As a church leader, is it possible to identify personal and professional boundaries? What about as a spouse? Is it ideal to speak them out loud? Is it possible to set boundaries in ministry? Ministry to Parents asked Lora Helton, who currently serves as a life coach at WellSpring and previously served in a pastor’s wife role for over twenty-five years, to speak into CARE FOR THE SOUL. We hope this insight and practical wisdom guides you in how to set boundaries in ministry.
HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES IN MINISTRY
Boundaries are an essential tool for a healthy ministry. There can be a negative association with the word boundaries. Still, I believe that logic is misplaced because boundaries allow you to draw a line around what works for your family. You can keep what’s good inside the border while creating a gate that you can open and close to keep what’s not right outside the boundary.
Remember that things you keep outside the boundary may not necessarily be “bad” things. Instead, they just may not be the “best” things for your family at that time. That’s why setting healthy boundaries is a thoughtful process that incorporates various aspects of your family and ministry. Here are five ways on how to set boundaries in ministry.
1. Talk About Expectations
When it comes to setting boundaries for a family in ministry, the first step is to have a conversation. Couples need to take the time to discuss expectations for both the person in full-time ministry, as well as the level of the spouse’s involvement.
Different churches have different expectations for staff members and staff member’s unpaid spouses. These expectations can have a significant impact on families in ministry and how they set their boundaries. Couples and families need to talk about those expectations and then use questions to make decisions about potential ministry opportunities.
“Are we doing this because we feel like it’s expected or because it’s best for our family?”
Answering this question helps you get to the heart of the matter. Maybe you need to say no to something else to make this commitment, perhaps you need to re-align your schedule, or maybe you just need to say no.
In the same way, it may be helpful to have a discussion with your pastor about the expectations of the church for you and your family. Larger churches tend to have fewer expectations on the spouse and family versus a smaller church. But, it never hurts to ask the question.
The conversation will also allow for dialogue about the personality of your family and spouse. Some spouses naturally desire to be a part of things, and it is a natural fit, while some are more introverted and prefer to serve behind the scenes. Both are okay, but clarifying expectations is very helpful—and healthy.
2. Set Your Priorities
As a pastor’s wife, my priority was my marriage and my family. I tried to stay focused on the health of my marriage and the needs of our children, and I set my boundaries accordingly. Jeff (my husband) made us a priority while he was in full-time ministry, which helped me in keeping that focus.
Even though Jeff had a full schedule, he would be home when I needed him. He set excellent boundaries and had no problem sharing about the high priority he placed on our family. As a result, he was able to say no to certain things at church so that he could be present at home or attend our children’s functions.
In your family, think about what matters most to you and your spouse. Identify and speak them out loud. If you have older children, ask them what priorities they would like to set.
3. Choose Your Values
Have you ever thought about the values of your family? What is the most important? Is it bedtime routines or scheduled playdates? What about eating together? Dinnertime was very important in our family. We were also committed to the value that we work hard and play hard. There should be time for play and time for work. We valued taking the time to slow down. Because of those values we identified, it made it easier for us to set boundaries. We were able to choose what activities and commitments would receive a “yes.”
In your family, think about what you value and what’s important to you. Allow those values to shape your boundaries.
4. Requirement vs. Expectation
Learning to discern the difference between a requirement of the job and an expectation of the job is extremely helpful in setting and maintaining boundaries. In parenting, I often tell my kids that their crisis is not necessarily my crisis. The same is true in ministry.
Sometimes you have to ask, “Is this a crisis, or is it just a serious conflict? Does it require immediate intervention, or can a meeting or counseling session be scheduled in 24 hours?”
This concept can be difficult to implement because, if you’re in ministry, you have a desire to help and care for people. It can feel insensitive to put someone off for a period of time. However, people are often more resilient. In most cases, they will be okay if you say, “No, I can’t be there tonight, but I will meet with you tomorrow.”
5. Practice a Response
Prepare yourself for people to challenge or question your boundaries. Anytime you set and enforce limits, you will undoubtedly encounter resistance. For example, it’s common to receive veiled comments when you miss an event or function.
“We were disappointed that you didn’t come to my aunt’s cousin’s grandmother’s funeral.”
Your response should be kind but also firm. “I am so sorry I wasn’t able to make it. I’m sure that was a special time for you and your family.”
Beware of the “should!” Often, expectations or “should’s” fuel comments, and you can drown under the wave of “should’s.”
“You should’ve been there. We had a good time.”
Those expectations will drain you and push you toward burnout.
It’s okay for people to feel sadness that you weren’t there, and it’s okay that you decided not to attend because of a commitment to your family or another need. It’s hard to disappoint people, but it’s essential to remember your priorities and your boundaries.
Try turning those “should’s” around and ask,
“What has God put in my heart to do? What or where is He leading? How does this use my gifting or passion to further His ministry?”
You will experience more fulfillment and fruit from pursuing God’s call on your life than chasing a sense of obligation or everyone else’s opinions of what you “should” be doing.
It is okay to say no in ministry. I know it often feels like it’s not okay to say that, but it is. You can give so much more when you establish healthy boundaries and say no to those things that are not essential to your family and ministry priorities and values.
Lora Helton is a wife, mom to four children and two daughters-in-law, Nana to three grandchildren, and a life coach. She enjoys coffee, nature, and spending time with women. She desires to encourage women in their parenting and marriage journey as well as discovering who they were created to be. You can contact Lora at www.wellspringtn.com.
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