Today, in the church, niceness is the coin of the realm and customer service is the rule of the realm.
We would all probably say that we’d rather live in a majority nice world than a majority mean world. And we’d all probably enjoy attending and serving in a church that has more nice people than mean people. But have we, as a Christian culture, somewhere along the way distorted the meanings of “nice” and “mean”?
The last fifty years in America the commodification and consumption of church/pastoral services has paralleled the exponential commodification and consumption levels of secular culture. We have come to expect our pastors and church staff to be less like shepherds of souls and more like spiritual concierge.
The sheep and the shepherds are both to blame in the paradigm shift of church culture. But the shepherds are the ones who feel the painful effects of the shift most acutely. Pastors and church staff just cannot take, for long, the erosion of any dividing line between their work life and their personal lives. The healthy border of work/life that many attendees get to enjoy in their own personal lives is not a luxury normally afforded to pastors, church staff and para-church workers.
The construction of a healthy boundary requires us to look at a person and tell them “no.” To someone who is nice, the very thought saying no to another person may feel tantamount to slapping a person in the face. But, a person who implements a healthy boundary may find, like Brené Brown, “I’m not as sweet as I used to be, but I am far more loving.”
The conflation of “meanness” with proper boundaries is one of the greatest threats to the modern ministry worker today. The desire to seem kind by extending oneself past what is healthy is neither loving nor safe.
A wonderful definition of boundaries is: “What is okay and what is not okay?”
A challenge to putting boundaries in our lives is that people react poorly to them. Here is the good news: the way you can tell if a boundary was needed is if someone reacts negatively to that boundary. The litmus test for how needed a boundary is: how loud a person screams when they butt up against that newly placed boundary.
Another challenge to placing healthy boundaries in our life is identifying where we need them. It becomes apparent where we need boundaries when our life detonates around us. But how do we spot warning signs before things explode? A trusted, objective, third party like a counselor or an older more experienced mentor, can be a massive help in spotting areas that may need the implementation of a boundary.