Boundaries can serve us well in the practice of ministry.
When boundaries give clarity to relationships and prevent the abuse of power, they are worth maintaining.
Boundaries can also become barriers in the work of ministry.
How does this happen?
Watch this week’s Three Minute Ministry Mentor video to see how Pastor Randall* leads his Christian Methodist Episcopal congregation to consider the physical boundaries they created with a wrought iron fence around the church house. A boundary that they intended to enhance safety had turned into a barrier with the neighborhood the church was hoping to serve.
As with most boundaries, our purpose and motivation impact the usefulness or harmfulness of the boundaries we set.
Is the aim of a personal boundary to keep relationships clear and steer us away from the misuse or abuse of power between people? For example clergy and the people they lead can be served well by maintaining healthy boundaries when it comes to the areas where human beings are exceedingly vulnerable: money, sexuality and power are areas that need clear and well-maintained boundaries to prevent harm and to help people relate lovingly and safely together.
In her latest book, The Big Deal of Taking Small Steps to Move Closer to God, AME Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie writes about the importance of connection. She tells a story about Israeli and Palestinian women who transcend the boundaries of their religious traditions to become genuine neighbors and protectors of one another’s safety.
The women in her story are geographical neighbors, living across the road from one another. Yet their connections are limited by the boundaries between their religious history and traditions. They transgress the boundaries — which had become barriers — to make friendships. They create a shared enterprise, and they live into the values of their connections with one another (chap. 1).
Noticing the boundaries, barriers, and potential connections in our lives and ministries is important. Like Pastor Randall we can ask: do these boundaries still serve us? Do they help us serve and love our neighbors? Or have they become barriers to between us and the very people with whom we desire connection?
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*Pastor Randall, a pseudonym, is a participant in the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project. This story is shared with his permission.