By Christy Kirtlan
One of the most common questions we get here at The Confidante from new members is, how do we set proper boundaries with our church members?
It takes a particular mindset to understand, set, and keep boundaries to maintain family health and balance with the church. Henry Cloud defines boundaries like this:
A boundary is a property line, defining where you begin and end. You exist in relation to God and others; your boundaries define you in relation to others. Boundaries are really about relationship and ultimately about love.
When my husband and I married, he had already served as a lead pastor for 13 years and suffered through a divorce. He admits neither he nor his first wife practiced wise boundaries. He bought into Satan’s lie that he had to be at the church all the time and always “about the Lord’s business.” His wife at the time failed to set boundaries in her relationships and failed morally. What a terrible recipe for disaster in a marriage!
God gave each of us another chance at marriage, and Stan and I spoke very clearly about our expectations of each other (through a wonderful program called DivorceCare) and Stan was excellent at encouraging me to set boundaries for our family with the church as their new pastor’s wife. I had a fabulous opportunity to set precedents with the women in our church and taught them for me, it was God first, then my husband, then my children, and THEN the church. (Funny story – my first year as a PW, the church planned a mother/daughter tea and expected me to be there….but I had tickets with my sister to see George Strait in concert! Guess what? I WENT TO THE CONCERT!! Precedent set: the PW didn’t have to be at the event to make it successful!)
Read that first sentence again in the previous paragraph – the part about speaking very clearly to each other about our expectations of each other. Communication is paramount!
Henry Cloud teaches the Law of Proactivity – proactive boundaries instead of passive boundaries. We cannot expect others to “just get it” or think like we do and wait for them to do what we think is best. Especially our husbands! In our new marriage, we each brought two little girls into a family – all of them had been broken by their parents’ divorce. We both knew the statistics of second marriages failing, so we set the #1 expectation in our marriage right then – divorce would never be an option for us! The next expectation that we discussed and settled on, was that he would always be home for dinner – so any necessary meetings had to occur after our dinner hour. We took no calls during that dinner hour, as well. We worked very hard to set our family up so that he was only out of our home one or two evenings per week as necessary. Friday nights were always family night, with very few exceptions like funerals or wedding rehearsals. Saturday night was considered a school night to us so that our girls could get to bed at a good time and be rested for church. Very few sleepovers on Saturdays unless the sleepover guest was willing to go to bed early and get up and go to church with us! We were proactive at setting these boundaries and it was helpful for us as partners, and it was helpful to our daughters so they understood these parameters as well. These boundaries showed our family members that they were important, loved, and respected. These boundaries were expressed to our church family as the opportunity came up and were mostly respected.
But you say, Christy, that is all well and good because you set this up in a new marriage…how do I do this NOW? I’m glad you asked!
The most important part of all I’ve said so far is that communication between you and your husband is paramount – the most important tool you have. Recognizing that the two of you have an enemy – Satan – who wants nothing more than to take down your marriage! Because if he can take down your marriage, he can disrupt your family and destroy your work in God’s church! Satan is a time-stealer (John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”) He wants to destroy your marriage by keeping the pastor too busy at church, which is noble work, to minister to those most important to him – his family. You and your husband must get on the same page to fight the enemy, and it’s not each other!
When you first married, you likely prayed together often. You may do it now, or not. I encourage you to find a quiet time and sit facing each other on your kitchen chairs, knee to knee. Hold hands, keep your eyes open and knees touching. One of you starts the prayer, never taking eyes off your partner (it’s ok to blink 😉 This is so intimate, and you will be surprised how much your heart opens for this gift God gave you as you both pour your heart out to our Father, worshiping Him that brought you together, He that keeps you together, He that has blessed you with the gift of the little people in your lives. Pray it out, and bring before your Father in Heaven this great need you each have to honor Him by setting healthy, appropriate boundaries for your family as you serve Him.
The number one thing a man needs from his wife is respect. The number one thing a woman needs from her husband is security (physical, emotional, financially). When the husband puts his worth and value in the church, he doesn’t get what he needs from the church, so he’s constantly running on empty. The wife cannot get from her husband what she needs when all his energy and attention goes to the church family and not their own. Our husbands, all too often, place their esteem in how their church is growing, accomplishing all he can for the church family – many times at the cost of his own family. This is not God’s will for him or his family.
Care for Pastors is happy to provide a listening ear and advice to you as a couple to battle the thief and keep him from destroying what God has brought together. Remember, a boundary is a property line, defining where you begin and end. You exist in relation to God and others; your boundaries define you in relation to others. Boundaries are really about relationship and ultimately about love.