"To create boundaries, pastors must be able to say no when other people want them to say yes."
When I planted my first church in the inner city of Buffalo, N.Y., I was in addition to those duties a husband to Donna, an insulation installer (to support us) and a Pittsburgh seminary student who drove four hours to class.
Perhaps surprisingly, I was actually able to maintain all of those roles for a while. It wasn’t the rapidity of my activity that hurt me, but rather my lack of solid boundaries around my schedule, particularly at church.
The fact that I’m still in ministry today should tell you that I have learned some lessons along the way. I’m passionate about sharing those I have gleaned. Think of them as four fence posts that set up a defined boundary around a healthy ministry.
The First Post: Recognize your role in the church.
While you, as the pastor, have some responsibility for the church, only Jesus bears that ultimately. When this boundary is ignored, the church is built around the pastor, who becomes part of the problem.
At my second church plant, we had grown to a congregation of about 125 after 18 months. While this might seem like a positive development, it became an Achilles’ heel for me. Obsessed with attendance numbers, I called all regular and occasional attendees every Saturday to encourage them to attend the next day.
When pastors misunderstand their role like I did, they tend to put all their focus on some predetermined view of success rather than those things they are biblically called to, such as shepherding and equipping.
The Second Post: Pursue personal health.
To create proper boundaries, pastors must be able to say no when other people want them to say yes.
As an interim pastor, a family once asked if I could talk to their son so he could receive Christ. I very kindly answered no, explaining that I did not want to take that opportunity from them. Unfortunately, Johnny’s parents didn’t see it that way. They called two small groups worth of people explaining that the interim was the devil. Within two weeks, however, they thanked me.
It doesn’t always work out that way, but in this case, the boundaries created a special moment for this family. Pastors must not allow the people in their congregation to bring cultural expectations to their boundaries. Instead, they must allow the Bible to inform boundary implementation.
The Third Post: Guard your flock.
And sometimes you have to guard it from other Christians. It may seem ironic, but some of the people from whom you have to most tenaciously guard your church are other believers.
At the church I pastor now, I encouraged a first-time visitor to move on from our church and find another that was going to best meet his passions. I was protecting the flock God has entrusted to me from someone whose friends called “The Prophecy Terrorist.”
Your church is not a public square for specific-issue-driven Christians to debate and opine. It’s a place you are to guard and shepherd. It doesn’t sound very American, but it is very biblical.
The Fourth Post: Know what you can and cannot do.
At my current church, there are three things and only three things that I do: I meet with the staff, I preach about 70 percent of the time and I lead a small group in my home.
Why those three things? They are the three things that only I can do. The key to establishing this boundary is knowing what you can and cannot do. Churches will want you to do everything. You should do something, but you should do the right thing.
Typically, your “right thing” will line up with your gifts. Bring others alongside you and build a team to tackle the other areas. This team is what will truly help you to accomplish what God has called you to do as a leader.
When you establish these four fence posts, you will enable and encourage growth in yourself and your church. Without these four, you will more than likely experience ministry burnout and hinder the development of those under your care and the church as a whole.
You must be intentional about the long-term health of yourself, your family, your ministry and your church. If you are not, your boundaries will be compromised and your schedule will be full, but your body and spirit will be exhausted.