“You can only do so much. You’re only one person.”
One of the greatest challenges a leader or pastor faces is dealing with the boundaries of their influence and action. Boundaries are not only imposed by time and position, but they should also be self-imposed as a result of self-awareness and personal priorities. While I have made progress in the other two areas I have written about in this series, I am still working to figure out how to make this happen consistently in my life.
I struggle with boundaries. “No” is a word I don’t use often enough. I first identified my difficulty in college. One of my mentors expressed concern regarding the multiple commitments I was managing, asking me to consider if I could sustain this kind of effort. Later in college, a friend helped me to see that my lack of boundaries influenced my leadership. She saw me “leading” by doing everything and questioned whether I was really “leading” or if I was just doing everything myself. A professor in seminary pulled me aside near the end of my first semester and recognized my tendency towards extremes. He helped me to think through how I could live differently.
When my wife told me last week, “You can only do so much; you’re only one person”, I realized that I needed to re-examine the importance of boundaries in my own life. If you struggle in a similar manner, I would encourage you to take notes. I’ve got the scars to go with these lessons.
First, you must accept this reality – you are the only person who is responsible to care for you. The only person with the job description of caring about you is…you. No one has a better barometer on your mental, spiritual, physical or emotional well-being than you do. Now, each of us should pursue community and empower people to speak into our lives, helping us to identify pathways towards greater life and prosperity. However, I believe you know you better than anyone else. Boundaries are all about self-care, so act on what you know.
Second, if you do everything, that’s not sustainable, and honestly, that’s not leadership. Recognizing your limitations is an important part of maturity. No matter your venue, accepting your ability to be effective in limited places and ways will focus and empower your future success. Boundaries help you sustainably lead where you are and create space for others to use their God-given talents to make a difference too.
Third, establish and continually re-assess your boundaries. Over the last year, I worked to establish time, energy, and work boundaries in my full-time position at North Phoenix. However, now that I am a dad, I’m having to re-assess these again. Once we establish our boundaries, then we can recognize what’s left for others to do. Begin considering who can help you address deficiencies and whose strengths are your weakness. Major in your strengths, recruit to your weaknesses and think long-term sustainability – for your health and your work.
Fourth, regularly ask the question, “Is the problem the work I am doing or the way I am doing the work?”
We all struggle with seasons of more or less energy, more or less excitement, and more or less optimism. In whatever field or work you do, burnout and frustration are very real possibilities. Many times the issue is not the actual work you are doing but the way you are doing the work. I once heard author and pastor Bill Hybels say, “The way I was doing the work of God was working against God’s work in me.” He realized the problem wasn’t the work He was doing as a pastor, but the way he was doing. And the consequences weren’t just in his church, but in his relationship with God. If this is you, then solicit feedback from a teammate, supervisor, friend, or mentor, and take that information to move towards a healthier pace and rhythm.
As I’ve typed these three realities, I am seeing some next steps that I need to take this month. I hope you are able to recognize the places where you are suffering due to a lack of boundaries and respond with wisdom and courage.
(This post is a part of a three-post series about traits I have discovered to be invaluable in my work as a pastor. They are not traits that I had when I began working at a church and I discovered my need for them the hard way. Whether you’re a pastor or not, I believe these three will help you invaluably. To read the other posts in this series, click here.)