In our last post, Understanding Healthy Boundaries, we looked at the definition, value and importance of personal boundaries. We noted that personal boundaries are limits that help us honor our values, priorities, and our truest and most authentic selves. Without strong boundaries you may be overly vulnerable to criticism or insults from others, you may struggle to manage your feelings internally or prone to emotional outbursts. Further, you may find yourself worrying too much, dwelling on the past, or not keeping yourself emotionally, spiritually or physically safe.
As church leaders, one of the best things we can do for ourselves is understand boundaries, and work on building them for ourselves. It’s not about being difficult, selfish or unkind. Instead, it is simply drawing a line in the sand that shows what matters and aligning our lives accordingly. In this post we explore the types of personal boundaries every church leader should master.
Four Essential Personal Boundaries For Church Leaders
There are many types of personal boundaries and different ways of classifying them. The following is not an exhaustive list, but are in my experience, essential for church leaders to understand and build.
Time Boundaries: These are often the most challenging for church leaders to enforce. We typically want to please people, don’t want to let people down, chronically bite off more than we can chew and see it as part of our job description to be available at all times. So, what can we do? Here are some time boundary examples:
- Just say ‘no’ more often. I know this makes most of us feel uncomfortable, but remember time boundaries don’t automatically mean you will never say yes. Instead, it’s about deciding in advance what you will say yes and no to. Specifically, commit to say yes to those things that align with your passions, gifts, priorities and strengths and no to those things that deplete and exasperate you.
- Requests: If it isn’t urgent, give yourself a generous time frame to take action.
- Proposals: Create vetting criteria to be completed by the person or team submitting a proposal for your consideration.
- Phone calls: Don’t sleep near your phone. Turn on the silence mode when you don’t want to be disturbed. Don’t hesitate to let calls go to voice mail.
- Email and texts: Set aside specific times during the day to check emails. Set a reasonable goal to respond to personal emails, 24-48 hours.
- Make appointments with yourself: Block off time on your calendar for tasks and treat it as if it is an uninterruptable appointment, just as you would if you were meeting with someone.
Emotional Boundaries: These boundaries are difficult because we nor others can always see when a line has been crossed. Emotional energy drain is inevitable. The trick is to save your emotional energy for the things in your life that really matter. Some emotional boundaries include:
- Watching or reading the news: If the nightly news or daily newspaper triggers depression or melancholy feelings then a necessary personal boundary might include deleting these from your daily routine.
- Browsing social media: If social media sends you into a spiral of frustration, sarcastic ravings and defensiveness, healthy boundaries may include deleting an app on your phone or unfriending someone.
- Certain movies: If war movies or contentious family dramas evoke uncomfortable memories then don’t watch them and ask others to not watch them around you.
- Toxic conversations: If certain topics of conversations with a friend, family member or church member leave you anxious or angry you might ask them to avoid the topic around you.
- Email, blog and social media comments: If offensive personal attacks are reoccurring then having someone read and delete offensive comments can be a protective emotional boundary.
- Energy Vampires: Emotionally draining people feed off your emotions and love to see if they can provoke strong emotional responses. Effective boundaries with energy vampires begin with keeping conversations short and factual with neutral emotions. If this isn’t possible then consider setting a physical boundary to protect yourself emotionally.
If you’re not sure what emotional boundaries you need, start paying close attention to your emotions. If something is emotionally draining, ask yourself is this a good use of your time and emotional energy. If not, what can you do to prevent this in the future?
Physical Boundaries: These types of boundaries relate to our physical space as well as our work and home environment. The key question to ask is how can I best protect my space and my environment? Some examples include:
- Greetings: You might need to tell someone you prefer to bump fists rather than shake hands, or shake hands instead of a hug.
- Spacing: If social distancing is important to you, let people know with a sign on your door. Same goes for masks.
- Limits on what people can bring into your home or office: This could range from no-smoking and no-alcohol to no candy, soft drinks or unhealthy snacks.
- Decluttering: Make an intentional decision about what you will own and not own. For example, limit the number of books on your shelves or collectable items on display.
- Close the door: Let it be known that when your office door is closed you are not to be interrupted.
- Toxic people: Emotional, physical, psychological and sexual abusers have no place in your life, regardless of your job description or the position they hold. Boundaries that keeps these people at a physical distance is not selfish, it is a matter of self-preservation.
Effective physical boundary setters are present to their sensations in their body. They know how to thoroughly metabolize their felt sensations so that they can properly respond to a scenario instead of reacting.
Internal Boundaries: These are boundaries that protects you and others from yourself. Basically, it serves as a filter between your feelings and what you do with them. An internal boundary helps you to accurately sort through your feelings and express them appropriately. Some internal boundaries include:
- Intense anger: Identifying the words, actions, people and situations that trigger intense anger and determining their root cause can become an internal boundary that helps you decide how or whether or not to express it.
- Hurt and pain: Old feelings of hurt can often attach themselves to current experiences, and emerge when we least expect them. They manifest themselves as impatience, arrogance, certitude, authoritarianism, and sexism to name a few. A therapist can often be the best resource for identifying the source of these old feelings and helping to develop internal boundaries that keep them from being inappropriately expressed.
- Insults and criticism: When you receive criticism, are the brunt of someone’s frustration, or when your spouse is angry at you an internal boundary talks you through what the other person said or did to you, and helps you sort out what’s feedback that you should take seriously, and what you should disregard.
- Past experiences: We all carry past experiences with us and it is easy to dwell on them in a way that is not helpful. An internal boundary can help you sense when you are going too far back or spending too much time in the past, and pulls you back to the moment at hand.
- Fear of the future: Spending too much time thinking about, imagining, worrying about or dreading the future can create anxiety and destroy our ability to live in and appreciate the moment. Strong internal boundaries can remind you that you are spending too much time in the future, and can help pull you back to the present.
- Burdens: Church leaders are often called to carry the burdens of their flock. At times it can become overwhelming. A helpful internal boundary is the mental image of a small basket that when full signals all of the burdens you plan to carry for the time being.
Spiritual Boundaries: Spiritual boundaries protect your right to believe what you want, worship as you wish, and practice your religious beliefs as you desire. For the spiritual leader these are boundaries that protect your soul, your inner and outer spiritual life. Surprisingly, church leaders may be the least prepared to build these types of boundaries as they have a false sense of security that their education and vocation protects them from spiritual malaise. Typical spiritual boundaries include:
- Protect your eyes: Computer and internet filters can be an effective spiritual boundary as they reduce the likelihood of seeing material that is soul threatening.
- Guard your schedule: Prioritizing a non-negotiable and uninterruptable time for your personal soul care and self-care and your family time is an essential spiritual boundary.
- Guarantee accountability: Surrounding yourself with people who will speak the unvarnished truth into your life and ask you the hard questions is a spiritual boundary that will protect you from yourself.
- Establish right relationships: Having people in your life who will encourage your spiritual growth is vital. Keeping people out of your life that discourage you spiritually is equally important.
- Determine wholesome experiences: Determining in advance those experiences and situations that encourage and deter your spiritual health is a boundary that protects as well as encourages your spiritual growth.
One way to identify areas where you might need to establish boundaries is to think about the areas of your life where you’re experiencing problems. Do you feel drained or exhausted after being around certain people or after engaging in certain activities? Do you feel uncomfortable around your coworker, friend or acquaintance? Do you feel resentful of a family member’s intrusions? Each of these reactions is telling you that you’re most likely lacking boundaries in this area of your life.
Remember, boundaries are for your well-being and protection, and they are an important part of self-care. They are appropriate, protective, are not harmful and are not controlling or manipulative. Boundaries help us have healthy relationships with ourselves and others. Your relationships and your ministry suffers when you don’t set effective personal boundaries. Make yourself a priority by setting strong personal boundaries.
Posted on April 12, 2022