Boundaries for leaders

Published 9:33 pm Saturday, February 20, 2021

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Have you ever had a week when you wanted to talk to the person who packed your schedule so full of tasks and events? I know I have. When our schedule stretches beyond the bounds of practicality, we usually end up accomplishing less. We need boundaries. What is a boundary and why do I need one?

The best definition I have heard for boundaries, at least the way I am addressing them here, comes from writer and speaker Henry Cloud. He says, “A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins.” Boundaries are a way of fencing off and protecting what is inside the fence.

Boundaries are seen in everyday life and are incredibly helpful. The airplane pilot has boundaries showing him where it is okay to land a plane and where it is not okay. Those of us who drive along on stretches of flat interstate highways are glad when pilots land planes within their boundaries.

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Boundaries are usually honored when we go into a convenience store. I do not recall ever seeing a smoker go behind the counter and choose their favorite brand of cigarettes. Most smokers recognize that what is on their side of the counter is open space for them and what is on the clerk’s side of the counter is off-limits for them. One case of boundaries in action.

Here are four boundaries every pastor or ministry leader needs:

1. Boundaries for Family Protection: I like to work and often work long hours. Ministry is demanding and those who are looking for an easy, low-stress, light work, gig should find another calling. It is possible, however, to work too much and ignore other priority people such as one’s spouse and children. Connie (my wife) and I set boundaries for my work-life early in our marriage. We determined the number of evenings, apart from emergencies, that I would be away from home each week. We made it a priority to have breakfast and dinner together each day, if possible. These boundaries were good for our family.

2. Boundaries for Ministry Effectiveness: If you ask me to lead in an evangelistic revival, conduct a leadership meeting, or visit a struggling leader for the purpose of encouragement I can do okay. If you ask me to lead worship at the Kentucky Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, it will be a disaster. The same thing happens when I try to comment on things about which I have little knowledge and no expertise. I have a God-given lane and so do you. We will each contribute well to the Kingdom of God when we stay in our lane.

3. Boundaries for Social Media Engagement: When it comes to social media, I love the admonition that says, “You can either have a social media platform where you say whatever comes to mind on all matters or you can have a ministry, but you can’t have both.” Many pastors and ministry leaders have damaged their credibility because they insisted on posting their opinion about each controversial matter in their cultural context. Unrestrained social media posts are damaging to one’s own ministry and often hurtful to other people. This is one place where we need good clear boundaries.

4. Boundaries for Ministry Protection: What is known as “the Billy Graham rule” received ridicule when it was applied by former Vice President Mike Pence but those who lived by this rule will sing its praises. This rule, or practice, is part of a larger plan to protect the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association known as the “Modesto Manifesto.” Here are the boundaries Billy Graham and his team put in place after watching other evangelists fall prey to temptation and lose their ministry:

“We will never criticize, condemn, or speak negatively about others. We will be accountable, particularly in handling finances, with integrity according to the highest business standards. We will tell the truth and be thoroughly honest, especially in reporting statistics. We will be exemplary in morals – clear, clean, and careful to avoid the very appearance of any impropriety.”

Dr. Graham and his team were well-served by these self-imposed boundaries.

Where are your boundaries? Are they clear? Are you able to maintain them? What is missing from my list? I’d love to hear from you. Be sure to share at my website.