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Do Boundaries Inhibit Ministry—Survey Results Part 1
June 22, 2017

Do Boundaries Inhibit Ministry?

Survey Results—Part 1

Our recent survey about pressing problems in ministry is complete. Two general threads were apparent 1) boundaries inhibit ministry and 2) there is no way to know if a minister's good work and effectiveness outlives him or her. We'll discuss the second thread in another email.


As expected one camp believes that boundaries in ministry inhibits the effectiveness of ministry.

There is too much regulation, they say in one way or another. People just don't like being micromanaged with rules.

And that is why God only gave us ten rules and stated them simply.


Our Response: It's partly true and partly untrue that boundaries inhibit ministry.

The True Part is that wrong-headed complex micro-managing regulations inhibit ministry:

Things like zero tolerance policies have made a simple issue very complex.

The simplicity is that you just don't molest children. You protect them and nurture their development. Period.

In some places Zero Tolerance policies have seized common sense by the throat and thrown it out with both the baby and the bath water.

For example. A cousin of mine in Ireland tells me that her parish policy is that no adult can touch any child ever for any reason.

If a child falls on the school yard and gets hurt, no parent, priest or religious is allowed to offer physical assistance to the child.

The policy is that no one can touch a child except qualified medical personnel.

That's patently absurd. What if a child with a broken leg tried to get up and walk while all the adults just stood around? The injury gets compounded.


Any boundary needs to be defined properly to be meaningful because boundaries define a situation and provide the rule for operating in that situation.

To say that no priest or religious can take a child on a camping trip and sleep in the same bed with the child is a proper boundary.

To say that no parent can assist an injured child is potentially dangerous to the child.

Boundaries must be relevant to the relationship an adult has with a child. Helping an injured child is not the same thing as touching a child for no reason at all.

Any touch must be for a purpose and in the best interest of the child. Just as anointing the sick is purposeful touch for the benefit of the sick person.


The False part: That Boundaries are needlessly inhibiting.

Boundaries by definition are inhibiting and they are necessary in any relationship whether with people or with animals. You do not beat children, spouses, or your dog or your horse.

They are counter-productive when they are not context specific and are applied in a general way—as in "No one except a physician can ever touch a child in this parish". Sometimes adults have to break up fights between children.

Boundaries are simple principles of behavior that have a general effect across different situations.

For example, look at how simple God makes boundaries that protect you from me and me from you.

"Thou shall not steal" "Thou shall not commit adultery" "Thou shall not murder" "Thou shall not bear false witness (i.e., gossip or lie)".

Nothing difficult about those. And they are necessary boundaries because we have free will and can choose to sin by lying, stealing, murdering and so forth. And they apply in every situation.

So, boundaries are necessary in our relationships. But complex policies about boundaries can indeed hinder ministry.

We need to keep those two ideas separate so we can decide when and how to act in a given situation.


Thanks to those who took the survey. It's enlightening and helps us address ideas, problems and issues that are relevant to our friends in the Lord's vineyard.

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