Leadership Boundaries

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

Leadership Boundaries

Recently I read Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge by Henry Cloud. I have always enjoyed Dr. Cloud’s work, but perhaps more recently have found his writings on leadership to be especially encouraging, helpful, meaningful and challenging. Establishing, maintaining and evaluating boundaries as a leader is difficult, particularly in church and ministry settings in my opinion. There are a variety of reasons for this, some theological, some cultural and some related to personality as well. In my own leadership journey, setting and maintaining boundaries has been one area that has taken much longer to learn, particularly when it comes to self-care. If it were not for failure, mentors and education, I am not sure I would even be in a place where I had any healthy boundaries at all, a danger I try to be aware of so that I do not slip into old habits.

The most important message of Dr. Cloud’s books on boundaries came in one statement that was repeated throughout, “Leaders get what they create and what they allow.” This statement has been one of the most life-changing statements I have read, particularly when it comes to my own leadership, especially as the lead pastor in the church I recently started serving. It has also helped me to reflect on past ministry and community leadership, both my own as well as others. I think this statement can be transformative to all leaders and is something we should wrestle with in the contexts in which we serve. Not only will it help us to set better boundaries and take more realistic ownership, it can also guide us into the future as we seek not only to lead and improve our organizations but more importantly change and shape the culture of our organizations, communities and the world. So often churches and other organizations take on the characteristics of their top leader(s). If I were to look at settings in which I lead and looked at the best and the worst aspects of the culture, I would usually find I had primary ownership in that aspect of culture being present. Certainly our churches, ministry and organizations should be more like Christ than they should be the leaders, but this is not always the reality within human organizations. This quote could certainly be read a number of ways, but as I read it I think about the significance of my actions and the importance of intentionality. It has caused me to look at all levels of the church, particularly the overall church culture. If I look at the aspects of the church community that are unhealthy, then I need to examine what is happening that creates and allows those unhealthy aspects of the church community. I need to consider my own ownership and what I can do to no longer create or allow those things that are harmful to the church. If I examine the healthy parts of my church community that are our greatest strengths I have to ask myself what I can do to continue to create and allow those strengths to flourish and what can be done to even enhance those strengths.

As I have thought about these ideas and reflected on my most recent setting and my new ministry setting, I have learned an abundance of things that have changed much of my approach, style and decision-making as a pastor and leader. One of the challenges that churches face culturally has to do with how they handle conflict. Thinking about this and the quote by Cloud, I have already set out to set a paradigm for conflict and even created a conflict covenant to guide those in leadership. I believe that process is critical for healthy churches, but as I examined my own approach to things in light of this quote, I recognized some places where I did not honor process. I have want to be in a church where leadership and decisions are shared, but have had to reevaluate how I create and allow this type of leadership in the context in which I serve, as I have often relied on my own gifts to make this happen, which is a contradiction that I had to address. I cannot get the phrase from Dr. Cloud’s book out of my head and for that I am thankful. Leaders get what they create and what they allow. If you are a leader of a church, ministry or organization or even if you are a leader of a department or specific ministry, keeping this in mind is essential. Even if you are not the primary leader, this phrase can be immensely helpful in shaping the churches, ministries and other organizations that you love. As I look at the settings in which I serve in leadership, I now find myself constantly asking the following questions: what about this organization am I creating or allowing that should not be? What things in my organization do I desire or hope for that I need to work to create or allow? I have already found that asking myself these questions has changed much, and it has forced some much needed reflection on my own gifts and strengths as well as my weaknesses and areas where I need to grow. My boundaries are different as are the boundaries for the organizations I serve. I am thinking differently about the things I do and say as well as the things I do not do and do not say as I look to create a culture that is focused on Christ and looks as much like the Kingdom of God as possible. In our churches, ministries and organizations, we get what we create and what we allow.

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