A Sacred Trust Maintained By Healthy Boundaries

By Josh Meyer, Pastor of Discipling and Preaching at Franconia Mennonite Church

 To serve in the role of spiritual leader is a sacred trust.  Sometimes, without intending to, we exploit and hurt those we want to teach and nurture by inappropriately crossing boundaries.

This was, in a nutshell, my major takeaway from the recent Healthy Boundaries 101 training provided by Franconia Mennonite Conference.  The training consisted of resourcing from trained facilitators, DVD instruction, small group discussion, large-group sharing, and personal assessments.  I’ll admit: I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a full-day of training when I had so much other work to do.  It seemed excessive and came during a particularly busy time in my schedule.  However, the experience proved not only worthwhile, but stimulating and enjoyable as well.

As spiritual leaders, we hold power – it is given to us whether we want it or not.  Therefore, it is important to understand and establish proper relational boundaries.  Such boundaries help us maintain clear professional relationships and signal to others that it is safe to trust us.  They aren’t intended to shackle us but to free us in our work as pastors and leaders.  Healthy boundaries protect both us and our congregations: us from other people’s problems becoming overwhelming, and congregants’ from our unintentional misuse of power.

While the concepts of power and boundaries may seem abstract, the training itself was quite practical.  I walked away with a number of concrete tools for guarding against violating boundaries inappropriately:

Awareness.  Be aware of my own needs and find healthy ways of having them met other than by people I am supposed to be serving.

Motivation.  Ask myself these questions when engaging in care for people: “What is my role here?”  “Who is this for – is this in the best interest of the other person or does it only satisfy my needs?” “Would I be comfortable if all my acquaintances knew I was doing this?”

Accountability.  Establish a system of accountability.  One practical way of doing this would be to arrange to meet regularly with a spiritual director or colleague with whom to share honestly.

Something from vs something for.  The teacher should never want something from the student, other than for them to be their full self.  When I start wanting something from a person I am leading, I need to reassess.

 Prevention.  It is my responsibility to ensure prevention.  The obligation is always on the pastor/leader – not the congregant – to set proper, healthy boundaries.

Intervention.  When prevention fails, intervention is necessary.  Having established policies and procedures can be very useful in these situations.

Discernment.  Boundaries are not always easy to discern and there are often no clear guidelines for the best action to take when confronted with an issue.  Therefore, we need spiritual wisdom, divine prudence, and godly insight to help us faithfully navigate such encounters.

To serve in the role of spiritual leader is a sacred trust.  As a result of this training, I have a greater appreciation for the power I hold as a leader and a greater awareness of how I can appropriately use this power to serve, bless, and protect those God has entrusted to my care.

Healthy Boundary 101 Trainings are being offered by Franconia Conference to anyone who would like to attend. All those in a leadership role within their congregations are encouraged to attend. Credentialed leaders in Franconia Conference are required to complete the training for their 2018 credential renewal cycle.  For more information and to register for a training click here.

Nathan Good, Pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church had this to say about the training held on March 15: “I was not at all excited about attending the mandatory boundary training event held two weeks before Easter in the midst of my busy schedule.  I have already been trained on boundaries multiple times and have even taught others about healthy boundaries.  But, it was the only training session that fit into my schedule and it was required for maintaining my ordination credentials, so I went.  At the end of the day, despite the sacrifices I needed to make to be there, I was glad that I had attended.  Barbie and John did an excellent job presenting the material and creating a safe space for open storytelling.  It was encouraging and helpful to hear how other leaders wrestle with boundary questions within their role and to realize that I am not alone.  Even though most of the material was not new, it was presented and facilitated in a way that was refreshing, brought healthy reminders, and served as a sounding board for real life scenarios I found myself in at that time.  Despite my reservations about attending an 8 hour training event on boundaries, it was time well spent and I am glad I attended.”