When Boundaries Become Barriers (Part 1)

By Guest Contributor January 30, 2015

By Aaron Thompson

In a (fairly typical) grand pendulum swing, I have moved from an over-zealous, young leader working 65 plus hours a week and trying to save the world, to a 10-year veteran committed to family time, manageable workweeks, phone-free space, and a lot more saying no. For the most part, this move has been a good thing for my family, my ministry, and me. But lately I’ve been wondering if I’ve accidentally made an idol of my boundaries.

In my 65-hour week phase, I would joke that I was “professionally Aaron.” My home was a space for ministry. Trips to the grocery store meant looking for chances to connect with community members or congregants. Weekends allowed extra space for meals with students, attending student activities, or having dinner with a church family. My life and my work overlapped nearly completely.

As you can imagine, that wasn’t sustainable. At the time, it wasn’t completely unhealthy, thanks to my youthful energy, gracious wife, and childlessness. But this arrangement wasn’t built to last.

My priorities shifted significantly when I had a child and quickly transitioned into a new ministry context. I had experienced the difficulty of a boundary-free ministry and I’d become sophisticated enough in my reading and thinking about youth ministry to know that trying to be a hero-pastor was doomed to fail—and my students would be the ones to suffer.

I walked into this new ministry committed to actually rest on my days off, to keep most work weeks under 45 hours, to let non-emergency messages after 10:00 pm wait until morning, to stop getting work email at home, and to stop believing that everyone in the world (but my family) needed me all of the time. I even started poking my workaholic friends about their patterns of life, taking a large measure of pride in staying within my healthy boundaries.

boundaries1_quoteBut this past fall my wife and I both started feeling an itch we couldn’t quite scratch. Independent of each other, we felt a deep conviction that we had missed something in our call as believers to practice hospitality. In prayer, in conversations with friends, and in worship certain commands kept coming up: invite, share, open, welcome—things we’d simply stopped doing.

We had been caring for people, making friendships, and seeking people out. But because of our focus on maintaining clear boundaries, we had kept most our ministry “out there” somewhere. Those boundaries didn’t just keep ministry away from our home; they also blocked ministry from our family life. The boundaries meant to protect me became barriers keeping people from really knowing me and experiencing life in Christ with me. I could feel it in my ministry. I’d ridden the pendulum from complete ministry and personal life overlap, all the way to total compartmentalization. Yet God had a plan to knock down the boundaries I had let become idols.

Check back next week for Part 2.

CC Image courtesy Tobi Firestone on Flickr.


About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More