Six Principles for Boundaries in Pastoral Ministry

Ministers often struggle in setting God-honoring boundaries. This struggle may stem from a misunderstanding of the appropriate place ministry has in the life of the minister. When persons experience the sense of call to ministry it is easy to confuse or combine the personal relationship with God and ministry for God.

Ministry and relationship with God are two very different elements in life. They should be handled in a way that will fulfill our commitments in the most God-honoring fashion.

Your first covenant relationship is with God

The combining of our covenant with God with the one we have with our spouses leads to the healthy and solid triangular relationship with God at the pinnacle and the husband and wife at the other two corners. In this way we can both minister in our homes to our spouses' and children's needs, as well as outside our homes to our congregation's needs.

The healthy minister's priority list is God first, spouse second, family third, and ministry fourth.

Crises demand your attention

Illnesses, deaths, births, weddings, and traumas all demand the minister's attention and presence. However, outside of these major "musts", the remainder of ministry applications should be called into question. Determine whether the health of the minister - or the well-being of the minister's family - may be harmed by fulfilling a ministry request.

Maintain a healthy balance between meeting the needs of the congregation and those of the family.

Scheduling is a battleground

Set aside time each week for yourself, your spouse, and your children. The real key is to determine what amounts of time are necessary for generating personal spiritual renewal, marriage relationship growth, and family connection. Make these decisions together with your spouse. They will vary from time to time, especially as your children age. Treat these time slots the same as other appointments.

Training of your church staff and congregation regarding both the need and the reality of this commitment will also change over time. In so doing, you will model healthy priorities for your staff and the church as a whole.

Beware the drain of counseling

Determine if this activity truly is within your gifting. If so, boundaries will be critical for you, your counselees, and your church. Often, ministers who counsel others find both their role as counselor and their role of minister compromised. If counseling an individual is perceived to be a problem, it would be appropriate to refer the counselee to a qualified Christian therapist in your area.

Keep a list of pastoral counselors for referrals

Pastoral counselors will allow you to focus on other ministry issues, and may allow your counselees to obtain more effective therapy. You will occasionally discovers serious emotional or psychological struggles or other major trauma in those you counsel. When such discoveries takes place, ask yourself: "Will I be the best person to help?" If not, referral is both a good idea and an ethical mandate.

Your church can assist in good boundary setting

Develop a plan for the assistance of church members needing counseling. Such a plan would likely stipulate the assistance to be provided, the timing, the duration, and financial arrangements. This takes pressure off you and helps counselees understand clearly where the boundaries lie.

The ultimate goal of boundary setting is to protect you, your wife and family, and your church body. Clear boundaries better ensure fullfilment of needs for everyone and the most efficient ministry. Your church will also enjoy better opportunities for growth.

Barney Self, Ed. D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

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