Nearly everything in a smaller church is relationship driven. One of the first questions people will ask when hearing about a recommended change for the first time is “How will this affect the relationships that exist in this church?” It is critical that pastors in such churches become involved in the lives of the congregation. In fact, I do not personally believe that it is wrong for the pastor to have friends within the congregation although one must be careful in such relationships. Pastors in the smaller church cannot lead those congregations from the church office. Pastors must be with the people they are serving. In fact, more than just being with them, it is necessary for the pastor to be adopted into the family that exists within the smaller church if the pastor is to enjoy a good ministry there.
This brings up a challenge for the minister. How does the pastor of a smaller church balance the need of such relationships with the need to maintain proper boundaries? Ministry in the smaller church can often seem suffocating. More than one pastor has complained that he can never get away from the congregation. This is especially true if the church is located in a rural setting or small community. Minister and family alike can feel trapped in a fishbowl situation.
The bivocational minister may have an advantage because he has another job to go to. They have a life apart from the church that may provide some separation. Of course, if they work around members of their church that advantage will be lost. Here are some thoughts about how to create and maintain healthy boundaries in ministry. This is not an exhaustive list but one to get you thinking about how to maintain proper boundaries in your relationships with your congregation.
1. Develop relationships with persons outside the church and nurture those relationships.
2. Maintain your days off and do not allow friends from church intrude on that time.
3. When possible, get away from the community on your days off so people cannot contact you.
4. Remember that you are not required to answer the telephone just because it rings. Caller ID is a wonderful tool. True emergencies can be responded to quickly, and “friendly” calls can be returned at your convenience.
5. Confidentiality is a must in all pastoral relationships including with one’s friends.
6. Be very cautious sharing personal information with anyone in the church as it can later be used against you. While I believe in being open and transparent when appropriate, I do so with the entire congregation, not just those with whom I may be friends.
7. It is imperative that the minister back away from any relationship that even hints at crossing appropriate boundaries of emotional or physical intimacy.
Dennis Bickers has been a bivocational pastors since 1981 and is also an Executive Minister for his region of the American Baptist Church.