Setting Boundaries in Ministry and (Actually) Sticking to Them
Have you ever noticed how ministry is never-ending?
How there’s always another thing that needs to get done?
I mean, it makes sense because when you’re working with people, they’re always in progress.
That is great job security, but it also makes it extremely difficult to have healthy boundaries in your personal life.
It makes it hard to come home and not bring work with you.
We can work longer hours than are healthy.
Our families, our health, our spiritual lives, our hobbies can all too easily get crowded out by the work of the ministry.
And worst of all is that we can get so busy ministering, we don’t even realize other vital areas of our lives are getting crowded out.
Below, I’m going to share a process of setting boundaries and sticking to them, but I want to say upfront that I, in no way, have arrived and live a perfectly balanced life; I’m continually striving to get better at this just like you.
With that disclaimer, here is the process for setting boundaries that has worked well for me.
Step 1: Determine Your Priorities
Before you set boundaries, you need to decide what is most important to you.
There are 2 exercises that have really helped me clarify my priorities.
The first is the funeral exercise.
Answer this question, if only 3 things could be said about you at your funeral, what would they be in the order of most important?
For example, the number one thing I want said about me at my funeral is that I was a faithful and godly husband and father who passed my faith onto the generations that came after me.
The second exercise is the what I call the sacrificial system.
List every priority in your life no matter how big or small, your children, elementary ministry, preschool ministry, your spouse, what your senior pastor wants you to do, hobbies, friends, God, exercise etc
Then put them in order of what you wouldn’t sacrifice for anything below.
So your list could be God, spouse, kids, senior pastor, elementary ministry, preschool ministry, exercise.
This means you would sacrifice everything for God, you would sacrifice everything for your spouse, except God, you would sacrifice everything for you kids except God and your spouse, etc.
Hopefully these exercises help you get a clearer picture of your priorities.
After you’ve done this, next is setting boundaries so your highest priorities are actually your highest priorities.
Step 2: Set boundaries based on your priorities.
By boundaries, I mean create rules to protect your most important priorities.
Keep in mind not to start with more than 3 boundaries because any more will become too difficult to do consistently over a long enough period that they become automatic.
Here are a couple examples of boundaries:
I will not be away from home on evenings more than 2 days/week.
I will abstain from technology 1 day/week to be more present with my family.
I will not drink soda.
I will only eat during mealtimes and have nothing in between.
(The last 3 are the ones I’m working on currently as I try to prioritize my family and my health more.)
Step 3: Get buy-in on your boundaries (if you need it)
For a goal like, I will not be away from home on evenings more than 2 days/week, you may need buy-in from someone like your Senior Pastor if you’re currently out more often than that doing ministry.
Or you may simply need accountability from a spouse or friend for something like not drinking soda or having snacks between meals.
Whether you need to get buy-in from a boss in order to set a boundary or you simply need accountability, don’t skip this step or your efforts will only end in frustration.
Step 4: When you’re tempted to break your boundaries, remember that when you say yes to one thing, you say no to something else.
I’m not sure who said that, but it has really helped me.
I’m a people pleaser by nature and have trouble saying no, so I really needed help gaining a different perspective.
When I say yes to an extra night or two out doing ministry, I’m also saying no to quality time with my family.
When I say yes to soda or snacking constantly, I’m saying no to becoming healthier.
This has helped me so much to say no and not feel guilty about it.
Step 5: When you have to break your boundaries have an if-this-then-that rule.
I learned this from The Myth of Balance by Frank Bealer.
In ministry, sometimes things are going to come up and a boundary will have to be broken.
That is just a reality.
The if-this-then-that rule is like a backup plan.
For example, say I have to be out 3 or 4 nights in a week because it’s the Christmas season and we’re having multiple Eve services.
The if-this-then-that rule would say: If I’m out more than 2 nights in a week (<–If This), then we’ll go out to a special dinner as a family (<– Then That).
Or take the quitting soda example: If I drin soda (<–If This), then I’ll have to quit dessert for a week (<–Then That).
These 5 steps have helped me get better with my priorities, but as I shared earlier in this post, I am still far from where I want to be and there will never be a day when I fully arrive.
We’re all in process, right?
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