Building Good Boundaries

Last week I had the opportunity to spend the day learning about maintaining good personal boundaries. This is a seminar that Disciples of Christ pastors in Mid-America are required to take every three years. However, it is more than just a requirement, it is a great opportunity to think about our boundaries and how they affect our relationships in the church, and in life. So, what are boundaries? I’m glad you asked!

I define boundaries are the “rules” we put in place in our lives to empower ourselves and others to live abundantly. In many ways boundaries are like the Ten Commandments. The are the governing principles in all of our relationships. For example, one of my boundaries is that I never lend money that I wouldn’t want to give away. In college I made a small loan to a friend. The total amount escapes me now, but it was less than $100. Whatever the amount, this friend never repaid the money and our relationship was soured for quite a while. Eventually I was able to grow to the point where I could forgive him and the debt he owed. Our relationship, however, never recovered.

One thing which is important for us to keep at the forefront of our minds is the relationship between boundaries and power. Many people I have met through the years see themselves as powerless to make changes in their lives, to control the choices they make. I believe we are all more powerful than we imagine. Furthermore, I believe wholeheartedly that there are areas in our lives where we are more powerful than others. Like in the lending example, I had more power because I had more money at the time. There are many things which give us power; age, profession, race, and gender, all contribute to our power. That list is FAR from exhaustive, but you get the idea.

I like to think of how power relates to the responsibility of setting and maintaining boundaries by thinking of boating. For this example there are two kinds of boats, power boats and sailboats (which would also include canoes, kayaks, any boat without an engine..). The powerboat is able to control its speed and direction more efficiently than a canoe. Therefore it is the powerboat’s responsibility to avoid the non-powered boats it encounters. The person in the canoe may not have sufficient strength, or power, to get out of the way of the faster, more agile powerboat.

The same thing is true in our relationships; it is the responsibility for the person with more power to maintain clear boundaries. That responsibility doesn’t fall on the person, or people, with less power. This is one of the primary reasons why the Mid-America Region places such an emphasis on training our clergy in setting good boundaries. You, the congregations we serve, grant us a substantial amount of power. And you probably don’t have to think too long to remember a situation where a minister abused that power.

This is only a glimpse into the important topic of boundaries in the church. I hope to develop a brief workshop, or study session, to help guide us through this important topic. Once I have that event planned, I’ll be offering you (and others in our wider community) the opportunity to sign up and spend a few hours learning about boundaries. I look forward to thinking with you about how we strengthen our relationships through effective boundaries.

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