|Next Wave: www.next-wave.org: Sept 1999|
|Churches That Heal: Respecting Boundaries|
by Doug Murren
[Reprinted by permission of author from his latest book, Churches that Heal, Howard Publishing Co., Inc.81999]
A Personal Introduction to this chapter:
Growth in church often flies in the face of what we might think obvious. I have experienced and analyzed that often, the harder you try to grow, the less you do. And the more you chase people, the less they want to be with you. And vice versa, the more you don't seek to keep people, the more they want to be around you. I think giving our members room to work out their own salvation by refusing to violate sane boundaries is the first step to growth and developing healthy disciples. Doug MurrenCSept. 1999
|Most leaders are leaders because we really believe in what we're doing. That's a wonderful characteristic. It motivates us; it generates enthusiasm around us; it keeps us going when the going gets rough; it gets things done.||Click here to order Churches that Heal|
|But it can also lead to the proverbial pitfall of running a race with blinders on. Sometimes we need to stop, look around, and face up to our own limitations and the limitations of those around us. Nobody can do everything all the time---not even for a cause they believe in.|
..I want to discuss a critical subject of Christian leaders and all believers who minister to others, whether at church, at home, or on the job: boundaries. I=m convinced it=s impossible to maintain a healing environment without respecting and observing personal boundariesCboth others= and our own.
In our highly dysfunctional society, crossing boundaries of identity and personhood is common. We impose on one another; we demand intimacy; we expect disclosure. Some who go further actually rob or rape. Even in the church, we fail to respect one another as we should.
Unfortunately people today are often all too happy to let authority figures invade the boundaries of their lives. They are more than willing to let employers and schoolteachers and doctors be responsible for decisions that they should make on their own (especially if there=s any hint it would require struggle). And in the church, believers who never go beyond the Amilk of the Word@ are quite satisfied to have their pastors tell them what to believe and how to live. They tend to like their pastors to spoon-feed themCand change a messy diaper when needed.
|Preaching that respects the boundaries of its hearers will not command a response; it will not try to usurp individual decision-making faculties. It will not encourage dependency. As much as we might like to, we can't say, "Believe this!" (We might as well add, "You dummies!")|
People who have their intellectual capacities respected, who are encouraged to make their own decisions, are going to be healthier in the long run. But if, week after week, we make dictatorial demand from the pulpit---the throne---we risk stifling the spirits of our people and causing wounds to fester in their souls.
Many pastoring styles today, in essence, are nothing more than codependent involvement in the lives of others. Taking too much responsibility for another person=s life does to offer them real help.
|I reached a point as a pastor when I felt wanted and loved, but loved to death. I was the twenty-four-hour-a-day pastor. And consequently, I attracted many broken people who were perpetually in need. At the end of my rope, I called my denominational supervisor. "I'm exhausted," I told him. I can't make it. What should I do?"|
AAre you counseling at nights and a breakfast appointments and on Saturdays?@ he asked.
AOf course,@ I responded, wondering how he knew, AThat=s the only way I can keep up.@
He paused a moment then gave me his prescription. AI want you to announce to your church that you don=t do counseling unless the person agrees to pray at least one hour in the sanctuary before and appointment and after a Sunday service,@ he said. APeople who want counseling often don=t go to God before they go to the pastor. And they don=t bother to come to the services because they know they=ll be getting their own private sermon.
AI want you to stick to this, Doug. And I want you to play a game of golf every week. You=ll be fine in about a month, you=ll see.@
The next Sunday, I made the announcement with a wince. But to my surprise, the church seemed enthused about the move. I guess they wanted me to survive. The real test came that Friday night.
I had fallen asleep watching a movie, and Deb had just left me to rest. I was awakened by the phone at 1:15 a.m.
AHello, is this Pastor Doug?@ a shrinking female voice asked as I picked up the receiver.
AUh...yep. I think it is,@ I said groggily. AWho is this?@
AIt=s Delores, Pastor. You have to come over to our house right now. Jim and I need counseling. I don=t feel safe, and I think we=re ready for a breakthrough.@ The speed of her words hit me like a shot of Novocaine to my frontal lobes.
I had a vague memory that Jim and Delores had marriage problems.AHas Jim hit you?@
ANo, but I=m afraid he might,@ she asserted.
AWell, I am going to hang up so you can call the police.@
Jim grabbed the pone at that point. APastor, we tithe a lot to you,@ he bellowed. AAnd we need you now. We aren=t safe together.@
AWell, Jim, you can keep your tithe,@ I said with force. AAnd I have the phone numbers of a dozen pastors you can call if you want. But I=m not coming over. One of you can check into a hotel. You=ll both be safe then.@
AYou=re not coming? Do you mean that?@ he asked.
AYes, I do. Now, here=s what I recommend. You leave right now and go get a hotel room. Get some sleep. Both of you take time to be with God. Then call my office first thing Monday morning and make and appointment. Come an hour early so you can go to the sanctuary first to pray. That way, when we get together, we=ll be able to cover some real ground. But right now, my family needs me, and I need some rest.@
AOkay,@ Jim said. AThat=s what we=ll do.@ And he hung up.
They did make it into my office the following week. But after praying together in the sanctuary first, they told me they didn=t need to see me anymore, thanked me, and went home.
|In churches, boundary breaches can go both ways. Congregants show a blatant disrespect for the personal, health, and family boundaries of church leaders when they make unreasonable demands for time and attention, like Jim and Delores did. Pastors need lives too.|
When I told my congregation I was going to reclaim some of my time, I think quite a few of them thought that meant I=d have more time for them!
But leaders can also be guilty of crossing boundaries when, in their attempt to be helpful, they get excessively involved in the lives of their members and begin to direct the details of their lives. When the members don=t respond quickly or thoroughly enough, pastor can be tempted to exert more and more dominance in order to make sure they get Ahelped.@
It is impossible to be whole if you don=t Aown@ your own decision, your own life, and your own problems. All boundary invasions result in a loss of respect and dignityCtwo necessary ingredients of a healing environment.
The Bible may not use the word boundary, but many scriptures combine to give us helpful insight into the patterns that make for healthy boundary-keeping. I call these the Aone another@ passages because they tell us how we are to relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe that when we put these passages together, a clear picture arises of a healthy and respectful church.
A church that looks like this list is not a church that violates boundaries. It is a respecter of an individual's dignity. And, not surprisingly, it is a healthy church that is poised to offer health to its community.
Murren is director of Square One
Ministries. He does
outreach events in English-speaking nations; pastor's
training seminars and seminars on sharing your faith for lay
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Doug, Steve Sjogren and George Barna are unveiling a new association of churches in Orlando, Florida, Jan. 25 26, 2000, inquiry welcomed.