How to practice healthy boundaries


In the 1990's, when my dad was a pastor, he and my mom set certain boundaries they fiercely protected both at home and church. There were no cell phones around us at that time. If the land-line phone rang during dinner, they didn't answer it. My dad would not respond to people until the next morning when he was back at the church office, unless an urgent message was left on the answering machine, to which he tended to the need at the moment.

Today, times are very different. Because of cell phones and social media, we stay connected with everyone all the time, merely just seconds away from responding to someone or something, whether it is urgent or not.

When I first married Ryan, he was the full-time pastor and the other staff at the time were part-time. Because of this, he often took care of things around the church in addition to his usual ministerial duties. He was called on for many things, at all times of the day, and I noticed pretty quickly that the demands were great. At first, it bothered me a little when he would stop and take phone calls while with me, because I was seeing life through the eyes of my childhood and the boundaries my parents had made. I realized I needed to let go of certain non-verbalized expectations I didn't even realize I had, and I knew I needed to communicate with Ryan about establishing boundaries. We began to work out a plan on how we would balance family life and ministry. And this was even before kids! Once our first daughter came, I began to see him become more focused and intentional about his time at home with us because his ministry obligations were 24/7. He had struck a healthy balance.

Boundaries. We may not even realize how much we need them in order to have a sense of peace and calm in our lives as ministry families. As minister's wives we love and serve God by serving our own families, churches and communities, and because of all the various needs around us, many times our own physical or spiritual health is put to the wayside.

Are you feeling overwhelmed, tired, strung-out or anxious (or is your minister spouse)? Then it's probably a great time to stop and take inventory of your boundaries, or possible lack thereof. Without proper boundaries, we become overwhelmed, exhausted, or depressed spiritually, emotionally and mentally because our boundaries have become fuzzy, or even non-existent. We have allowed everyone or everything else to take over. Boundaries are simply limits to protect us from having ministry and life burnout. I'm sure we all have heard about a minister who left vocational ministry because of burnout. They eventually gave in, gave out or gave up. Perhaps these unfortunate fallouts can be avoided more often if the proper boundaries are in place.

When setting healthy boundaries in our lives, we need to remember to:

  1. Start with personal prayer time. When you seek God at the start of each day, praying for His guidance, wisdom and priorities, He will show you what we are to be about.
  2. Be honest. Matthew 5:37 says, "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no.'" Be loving and kind, but be direct in what you say. And, it's okay to say no.
  3. Set priorities. What or who are you focusing on? What is God asking you to do personally and as a family? Make sure you and your spouse are "on the same page."
  4. Please God, not people. Focus on obeying God and following what He says first, even if it might offend or potentially anger others. You answer to God first.
  5. Practice 'soul care.' Prioritize and schedule regular times of spiritual renewal and restoration (retreats, conferences and weekly Sabbath days spent with the Lord).
  6. Be intentional. There are times when unexpected situations happen that need immediate attention. So, when you are home as a family, be fully present and intentional with your time together. A pastor once said, "Churches and ministry come and go, but you only get one family. Protect and care for them, fiercely."

Boundaries are gifts from God, giving us the freedom to be all He has called us to be. We will, no doubt, be better minister wives, mothers, sisters, friends and ministers of His gospel of grace to those around us when we have the necessary and healthy boundaries in place that He wants for us!

Related articles: Healthy Bodies, Healthy Churches / It's not always easy to know right and wrong / GO: Family Missions