Imagine you’re standing in a field. It can be an athletic field or a large open meadow – whatever you want. It’s your field. This field is rectangular with boundaries (fences or lines) on all four sides. If you cross those boundaries you’ll be hurt. Outside there is only pain, penalty, and death. Life is good inside the boundaries as you’re free to run and play. The concept of boundaries was popularized by Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their New York Times best-selling book. They are a metaphor for life and ministry.
Everyone has boundaries. Some boundaries are imposed upon us, some come from within. Our boundaries define the parameters of our freedom. Breaking a boundary line means we will suffer along with our loved ones, friends, and coworkers.
Sadly, the people in our churches often have poor boundary relationships. Judgment, criticism, and unrealistic expectations permeate many churches both big and small. This is painful because Christian churches should be the most loving, respectful, and gracious places on earth!
Making matters worse, boundary violations can be most egregious among church leaders – especially in the boardroom. This cancerous plague is killing churches and destroying the lives of church leaders, pastors, and pastors’ families. It’s high time we do something about it.
This is the first of several articles that will outline how to establish boundaries for pastors and church boards. Once leaders learn to treat each other with love, respect, and grace, the rest of the church can learn from their example. The future health of a church depends on it.
Each of four the compass directions marks one boundary line of our metaphorical field – east, west, north, and south. These four boundaries represent:
- Relationship with God and Self – What do I need to do to make sure I am properly relating to God and to myself? If I cross this line, I will experience increased stress, depression, guilt, or grief.
- Relationships with Others – What do I need to do to maintain healthy, respectful, and encouraging relationships with others? If I cross this line, we will experience anger, stress, pain, and separation.
- Minimum Expectations – What are the minimum expectations that I must meet in order to continue in this ministry? If I cross this line I’ll be fired or removed from my position.
- Maximum Limit of Authority – Where does my authority end? Again, if I cross this line I’ll be fired or removed from my position.
In my next post, we’ll explore how boundaries provide freedom and job satisfaction. This will be a seven-part series.
For Church Members –
- How does your church relate to boundaries? Is the culture of the church loving, respectful, and gracious? Or is it judgmental, critical, and controlling?
- How does this culture affect you, your pastor, and his family?
- How do our four boundary lines relate to your life, work, and ministry?
For Pastors and Their Families –
- Do you have healthy boundaries between church and home? If push comes to shove, which comes first?
- What boundaries have been violated by your church? Who have you told about this violation?
- What boundaries have you violated against your church? Who do you need to confess to?
- How are these boundaries and violations affecting your marriage and kids?
Please, leave a comment below. I personally read all the comments and I try to respond within a day. Or we can interact on Twitter (@PastorsSoul) or on our Facebook page.
© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.