God’s kingdom purposes in the world require thriving church leaders. The work of joining Jesus in God’s kingdom work of evangelism, social justice and cultural renewal can be as challenging as it is exciting. God empowers us with his Spirit to reflect Jesus’ love to others in need, inviting them to know God’s love in Christ and to become followers of Jesus in and through the fellowship, worship and mission of the local church. God calls us to bring to rights the cultures of the world, the people of which will one day bow and praise God in the new heaven and earth.
The challenge thriving church leaders face is overdoing it, being busy 24/7. How do we stay refreshed and keep from growing weary in well-doing? Boundaries, while a somewhat overworked term today, is still a helpful concept for us. Like the margins around a printed page, boundaries for rest, worship and play are necessary to thrive.
Leaders can be interrupted regularly with demands of people relating to illnesses, deaths, births, weddings, and traumas. For example, the leader’s schedule for the week already includes three teachings, two presentations along with a committee meeting and a board meeting. The phone rings and the leader is asked to leave everything and come to deal with the crisis at hand. How do we stay focused on God in all of this?
One of the hardest disciplines to keep is one’s own time for God. A church leader’s own vulnerability to serving the needs of others must be dealt with. The leader likes to be both liked and needed. To say “No, I can’t come right now” seems incongruous to God’s call for the leader to be a blessing to others.
Yes, on paper one can easily prioritize God first, family second, self-care third and people fourth. But as any of us knows the week to week reality blurs these important callings.
Still the principle is true that unless my own heart and body are filled with rest, a rich sense of the abiding presence of God, and the deep well of human wholeness, I will have precious little to give to others. My own self awareness is important as well. How well can I live with myself if I disappoint others in not coming immediately when I’m told I’m needed? How do I overcome any guilt? How to I guard myself against mental distraction when I choose to delay my response to the crisis to spend more time with God, self or family?
For full-time leaders, it might be helpful to divide the week into 21 “mods” or sections. One mod is a morning, an afternoon or an evening. Seven days of the week contain 21 mods. The leader can establish how many mods he or she should work in a given week. Fourteen is comfortable for some. If I’m well over that number, something might need attention in my life or scheduling. If I’m paid for full time work then something less than 14 mods might not be fair to my employer. Each leader can work out what is best for him or her. I suggest telling the board or human resource committee or a handful of others in the church what your weekly goal is.
In addition to time, ethical boundaries are vital for a leader to flourish. What is “over the line”; that is, behavior that is inappropriate? What about sexual innuendos? What of jokes that put down other people or groups of people? What about verbiage said to an opposite sex person that suggests anything inappropriate to professional godly behavior? What about meeting ‘privately’ with someone – apart from one’s family or congregation’s awareness? How about one’s personal use of media in inappropriate ways – the Internet, premium TV channels, computer visuals we watch that we’d be embarrassed for anyone to know about?
What about ‘power’ boundaries? A church leader has power to use for God’s glory or for abusing one’s office as leader or people. How about getting one’s way no matter what? Manipulating outcomes? Misquoting statistics? Telling half truths? And so on.
Then there are financial boundaries. Do I show restraint in being excessive in my spending? Do I include God’s priority of the poor in my budgeting? Do I observe the biblical tithe or more than the 10% in my giving? Do I ‘steal’ at all in my income tax reporting? Do I misuse any church budget accounts entrusted to me for ministerial purposes?
The practice of good boundaries for the church leader requires much effort. The living out of boundaries takes a lifetime of adjustment and growth. The reward for these practices is a good name or character. Compromise in boundaries can destroy our lives and ministries. Thriving leaders work their whole lives at establishing and living out good boundaries.