Do You Need
A Boundary Inventory
To Evaluate Church Ministry?

Could a boundary inventory to evaluate church ministry be one of the the most important ministry resources?

If you consider the tens of millions of dollars paid out in catholic ministry in recent years... for violations of religion ethics boundaries...you would have to answer "Yes".

And the way you tell in ministry what boundaries apply...what must and must not be done...is by looking at the definition of ministry itself...which we provided on our homepage.

And mere social boundaries are pretty well understood by most people who had a normal upbringing...

  • They obey the rules of the road...
  • They play by the rules of competitive games...
  • They don't congratulate a widow at her husband's funeral...
  • they don't offer a new bride their condolences, etc..

How do ministry boundaries
differ from social rules?

According to our universal definition of ministry...and ministry is a social activity...its purpose is to bring both minister and people closer to God.

And so...certain things must be included in ministry that are not part of other social situations...and certain things must be excluded that are part of other social situations.

So...a boundary inventory in ministry will have to reflect clearly...

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Religion ethics

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1 ff)state religion ethics succinctly.

They are a boundary inventory in themselves and help us evaluate our boundaries in our relationship to God...our family...and our neighbor.

They must form the foundation of any ministry becase they reflect our definition of ministry as they bring minister and people to God (Mt 7:21ff).

And they are defined as a person's active demonstration of love for God (John 14:21)



Moral ethics

Moral ethics apply the Ten Commandments  in specific contexts.

So a boundary inventory would have to include the contexts in which a minister functions...and what commandments apply to that context.

Contracts...for example....If you enter into a contract and defraud someone by withholding necessary information (e.g., about the condition of a house you are selling to someone)...then you enrich yourself unjustly...a violation of the Commandment...thou shalt not steal.



Adult interpersonal skills

The lack of these skills has led many...especially in catholic ministry...to behave immorally with youths.

So poor interpersonal skills can lead to boundary violations. Many of those who molested youths had interpersonal skills no higher than those they abused.



Good leaders in ministry

Good church leaders never exploit the people to their own advantage.

They use all ministry resources that lead themselves and the people closer to God.



Personal competency ethics

This means that you do not engage with people in situations and under circumstances for which you have no training.

So a boundary inventory would include your areas of competency and expertise. Ministry resources cannot include skills you do not have.

Individual spiritual direction...marriage counseling...youth ministry are each different types of ministry that call for personal expertise.

Personal expertise is acquired skill...through study and structured experience. 

It doesn't grow out of mere inclincation to do something. Even if a minister feels 'called' (e.g., to youth ministry) training is a must. 

Singers who feel 'called' to stage careers...however talented they are...take lessons...practice scales everyday...and have voice coaches.



So...here's a model for taking a boundary inventory for your church ministry...

Boundaries relating to oneself

  • Do I keep all of the Ten Commandments?
  • Am I morally correct in all my ministry dealings with people and church property?
  • Do I have mature interpersonal skills?
  • Do I have a ministry vision and adequate interpersonal skills to lead others to it?
  • Do I have appropriate training for my ministry activities?
  • Or am I intervening in people's lives with only with a good heart...but an unprepared brain?


Boundaries relating to others

  • Touching other people.


  • Self disclosure


Touching other people in ministry

Touching other people...especially in ministry...is a serious matter.

Violations of this boundary alone have cost the church tens of millions of dollars in malpractice settlements...and untold losses in moral authority.

The trouble with touching others is...neither you nor anyone else may think anything about a hug...a kiss...a caress at the time it happens. But...recent experience has shown that...

Most ministers in the catholic church were only recently accused of things they did decades ago.

There is an important axiom about touching other people that should guide all of your physical interactions in ministry.

With respect to touch...you should consult your boundary inventory everyday...to evaluate yourself on this important issue...and to supervise yourself if need be.

Do you hug and touch people casually?

The problem of casual touch is that it is always open to interpretion on the part of the person you touch.

On the other hand...the meaning of ritual or sacramental touch...such as anointing the sick...is always spelled out in the rubrics for the sacrament. A complete boundary inventory has to make this distinction.



Self-disclosure boundary violations

Self-disclosure is a technique safely used only by the most advanced therapists to achieve a therapeutic goal (e.g., bringing the transference to a close in order to end the therapy).

Most self-disclosures by those in the helping professions are outside the boundaries of any therapeutic or ministerial goal.

This is a particular problem with Americans...who are prone to give and seek personal information...even with strangers in casual situations.

But there is significant evidence that self-disclosure in a helping relationship can easily lead to sexual involvement...

because it enhances the transference.

How does it do that?

The transference becomes reinforced when the person receiving the minister's self disclosure...

believes he or she is far more special to the minister than is actually the case.

You do not need to know your physician's medical history or hobbies or favorite foods to receive expert medical care...do you?


You can go from boundary inventory to professional boundaries.

Or you can...



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