Principles to consider in setting ministry boundaries
The development of boundaries within ministry is an essential skill that requires intentional development. A right philosophy of ministry boundaries is established upon a foundation of certain biblical principles.
Your first covenant is with God.
A pastor shepherds his people out of the spiritual overflow of his own life. A rightly-ordered understanding of one's identity is necessary to healthy boundaries in ministry. Before being a pastor, or even a husband and father, a man is first a child of God. Failing to flourish in one's own spiritual formation through certain Spiritual Disciplines is a precondition for failure in pastoral ministry as well.
Take as first importance the words of Christ in John 15:4-5:
Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. (John 15:4-5)
Do not mistake sermon preparation or academic study for sufficient replacements for practices that lead to abiding in Christ. Certainly, sermon preparation should be edifying. If the text does not first master the preacher, how can it master the hearer? However, it is a pale replacement for spiritual formation, and pastors do well to understand the need for both.
Pastor your family first.
Brian Croft provides a helpful resource titled The Pastor's Family on navigating pastoral ministry with your family in a healthy way.
Paul's words concerning the qualifications for elders ring true:
He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) (1 Timothy 3:4-5)
If one cannot first manage his own household, how can he pastor a church? Notice the priority given in this question. And lest one reduce manage to maintaining a heavy authority over the home, heed Paul's counsel elsewhere. Managing a home requires sacrificial love and affection for those who are part of the family, especially one's wife.
Consider also Paul's admonition to husbands in Ephesians 5:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. (Ephesians 5:25-26)
Paul uses the proper relationship between a husband and wife as an analogy to explain Christ and his church. However, it's important to see that this text also demonstrates the proper human relationship as well. Husbands give themselves up for their wives.
In practical terms, this means they get your first and best ministry time. Your wife and children are not a distraction from pastoral ministry, they are your first priority in pastoral ministry. Do not forget that your family are also church members and you will most certainly give an account for how you shepherd them.
But, a shepherd should smell like his sheep.
I find Thabiti Anyabwile's writing compelling on pastoral ministry. It was from Thabiti that I first heard the phrase, "A shepherd should smell like his sheep." He provides a helpful resource in Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons
Finally, pastoral ministry is intensely interpersonal. A few errors are common here. First, as an overreaction to ministry philosophies that sacrificed family or spiritual formation, many young pastors today are frankly not giving enough with their time. A tension does exist, and it is unavoidable, between creating the appropriate space for personal and family health and giving as much as possible to your congregation. Gutters exist on either side of this road, and the wise pastor constantly evaluates to make sure their course is straight.
Second, some pastors today assume that most of their time should be spent in their study. Do not make the shallow mistake of assuming that a pastor is essentially a preacher. Preaching is one of the most important tasks of the pastor, at least in our current Western model for church practice. All pastors need time to think, pray, and study so that they can prepare to preach and teach the word to their congregation. This time is important, but only in rare situations should a pastor's schedule spend more time in study than in the lives and homes of their people. In rare instances, a pastor will have a large enough platform and a large enough church that they can dedicate themselves primarily to the teaching and preaching ministry of the church. For this to be healthy, however, it requires other pastors who do spend adequate time in the other vital aspects of shepherding their congregation. Most pastors have to fulfill both responsibilities, and it is a mistake to weight too heavily toward sermon preparation.
Too much time in the study assumes that your 45 minutes in front of the congregation is your best teaching to them. It overlooks the incalculable value of sitting with someone in conversation, of taking someone with you on errands, of living life in front of and alongside those you pastor. A shepherd should smell like his sheep. The best pastors prioritize time lived with their congregation over time preparing to speak at their congregation.
How do you coordinate healthy boundaries in your ministry schedule?
In many ways, my work requires the same kind of tension as that of a pastor. Pastors are "on call" in order to minister to their congregation as needs arise. The work of associational leadership requires the same posture toward pastors. We have over 350 churches in our association, which results in constant needs arising across an array of ministry issues. It's easy to get overwhelmed by requests and a good desire to serve churches in their unique needs.
It is essential to develop practices that maintain health and provide avenues to serve others well. These practices are, in fact, a part of our discipleship, since Transformational Discipleship has Much in Common with Habit Formation. Given the three principles states above, the following are practical steps I use to maintain (as best as possible) boundaries within my own ministry.
Count the cost in your schedule.
Be diligent in your scheduling. Signing on to a post in ministry means you give up the right to thoughtless time. You are, after all, a steward of the time you've been given. Your days are a gift from the Lord to steward. Do so with thoughtfulness. In order to do this, I use a timeblocking method in my online calendar. I try to account for most of the hours of my day with block of time dedicated to particaular tasks: personal, family, and work related. I block time for spiritual formation. I block time for family. I block time for people and meetings, and I block time for administrative tasks. Doing so also requires me to regularly tend my calendar. I schedule several times throughout the week to assess and adjust as needs arise.
Since I block my time in this manner, I can assign the most important things the best time. I know when I am most productive and I am cognizant of the times when it is more likely that my family needs me. The most important tasks get the best time, and then the less important tasks can fill in the available time. This ensures my priorities are set in a way that maximizes my time for those things most important to my family and ministry. The least important things either get pushed later or fall off the calendar completely.
I need to compile a separate note on the difference between importance and urgency.
A particular temptation for pastors is the tyranny of the urgent. We must be clear concerning the difference between what is important and what is urgent. In ministry, things will often seem urgent that are not necessarily important. Understanding the difference between the two prevents falling prey to a planned schedule that is never kept and constantly disrupted. One practical tool to triage tasks based on importance and urgency is called the Eisenhower Matrix.James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, provides an excellent article on this approach to scheduling triage: "How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the “Eisenhower Box".
Minimize distractions and temptations.
I regularly suggest Cal Newport's Deep Work for an excellent treatment of creating healthy practices that minimize distraction and an effective work and life balance.
But scheduling your time is only half the battle toward boundaries. Follow-through is just as important. At least two considerations are of value concerning those things which would tempt you away from an ordered ministry schedule.
First, you must steward your mobile life. We no longer realize just how distracted we are. The average American spends hours of empty time scrolling through things that feel important, even feel like ministry. We must guard our usage of social media, or it will consume hours of our week. In addition, we must set boundaries for calls and text messages. In previous decades of ministry, the pastor did not carry a phone in his pocket. The expectation that he could be reached at any time did not exist, because it did not exist for anyone. However, our constant connectivity easily suggests a lack of care and concern when a call or text goes unanswered. This produces twin problems. The pastor feels an increased need to immediately respond to messages or calls, and the congregation member feels warranted to expect this kind of accessibility. Often, congregants also have problems understanding the difference between urgency and importance in their own life and ask, with urgency, for pastors to engage in nonimportant activities as though they are timely.
Second, you must communicate reasonable expectations and boundaries to others. Setting expectations that run against the general culture concerning connectivity is a real challenge, but it is essential to long term health in ministry. This must be approached graciously but upheld consistently. There are many ways to accomplish this, and each pastor's specific ministry situation should dictate the manner in which this is communicated. Let congregants know the times they can reach you, and be generous with those times. Do not always feel the need to respond immediately to texts or calls, though you should be flexible depending on the content of the message or call. Emergencies do happen, and these are both urgent and important in ministry.
Be all in on what you're doing at the moment.
Finally, once time is carved out, use that time for its intended purpose. Using time the way you communicate it will be used is an integrity issue. If you promise time to your family, then give them that time completely. The same goes for study and relationships in your ministry. One of the quickest ways to demonstrate a lack of real concern for others is to give them divided time.