Ministerial Boundaries: FRIENDSHIPS

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It has been understood by many that when one thing ends, another begins upon the heels of it. When it comes to general boundaries, it’s best to look at when you stop is also when one close to you does as well….mutually and respectfully.

As a minister in the public eye, even though part-time, it’s important to set Christ’s example in your boundaries set, not just your actions portrayed. Yet boundaries even go beyond the title you hold closest to your heart; they have to define your identity of beliefs, your passion of expression, and your barrier of allowed abuse.

What do I mean with all this? Why in the world is boundaries such an issue? Well….we, as human beings believe that whatever is out there, no matter whose it is, is ours! Marriages are ill-defined, Career relationships are irrationally unstable, and unfortunately, God’s churches are being redefined with sinful mindedness. Boundaries were meant to keep each person as individually unique as God intended and their lives to reflect the miracle of grace!

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When I was in seminary I remember one of the best seminary influences I could have sit me down on many occasions and tell me my boundaries were awful. At the time of hearing those words, my reception of that criticism sent me on an even blogger downward spiral abusing them even more. Where I began, ended wherever I wanted it to or with whomever I wanted it too. I was a lovable guy (still am I believe), and I thought my intentions were ALWAYS in the right place…..(snickering so hard I coughed)

I had some good guys relationships, but I bonded the best with women! I could listen to them, help them, and be their “Superman” when they needed one (or when they didn’t). My friendship to others was worth a little boundary bouncing…..or so I told myself. Here I am now 37 years old and I’ve held 29 jobs. Of those 29 jobs, without recounting everyone and every detail; I lost around 10 of those to “alleged” sexual harassment. I wasn’t going around touching women or offering them sex….most of those jobs I was taken or even married! It was my compliments mostly that set me up to fail. “I like your hair, it looks good!” This one was probably my favorite since I truly only said that; yet I was fired for making someone “uncomfortable”.

My question to ponder has been of late, Does the term ‘uncomfortable’ automatically represent a boundary violation? Or rather, Does someone being uncomfortable automatically give them the “societal” leverage that their boundary deserves more attention validation than the one accused?

As you may tell, this topic has been the defined to much is my life. Getting it “right” in the eyes of God and not man is my predominant goal. I believe that the kindness of a follower of Christ’s heart is being abused by an insecure world crying out for attention and validation! When a person simply gives a hug goodbye to a friend, and you get fired for sexual harassment because it offended an ONLOOKER….then there is a deeper problem within that person (true story)!!

So where should the proverbial line be drawn at? Which direction should followers of Christ truly lean towards? The humble victim, turn the other cheek mode; or the righteously angry defender of the Lord’s active hands and feet follower? Don’t mistaken my direction I desire this blog to go….I WANT to have healthy boundaries and I WANT to learn when to stop and when to go in situations. BUT, I also don’t want to lay down and allow my life and my character be defined by someone looking for the wrong attention and focus!

With the exception of a few times I did purposely move beyond someone’s boundary line, most of the rest of the time I feel I have been respectful to the boundaries of others and have only had Godly intent in what I say or do. So this begs the question….what should a man or woman in ministry’s boundaries be?

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Now you might try to disqualify yourself immediately from this question if you are not in an organized ministry setting; but let me remind you that we are ALL called as His children to minister!
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NLT)

So lets start with an obvious recognition to a boundary violation: if the action or words you are giving towards someone automatically causes them outward frustration; this it’s safe to say you are violating a boundary of theirs! We all enjoy spontaneous reactions to things out of the blue, yet it should NEVER cause someone else grief for you to obtain the reaction! Any resistance at all given whether verbally or non-verbally that YOU yourself recognize is pushing a boundary violation and you NEED to back off!.

The beautiful embrace of one’s hand to another is the outward symbolization of respected boundary unions!

So now let’s think this way into the meat of this discussion, the inspiration of my blurred domination! Boundaries in friendships…specifically friendships within 3 areas of focus: MINISTRY, WORK, & MARRIAGE!

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Being that all these areas could pose a discussion much longer than this blog needs to be, I’ll cut right to it for each!

MINISTRY BOUNDARIES: FRIENDSHIPS
Who are you ultimately wanting to represent? Each moment you act, work, or speak under the authority of Christ; are you representing your intentions more or His? When you approach others, are you giving them the vision of Christ through those actions, words or works?

The Word tells us that we are to love one another as we love ourselves and also as Christ loves the church, His bride. (Matthew 22:39 & Ephesians 5:25). Yet the Apostle Paul states just as emphatically earlier in Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”

So which command should take precedence? If a man in ministry hugs a woman, does there not “naturally” come the HINT of sexual impurity? Aren’t we made that way? If a woman in ministry prays with another man and holds his hands or puts her arm around his waist/back; does that not promote a societal boundary violation? How do they know there was even a hint between the two??

Bottom line: Respect The Lord and His people and drive out any impure thoughts you may have while in ministry. You will have plenty and constantly because that’s how Satan works! But know that if what your intentions are could possible give Christ ANY negative exposure to someone….then that’s a boundary NOT to cross!! If the perception (even though I despise that viewpoint) looks like it could hurt your ministry for The Lord, then consider revising prayerfully that boundary area!

WORK BOUNDARIES: FRIENDSHIPS
Similar to the ministry boundaries for the same reasons; the only difference is how to relate them appropriately in a “worldly” environment. Since many non-believers or even non-grounded believers (those who say they know, but don’t live) struggle with life circumstances, we cannot assume they will attempt to respect healthy boundaries! We need to be trend setters and not allow their lack of boundaries redefine ours and what we allow!

If you are friends with co-workers and the boundaries are well kept, make sure one of the most important ones set is where they begin as a co-worker and where they begin as a friend….NEVER MIX THE TWO!!. This means what’s personal stays outside the walls of the work environment. Outside there you can set the depth of your relationship boundaries; but keep them only as deep as the real trust for that individual goes!

MARRIAGE BOUNDARIES: FRIENDSHIPS

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As the picture above states, “Are opposite sex friends okay?” This has been a forever torment in my life. Since I can remember, long before my two marriages I have struggled to define this in my life. I’ve always bonded and meshed easier with females. Maybe it was because of the “way back when” incidences of jocks and bullies messing with me. Maybe it could be because of the scaring I had as a 3rd grader being accused of being gay because a kid on my bus showed me his penis under his coat. No matter what the reasoning, I love spending time with women. I wish I could spend more QUALITY time with male buddies, but none seem to exist beyond work.

I’ve prayed so hard and so long for a male accountability partner, and so far in my last 3 years I’ve had no one. An excuse? Not really, just a continual cry out for extra direction and help to stay on the path God WANTS me to be on! Have the relationships with women in my past caused me to stumble and caused boundaries to be misconstrued? Yes, shamefully it has, yet I will always humbly say the growth out weighs the shame of the mistake.

As a happily married man on the second go around, my boundaries have taken a roller coaster ride! Yet my relationships with my female friends have been tough to boundary with regards to my wife. I want her to like all my female friends; yet due to my mistakes her trust and openness to my having female friends is tainted. So where do I go from here? What do I have to do to uphold healthy boundaries, keep positive relationships, and my wife trust how we interact?

One thing I’ve learned is if the person to whom you’re friends with doesn’t respect the boundaries of your marriage morally & ethically….than its not a healthy friendship. And most importantly….if your friendship is more physical than any other aspect; than your intentions are boundary-less. You are NOT upholding the character of Christ in your intentions.

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If your spouse isn’t involved in your boundary making with your friends; than where does your value of God’s covenant with your spouse at? If you value your time more with your friends than your spouse; than you have deeper boundary issues than you’re probably admitting. Spending time alone with the opposite sex in public….a boundary violation or not? If so, to whom? To whom’s boundary is more prevalent to respect? If the intentions are pure and honest by the spouse out; does the boundary in question really in question? Or is the problem lying within the insecurity of the uncomfortable party?

Ultimately God knows your intentions and if your verbiage is honest or not; if your actions are selfish instead of sacrificial. We need to redefine your boundaries for Jesus and His direction for your behavior. KNOW WHERE HE BEGINS IN YOUR LIFE AND WHERE YOU END! The boundaries made will reflect your heart’s directions.

I will be praying for all who read this and ask for His guidance through these words!

AMEN

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One thought on “Ministerial Boundaries: FRIENDSHIPS

  1. Hi Chad! I read this a while ago and didn’t have time to respond. My answer is ministerial or not, boundaries with friends of the opposite sex should be very tight. In our church, generally men pray with men and women pray with women (sometimes a big group prays and it is both). Our pastors have been outspoken about not counseling people of the opposite sex. Even with them, they may both counsel someone, but very seldom will she counsel a man or he counsel a woman. In your case, if Amber doesn’t participate in counseling, that’s harder to do, but it might be worth considering if she should be involved in counseling with you.

    Even outside the ministerial, setting, I know Andrea worked with someone who was going through hard times and sometimes he came into her office and started talking and she couldn’t escape, but as much as she could, she suggested that they go to lunch with his wife so the three of them could talk. When my own marriage was going through problems, a guy I worked with was kicked out by his wife. Other than my boss (a woman), he was the only person at work I told about my problem, and we kinda commiserated. But I only talked to him once, because I realized that it would be real easy for us to start comforting each other, and my marriage was important to me, and I was determined not to do anything to jeopardize it, regardless of what my husband might be doing.

    Today, we are quick to say “I’m not doing anything wrong, I don’t care what anyone thinks.” But we are told in the Bible (I couldn’t find it) to flee the appearance of evil. Bonding with a woman when you have a wife or she has a husband definitely has the appearance of evil. It’s wise to keep friendships with the opposite sex casual, and have close friendships with your own sex.

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