Mar21WedMarch 21, 2018
On March 8th, over twenty licensed or credentialed pastors within Illinois Mennonite Conference gathered at the Mennonite Church of Normal for a required seminar on the fundamentals of healthy boundaries for pastors. Although it can be easy to feel taken hostage by required meetings, I was thankful for the leadership within IMC to make such a workshop happen. Our Executive Conference Minister Michael Danner presented the material over the course of several hours as a certified instructor from the FaithTrust Institute. It guided us through important questions and case studies about some of the unique situations which pastors can easily find themselves in. The primary goal was to make us aware of the appropriate boundaries which we need in order to maintain healthy relationships for the sake of spiritual integrity and successful ministry.
The day began with a guided discussion through Psalm 16 – a scripture passage from our recent Daily Scripture Readings. Verses 5-6 read, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed I have a beautiful heritage.” Here the psalmist, David, recognized that God set important boundaries around him – not necessarily to restrain him, but in order to lead him into a healthy life.
This chapter of Scripture has been, over the years, very important to me. I memorized it as a sophomore in college when I was severely undisciplined, overweight, depressed and spiritually enslaved. Through those verses, the Lord taught me to value boundaries for the sake of guarding the spiritual inheritance of my heart.
Healthy boundaries, or self-discipline, is critical not just for pastors but for any who desire to maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord. Now, to be clear, spiritual discipline does not save a person. We are saved by grace through faith – even while we are dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:5). Yet, after we are saved, the Lord begins to show us the value of boundaries like saying no and abstaining from things which can destroy a life of Godly integrity. Boundaries can come in various forms like avoiding certain kinds of food or drink, keeping away from various forms of entertainment or conversations and guarding your heart from emotional relationships which will lead to either spiritual or physical adultery (against the Lord or a spouse). Disciples of Jesus, and pastors, thrive when we have healthy boundaries with food, finance, time and relationships. Perhaps you can identity some that you already have in place.
However, setting boundaries is not enough to keep us on a path of healthy living – especially because it can lead to spiritual legalism. We, according to the Psalmist, need to invite the Lord to be ‘our chosen life’. When we learn to choose him over everything else and find satisfaction in him over everything else – the Lord leads us into a beautiful inheritance – a life if joyful, faithful integrity. Through that lens, we can begin to see how wonderful boundaries can be.
If you have ‘given anything up’ or set new habits during this Lenten season, I encourage you to continue to seek the Lord’s direction for maintaining healthy boundaries and spiritual disciplines even after Easter – but only as a means to find delight in the Lord. Through direction of the Holy Spirit, He can leads us to places where can celebrate fullness of joy among boundary lines, as Psalm 16 declares.