Boundaries in Church

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Years ago a book called Boundaries was released. I haven’t read it, but I hear it helps you decide when relationships are harmful and how to enact healthy limits to prevent permanent damage to your soul. There have been a bunch of spin-offs – Boundaries in Dating, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, etc.

To my knowledge, Boundaries in Church has yet to be written. But I’ve been considering the concept quite a bit lately.

I attend a large church in a Memphis suburb. Like most churches, our staff is over-worked and under-paid, and they rarely say no to meeting a need inside or outside of the church. In order to address all those needs, the staff constantly appeals to the church members for help (as they should).

I’ve heard it said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, and I’m feeling it.

Week after week, I receive email after email with opportunities to serve inside and outside of my church. And every time I read a request, my first thought is, “How can I fit this in? How can I rearrange things to make room for more service?”

Similarly, I learn of financial needs within my small group, within my church family, within my community, and abroad on the mission field constantly. And my first thought is, “Where can we find $10 a month to contribute to this cause?”

A lot of times I’ll say yes to that service need or commit to that financial need because I want to help and because I take seriously the Bible’s commands for believers to serve others and take care of those in need.

In other words, I feel a responsibility as a follower of Christ to say yes all. the. time. Don’t get me wrong, I want to serve and help. But I am getting tired. I am getting tapped. I am starting to respond to emails requesting help with, “UGH! Why can’t others step up?” instead of, “Yes, I’d be happy to sacrifice my time and money to help the Gospel go forth once again.”

And that’s where Satan and my flesh both step in and battle each other for control of my soul.

Satan wants me to feel guilty for even considering not serving or giving this one time. “You can always find $10 more and one more hour to donate to a worthy cause…. but you don’t want to… you don’t really love Jesus… you’re a fraud.”

My flesh swells with pride and says, “You already serve in so many ways! You LIVE at that church. You already give X amount of money to the church and missionaries and other charities. That 80% of the church members that don’t do or give jack need to quit being so selfish and step up! YOU do plenty. Sit back, feel proud, and refuse to do anymore!”

I don’t believe God would have me embrace feeling guilty or excessively prideful. He wants a different response from me.

But what?

As I think about priorities, I’ve been taught they should look something like this:

  1. Personal relationship with God (spending significant quality time with Him in prayer and individual study of the Scriptures daily)
  2. Family (spending significant quality time with them and making sure all their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs are sufficiently and exceptionally met daily)
  3. Occupation (accomplishing #2 requires money, and obtaining money typically requires working)
  4. Serving outside the home (inside the church, in the community, or abroad)

Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. #1 and #2 accomplish that, and #3 and #4 can also be focused on that if we so desire.

The Bible also commands Christians to use their gifts to build up the church (Romans 12:4-8), serve others (Matthew 20:26-28), take care of those who can’t take care of themselves (Matthew 25:40), and share the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ with others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Certainly, these things can be exponentially better accomplished if our #1 priority is attended to. If we have kids, the biblical commands to serve others, take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, and share the Gospel can ALL be accomplished within our immediate families as well (#2). Once our family members each enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, we’ll have to move outside of our families to fulfill the mandate to evangelize, but we don’t have to look too far: neighbors, our kids’ friends, their parents, etc.

Depending on your job, some or all of the biblical mandates can be lived out in our #3 priority.

And so our 4th priority is left as a kind of a catch-all. Whatever biblical commands we didn’t satisfy in priorities #1, #2, and #3, we can fulfill in #4. But if we’re not doing #1-3 well, maybe #4 shouldn’t be on our radar.

Maybe we shouldn’t use our time and money to serve outside of our family if we aren’t taking sufficient, no, exceptional care of our family with the time and money we have.

(Note: I am not talking about tithing in this conversation. I believe a 10% tithe is a non-negotiable no matter what state your family is in. When I talk about giving money in this article, I am only referring to giving above and beyond our tithe. (Leviticus 27:30))

All this to say, when an opportunity to serve or give comes our way, we should disregard Satan’s attempt to make us feel guilty and our flesh’s attempt to make us feel prideful and look at our priorities. Before we commit to service of our time and money, we should ask ourselves if we’re spending enough alone time with God, if our family is getting the best physical care we can give them (fast food is toxic, ahem), the best emotional support and spiritual training we can offer (this takes TIME), if our family has enough money to take care of itself (if not, consider using your extra time to get a J.O.B. before volunteering for something else).  If we can answer yes to all these things, and we still have time and money left, by all means, serve and give.

But if serving and giving means these other things suffer, even if these other things suffer because you are emotionally and physically exhausted from all the serving and the giving you’ve been doing, STOP IT! Cut back. Give yourself grace. Know that God understands. Know that God loves how much you desire to pay more attention to your relationship with Him and to take better care of your family He’s given you as a gift and responsibility.

Give yourself permission to set some limits. And give the 80% a chance to up their game 😉

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3 thoughts on “Boundaries in Church

  1. This sounds like generally good advice. Of course, there are situations that require some different thinking. Perhaps serving in an area will improve my ability to give exceptional care to my family (say, by teaching me how to communicate to children, for example), or maybe giving might force me to really evaluate what my financial goals for my family are (are they just culturally determined or God-determined). It might at times really come down to listening to God through prayer and the advice of others as we wrestle with how to apply priorities in a given situation. Yeah, I have the gift of making things more complicated.

  2. Agreed Randall. While I do agree with you Kelly, I feel this advice becomes a “get out of jail free” card for many people to live their lives, for the most part, inside the white picket fence they build and call it their mission (some call it The American Dream).

    Unfortunately many folks stop at #2. Truth is, we love being blessed (80%). We just aren’t great at blessing others (20%).

  3. I really like this post, Kelly. I think that how we serve outside of our family should be tested seasonally–as in seasons of life. Right now as mothers with young children, serving in the church and in the community is very difficult. Even though I do serve in a couple areas in my church right now, I find myself also wavering between pride and guilt, but when those feelings come up I have to let the Holy Spirit check me. Usually during those times I realize I’ve been letting #1 slide. This post does not seem to me like a “get out of jail free” card. I take it as a reminder to always go back to the Bible and prayer when opportunities to serve arise. Let God’s spirit guide how you serve.

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