Drawing Healthy Boundaries In Ministry
When I came on staff with FCA, I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old who just graduated from college and felt like the world was my oyster. Although I was sad to hang up my cleats from college athletics, that sadness slowly faded in light of my excitement to take on my new adventure in full-time ministry. Two things come to mind when I think about that 22-year-old – she was incredibly passionate, and she truly felt the weight of being in a position that allowed her to influence the spiritual lives of young people. As the years went on and I grew both as a person and as a minister, that passion was stirred up more and more, and the weight of responsibility started to feel heavier and heavier.
I like to think about passion being joy expressed outwardly, so with that in mind, I want you to take a moment to reflect on when you first felt that expressive joy in your ministry. A moment where it might have felt like you might burst from delight. Was it a moment at your first summer camp? The first time a student gave their life to Jesus? Now, I want you to think about when you first felt a deep sense of responsibility in your ministry. Maybe it was the first time you preached or the first time you had to counsel a student in a delicate situation.
As youth workers, passion and a sense of responsibility unite us because they often fuel us in what we do. Passion and responsibility can be powerful forces that God uses for our good, our students’ good, and His glory, but if we are not careful, they can also be used against us. They can be things that the enemy distorts to steal, kill, and destroy. It’s been both my experience and observation that an unhealthy work/life balance for those in ministry often comes from unhealthy boundaries driven by distorted passion or a distorted sense of responsibility. Here are two healthy ways we can view our passion and our responsibility in order to draw healthier boundaries as ministers.
One of the biggest lies I believed early on in ministry was that because I truly loved my job with every fiber of my being, there was no harm in working more than I probably should. You could find me at every game and every practice possible. I met with students long after typical work hours and often on weekends. That passion fueled me in ministry, but I allowed it to push me into overdrive…all the time. My life orbited around my job, but I never saw a problem with it because I loved it! So what’s the harm in that, right? The problem was that I was slowly creating an idol out of my ministry – putting FCA on the throne of my life rather than Jesus Himself. Passion and zeal are great gifts from God, but they are best riding shotgun and letting the Spirit and wisdom of God take the wheel. A fire in a fireplace warms the house, but if left unattended or not properly placed, it also has the potential to burn the house down. So it is with passion and zeal.
One of the other lies I believed was that because I knew I had been called by God Himself to spiritually care for and shepherd my students, I felt like I had to prioritize that calling as the most important thing – at all times and all costs. I believed everything else must take a backseat. I felt the weight of my responsibility as a minister of the Gospel to my students, but I subconsciously started to trust more in myself as a functional savior than I trusted Jesus Himself to take care of them! I let the weight of responsibility drive my ministry and, subsequently, my life. I operated that way until I realized that Jesus wanted to invite me to see that He is worth whole-heartedly trusting for not just my own life but my students’ lives, too. I found myself feeling guilty if I wasn’t accessible to my students 24/7. I found myself putting my own spiritual and physical health on the back burner because, in my mind, those were not as important as the calling God had given me to spiritually lead my students.
Both of these lies caused me to draw unhealthy boundaries in my ministry (and by unhealthy, I mean no boundaries at all sometimes!). But what Jesus taught me was that by drawing healthy boundaries around my ministry, I’m actually operating how God wants me to. My identity is not just as an FCA staff member but as an FCA staff member, friend, mentor, daughter, church member, runner, and wife. I realized I was not honoring the Lord because I was diluting my identity to merely being someone who worked for FCA. And not only are these boundaries healthy for me personally, but it’s healthy for my students to see this demonstrated – to see that work (even ministry) is not an idol to be worshipped but that Jesus alone is the One worthy to orbit my life around. Taking care of your physical body matters to God. Building close, Christ-like friendships matters to God. Resting matters to God. It is our job not just to shepherd our students but to demonstrate and live out these truths in our lives.
Burnout is real, and healthy boundaries are our way to help us stay far from it so that we can stay in the fight for this next generation. Our students are worth it. Our callings are worth it. Jesus is worth it.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- How are your boundaries when it comes to your ministry?
- Are you using passion and responsibility as reasons to draw unhealthy boundaries? If so, how can you reevaluate and practically redraw those boundaries in better places?
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