By Lisa Whittle
Some of saddest and most common words ever spoken by a ministry leader are often the most preventable.
“I should never have let it get to that point,” my pastor friend told me over lunch. His wife sitting in the booth beside him nodded the tears right out of her eyes.
We weren’t even to the calamari appetizers and he had already confessed to me about his long-running emotional affair.
Having sat with one too many leaders who can now only wish they’d been more strict with themselves, I can tell you if we want to stay in ministry for the long haul, we’ll get over being so liberal with ourselves and instead, do what it takes to not fall into sin.
I can tell you after looking into a lot of hurt people’s eyes: Our permissibility issues aren’t worth it.
Jesus wants us to have enough integrity to say, my freedom lets me do it, but my heart tells me it’s not for my best and set a boundary from there.
Boundaries are the greatest gift we give ourselves in ministry. They lessen the complicated yes’s and no’s. They keep things from getting cloudy. They help everyone around us know better what they can expect.
Conversely, the leader who doesn’t set boundaries is the leader who needs not expect longevity—or at the very least, longevity without regret.
Burnout is real. So is forced resignation.
But a leader who longs to serve Jesus well, steady, and long-term will set these four necessary boundaries.
All of us have limited time capacity, making this boundary perhaps the easiest to self-govern. Yet we still struggle with trying to be “all things to all people” in knowing where and when to offer up our time.
While some leaders make themselves largely unavailable, setting a stringent standard for time and relying upon support staff to stand in on their behalf, this isn’t possible for many leaders.
A leader who never makes time for people may need a humility check. A leader who always makes time for everyone may have a self-esteem issue. Give of your time and protect your time. A balanced approach is wise, responsible, and possible.
And, even if not already in place, it’s never too late to implement a new boundary.
Some leaders mistakenly believe there is no place off limits for us. It’s easy to believe we’re to go wherever and whenever to reach all people, and we’re strong enough to be in any environment or place.The leader who doesn’t set boundaries is the leader who needs not expect longevity—or at the very least, longevity without regret.While we should never be about convenience or preference when it comes to the gospel, we should still exercise discernment for our souls, as leadership doesn’t immune us from burnout or falling into sin.
If we’re predisposed to alcoholism from family genetics, doing bar ministry likely isn’t a wise choice. If we once struggled with a porn addiction, preaching outside of the strip club might be a place of ministry we let God use someone else.
And it’s not just places of ministry we need to set the boundary. As believers in Jesus Christ, we should have standards for our lives. This means we have boundaries around places where we could go, but we won’t, lest it compromise us.
Will we see any movie, watch any show on Netflix, or listen to any music? How can we lead others to have discernment in their lives if we don’t exercise it ourselves?
Maybe the greatest indicator of our need for boundaries is our relationships. Have you been burned by giving too much of yourself to a friend or ministry colleague? Or perhaps you’ve been tempted to violate a marital or moral covenant with God by letting a relationship go too far.
Leaders must be aware of the pitfalls, the attractions (in every sense), and the vulnerabilities in relationships so the right kind of boundaries can be set.
It’s not only important to set relationship boundaries, but tailor them to be exactly what’s necessary for you, specifically, to maintain health in this area (taking into account personality type, job situation, etc.), so things can be well before God.
In this day and time when social media gives everyone a platform, wise speech is increasingly hard to find.
The noise is overwhelming, and leaders need to be known for steady, strong, and wise biblical truth—with no agenda. Leaders need to lead with speech standards; we need boundaries in what we will and won’t publicly say.
Everything we feel, think, and support doesn’t need to be preached from the pulpit. Everything we discuss with our family in the safety of our home doesn’t need to be voiced on Twitter.
There’s no room for a leader who is following God to be using expletives and condescending language as a means of persuasive speech—the Word of God is enough. Boundaries are needed in this area.
Instead of feeling policed by the standards of boundaries, I’m praying we’ll begin to see them as a true gift.
Leadership is precious. God is our example. May we tread wisely with the influence He has given us in order to please Him.
LISA WHITTLE (@LisaRWhittle) is the founder of Ministry Strong, a ministry for leaders to help equip to preach the gospel with integrity, prioritize family relationships, and learn proper soul care to serve Jesus with strength for the long haul. She’s also a speaker, has authored six books, and hosts the “5 Word Prayers Daily” podcast.