us to say yes to every person or every opportunity. When we do not use Godly wisdom and discernment, we risk enabling others, burning out and potentially “stealing” assignments the Lord had for someone else. God knows that we have limited time and energy and does not ask us to fill up our plates so full that we no longer hear His prompting or have the time to say “yes” to the assignments He IS asking of us. Saying “yes” or “no” to others in only one piece of the “boundary setting” puzzle.
Boundaries also consist of asking for help, allowing others to assist you and lighten your load. I often hear people say “Well, I don’t want to be a burden to others, they have their own things.” This phrase assumes one of two things; that other people do not have boundaries or the ability to say no, or that the Lord has not asked that person to help you as part of their ministry. You are not God, don’t assume you know what He is or is not asking of others.
Being needed and needing others is a part of being in community and in fellowship with others. Jesus came down to earth, walked side by side with his disciples, washed their feet as well as asked for their support and company. Jesus took time to be alone, to talk with the Father, to ask for strength and perseverance. Jesus engaged in alone time and self-care.
Boundaries on the Field
Hebrews 4:9-11 says “There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God, for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works.” In all areas of ministry, it is important to take those moments of rest.
Most people take their Sabbath on a Saturday or Sunday, however, many church’s have services on both Saturdays and Sundays and even sometimes during the week. Therefore it is important to find a day during the week to rest. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to completely isolate, it just means you have a day to rejuvenate, do things you enjoy, spend time fostering your relationship with the Lord and your family.
But what if there is a crisis? What if someone needs help? Crisis management is important and key to good self-care. On a Sabbath day, delegate crisis situations to another team member or to a crisis hotline, or to a therapist. You may have a person who seems to be in a “crisis” multiple times a day. Setting stricter boundaries with this person is not only important for your wellbeing, but also for that person to learn how to engage in conflict resolution and build resiliency. It is okay to be available in a true crisis but unavailable to indulgent demands. Boundaries help you ward against people who might take advantage of you, manipulate you, or control you
HEALTHY VS UNHEALTHY BOUNDARIES
There are, of course, healthy and unhealthy boundaries or boundary setting. You may be thinking of an individual who always seems to be setting “boundaries” as an excuse to get out of work or avoid certain tasks. When setting boundaries, make sure you are not confusing boundary setting with isolation or avoiding discomfort. A good question to ask yourself is “does this violate my morals/values or does it simply put me out of my comfort zone.” Examine your motives behind setting the boundary. Determine if you are making decisions based on your own comfort or for His glory.
The Lord asks us to be servants but He also asks us to be stewards of our time, money, energy, and gifts. We are asked to fulfill OUR ministry, not everyone else’s. I heard someone say once, “some of my time is for you, but not all of my time.” That word “time” can be replaced with energy, money, resources, etc.
SETTING BOUNDARIES WITH TEAM MEMBERS
When working with a ministry team, it is important to understand and set boundaries among team members. Not everyone is going to have the same energy level or gifts. Open communication, mutual respect and understanding are important. Discussing roles, tasks, duties and expectations for each member can help avoid misunderstanding and delegate fairness. Discussing roles and expectations early on can also help members be aware if an individual is reaching burn-out.
Roles may be interchangeable and flexible. There may be times when an individual may need to take on more responsibilities for a time being or an individual that may need more self care, as in the case of health issues, family obligations, or burn out. Conflict resolution, finding a middle ground and agreeing to disagree are different strategies to keeping the peace among team members. Open communication, discussing needs and wants, and verbalizing personal time/space will help in keeping the team unit strong.
BOUNDARIES WITHIN FAMILY DYNAMICS
Raising a family in ministry presents its own set of challenges. Along with the roles specific to your ministry calling, you are also faced with nurturing your marriage and children. You have to factor in the strain ministry life has on your spouse and kids. It can be taxing to be under the spotlight of high expectations.
It is important to invest in family relationships through date nights, family dinners, open discussions about family needs and struggles. Time management and specific boundaries around these relationships will help keep your family unit strong and healthy.
BOUNDARIES WITH SUPPORT SYSTEM
Your church, family members, friends and sponsors are all part of your support network, the people who emotionally and financially make it possible to do the important work you do. However, there may be times when some of those individuals get too involved.
They may have specific expectations for what your ministry should or should not look like. Using discernment with the information you share and how often you share will be a boundary to decide early on. When setting boundaries, remember to use wisdom and truth. Don’t make decisions based off your circumstances but on the truth of the Lord and what He has called you to do. Recognizing His prompting and the Peace of God in your decision-making will guide you in making choices that is in the best interest of you, your team, and the people you are helping.
As a leader in a ministry role, individuals will have positive and negative feedback. They will agree and disagree with what you say and teach, based off their own theological worldview. It is important to consult your close network of believers to discuss the feedback you receive to navigate
Questions to help identify healthy boundaries: As You think About Boundaries Consider the following Questions:
• Is there someone else who could do a better job of completing the task I am working on right now?
• Am I trying to be too many things to too many people? Remember that there was only one Messiah and He died and rose again 2,000 years ago. You are not Him.
• When was the last time I spent quality time with my spouse and/or children? Am I maintaining a dating relationship with my spouse? Am I involved in my kids’ lives? Am I having fun with them? Do they enjoy the fact that I am their dad or mom?
• Am I involved in an equipping ministry so that others in the church body are being given an opportunity to exercise their gifts and talents? Am I training and preparing others to share the work of the Lord in this place? We realize there is no ideal situation, but according to Ephesians 4, one of the key roles of a ministry leader is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.
• How is my walk with the Lord? Am I staying open to Him? Spending time with Him on a regular basis? Maintaining a vibrant prayer life?
• Is my life a total outflow? We should all be immersed in ministry, but even Jesus took regular breaks to rest and reflect.
• When was the last time I took some vacation time? A weekend off? A sabbatical?
• Am I making time to have regular exercise? Am I taking care of myself physically? Take a walk. Play a round of golf. Make a healthy habit of doing things that help you relax and unwind.
• Am I learning how to say ‘no’? We cannot do everything asked of us. We need to stay close to the Lord so that we can discern how He wants us to most effectively spend each of our days.
• Am I expecting to see my ministry goals reached too soon? God wants us to dream and plan, but sometimes the key stress in ministry that causes boundary breakdown is being impatient with God’s timing when we are trying to change, adjust or refine a program in the church.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Boundaries
– Alone time with the Lord/Sabbath
– Boundary to protect yourself orsomeone else from harm
– Asking for help or delegating tasks
– Time management/energy management
– Time for family/team fellowship
– Saying no in unselfish, helpful ways
– The command to love/serve vs the disease to please
– “I just don’t feel like it”
– Boundaries that exclude or harm others
– Saying “yes” out of fear or to gain favor
– Own comfort/not pulling your own weight
Risks to not Setting Boundaries
– Burn out
– Resentment towards self/others
– Chronic fatigue
– Inability to focus
– Decreased interest/enjoyment
– Physical symptoms (sickness)
– Feeling increased anxiety/depression
– Trouble sleeping
– Increased anger/agitation
– Disconnected/emotional detachment
– Feeling used/abused/taken advantage of