When I look back at my time in full-time ministry, I see how much I struggled making clear boundaries.  I want you to learn from the mistakes I made and help you to have a long-term healthy run in ministry leadership.  Without boundaries, the chance of a quick burnout is high, and a burned-out leader is useless.   Below are seven simple ways to create boundaries and help you avoid burnout.  

  1. If Jesus needed rest, you need rest.  Everything starts with your relationship with Jesus.  Remember, that He is the reason you are in church ministry.  Jesus said, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:5).”  Your church leadership will only be as strong as your relationship with Jesus. 
  2. Be aware of the counseling drain. Counseling is often a role that many church leaders are expected to do but are not qualified to accomplish.   Be ready to refer people in need to other counselors in the area.  Do not feel guilty that you cannot help everyone.  In fact, you could do more harm than good in trying to be a counselor.  
  1. Ask strategic questions when you are asked to do something.  Here are some good questions:
  • “What is most important right now?”
  • “Could someone else do this better?”
  • “What are the consequences if you say “No?”
  • “How will saying “Yes” affect your family?”

These questions will help you say “Yes” to the right thing and “No” to the wrong thing.  

  1. Have conversations with your spouse about boundaries.  A big part of a boundaries plan needs to be an updated family calendar.  With your spouse, decide your day off, and when your hours are flexible and when they are not.  Before you say “Yes” to something outside of your normal schedule, talk with your spouse.  If you have kids, make sure you are on the same page for your parental responsibilities. Never make assumptions that you and your spouse are on the same page regarding boundaries. 
  2. Take a consistent day-off. You alone are responsible for protecting your schedule.  I learned that the “walls” did not fall when I took time off, and it also allowed others to step up in my absence.   If the ministry cannot survive without you, it means you have setup a narcissistic culture focused on you.   
  1. Watch out for responsibility “creep.”  This happens in every job. Your job description should be frequently reviewed to make sure that roles have not crept into your position that could be taking away from your main responsibilities. 
  2. Limit your accessibility and communicate it.  Not everyone should have unlimited to access to you.  For example, your spouse or kids should have unlimited access to you, but your supervisor should not.   There are always times of emergency where you need to respond at late times, but these are usually infrequent.  Communicate to others when you are available and when you are not!  

If you want to make it long-term in ministry, boundaries must be prioritized.  Not only will boundaries keep you healthy, it will also teach others.  A part of leadership is being an example.  People may not like your boundaries at first, but they will adapt and respect you in the long-run.  

Bob Van Baren is a church consultant/coach at his company Vision 2-10. He also has 18 years’ experience in church ministry and non-profits, along with a Master of Arts in Leadership and Organizational Development from Bethel Seminary. 

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