Defining Boundaries In Ministry
Is Done In Two Ways

Defining boundaries in ministry is done in two is by formally defining ministry...because the odd idea that everything is ministry has gotten ministers into serious trouble.

A formal universal definition gives you an immediate objective way to distinguish ministry from non-ministry. (For show how ministry is different from mere secular social work.)

Defining ministry boundaries this way makes sure the activities are really ministries and not apparent or pseudo ministries -- evils that Jesus solemnly warns against (Mt.7:21ff).

So you use the formal definition of ministry as a map showing the behavior boundaries that guide ministers in their role of bringing themselves and the people closer to different contexts.

The second way of defining boundaries in ministry is to simply apply the formal definition above to the wide variety of situations ministers find themselves in.  

So...we use the definition above to answer any questions or respond to any comments about different kinds of ministry to help understand how to act by defining boundaries. 

One of the best ways to create this skill of staying focused in changing situations...with all of the static from the buzz of human for ministers
  • raise questions that help form their judgments about defining boundaries in ministry

  • to make comments based on their experience that have helped themselves and could be helpful to other ministers

And here are the questions and comments...

Is it possible to have a calling as a massage therapist to incorporate ministry into their business in the name of Jesus?I sense I'm being guided by the Spirit to do so but decently and in order,how do I do both?

LaToya G.


You ask a very important question that relates to defining boundaries in ministry. And you'll be happy to know...the answer is is indeed possible to have a religious ministry that promotes health and healing in the body.

Though he rarely touched anyone...healing was an important part of Jesus' ministry.

Also, Christians believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit...and deserves respect and care as a gift from God.

I know several catholic sisters who are massage therapists. When one of them began her practice (for which she charges the standard fee in her area) she called me laughing at the irony of it all. She said through her laughter a novice in religious never would have occurred to her that one day she would have a naked monsignor in her office!

You may want to think further about healing ministry to help you understand more about purposeful, healthy touch in ministry (as opposed to unnecessary hugs, caresses and kisses).

All the best...stay in touch.


While ingraduate school preparing for a degree in counseling, our class was told that humans need a certain number of hugs a day to survive and more to thrive. This article disputes that for professionals. Are you suggesting that professionals cannot hug when someone "needs a hug?"


Thanks for your question. It's really important how teachers form the thinking of their students. And the instructor you described gets C- and here's why...

  • There is no doubt that humans need physical contact with each other...that fact is indisputable. We've known for more than 75 years that babies in hospital nurseries who are not handled by the nurses fail to thrive. We know that old people are rarely touched except for medical reasons.
  • However there is not a scrap of scientific data to indicate how many hugs or touches humans need each day to survive...or how many more they need to thrive. So your instructor has misrepresented his or her belief and opinion as fact. Not a fair thing to do to students who are paying good money for their education.
  • Your instructor gets a C- minus because he or she failed to make it clear that all...every...non-criminal behavior has a proper context. That means each person must get their hugs and caresses with the right people under the right circumstances. When behaviors are outside of their proper context and with the wrong people...the clinical record shows that there are serious moral, legal and financial consequences.
  • With your instructor's could develop a hugging "ministry" and go down to the local bus stop and hug people...for their own they got off the bus.
  • However, instead of your hugs being interpreted as healthy life-giving would be arrested for assault and battery for doing a perfectly normal behavior in the wrong context with the wrong people.
  • People do not come to you as a counselor for survival through hugs. They come to solve a problem. And hugging in counseling has produced far more moral, legal and financial problems than it has solved.
  • Your instructor gets a C- because he or she implies that the counselor can get his or her needs for touch from their clients. A well-trained counselor, therapist or spiritual director never exploits a client to satisfy their own needs.
  • Your instructor gets a C- because he or she failed to make it clear that a troubled person seeking counseling is in an altered mental state. People experience their bodies very differently in states of depression, anxiety or grief than they do under normal circumstances.
  • Your instructor failed to make it clear that the person the counselor touches or hugs gets to interpret the meaning of the hug or touch. And the meaning that person gives it may not coincide with the meaning it had for the counselor. The counselor may mean to give a comforting hug...the client may experience it as a sexual come on.
  • And it is this failure to appreciate the different meanings in a simple hug that rarely gets explored by hugging counselors, therapists and spiritual directors.
  • Touching even married people will tell a very complex issue...and you cannot touch or hug your spouse anytime anywhere you wish. It must be at the right time under the right circumstances.
  • You are to be commended Robert for raising this issue which will be of continuing importance to you in your counseling career. Get your hugs and touches from people you are close to in your personal life...and help your clients to do the same.
  • Good boundaries are essential to successful ministry and counseling.
  • Why not sign up for our monthly newsletter so you can keep some of these issues active in your professional thinking. Just click on the free ebook "The Ministry Audit" below which will sign you up for our newsletter. (Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time and we will never share your email address with anyone.)

All the best.

P.S. I hope you got an A in the course (even though your instructor didn't do that well) because...a good student will always outperform their teacher.


If a male minister spends overnights alone with a female youth, but there is no accusation of sexual misconduct, is this considered a violation of any kind?

Thank you for your well-put and important question.

There are important points to address in the I'll separate them out.

1. "Male Minister". It is irrelevant that the man is a minister because he is not acting in a ministerial role (ministry is religious activity). He's just a man having an overnight with a minor. This can easily raise questions from enforcement
...protective services...the man's congregation...the man's wife (if he's married).

2. "No accusation of sexual misconduct". An accusation does not create a only defines it after its has been committed. If a woman is raped...and does not report it...that does not mean no crime has occurred. If she reports it later...she is not creating the crime by the accusation...she's only stating the fact that it occurred.

Moreover...the catholic church has learned that sexual crimes can be reported decades after the alleged event took place. Even when the accused has been long dead.

What may be alright with a minor at the time...may be seen in a different light when negative effects of an event cause difficulties later in the person's life.

3. If no complaint is lodged...because nothing happened...there is still a generational boundary that is inappropriately crossed for no apparent reason. Children and youths should not have such close friendships with non-related adults...male or female... that they have overnights together. Normally overnights are with the youth's peers with parental consent and supervision.

Then too...even if nothing sexual happened between the man and the female youth...the man is stuck with public opinion and that is hard to defend against...because things not only have to actually be ethical...they have to look ethical to outsiders. Many people believe that "where there's smoke...there's fire"...and they act...and speak accordingly.

You might want to review the reasons why ministers should not distract youths from peer relationships .

I hope these answers help your understanding of the important question you've raised about defining boundaries in ministry.


What is our responsibility toward someone convicted of a sex crime against a child? The abuser is a family member.

Anne M.

This is an important question about defining boundaries for many families. Though it's not a ministry question...we include it here because so little attention is paid in clerical sex abuse cases to the important effects sex abuse has on families.

The answer to it as it's asked here has to be general because specific information is lacking. Defining boundaries in a workable way is pretty specific.

For example,

  • Is the convicted family member 'embedded' in the family...such as a spouse?
  • Or is the convicted member a more distant relation?
  • Is the offender independent or a ward over whom someone else has custody?
  • Is it a case of incest...which has special family dynamics associated with it?
  • Was the victim another family member...or someone outside the family?
  • Was the sexual behavior habitual or a one time offense?
  • Is the convicted family member mentally or emotionally impaired?

The answer to any of these questions would suggest different responsibilities for the family to deal with in defining boundaries
...or redefining them for the offender.

For our purposes let's assume that this convicted family member is an important member in the family, is not under anyone's custodial control, not emotionally or intellectually impaired, and that the sexual behavior was more than a one-time lapse in judgment.

The first responsibility to the convicted member would be understanding of what actually happened and what conditions were in place to allow it to happen. For example, does the person have easy access to a volunteer in some organization?

The second responsibility is exactly who in the family has responsibility, or volunteers to have responsibility, to or for the convicted member...and what would that responsibility include? For example, there are usually conditions placed on convicted sex offenders. In some jurisdictions, they even wear tracking devices. Are family members willing to take responsibility to report attempts to defeat the tracking device?

If a convicted person has to report to some authority periodically, should someone be responsibile for defining boundaries and to see that the person actually does report?

If the convicted member has no sense they've done anything wrong...and many sex offenders have no such sense...and they are required to attend therapy, are there family members willing to define boundaries by applying pressure...if the offender actively resists or passively resists by 'forgetting' appointments or cancelling them due to feigned illness or other 'incoveniences'?

Not every family member wants such responsibilities. Some family members may not want to take part in defining boundaries and shun the convicted member altogether.

So there is no simple answer to the question about what a family's responsibilities to a convicted member are in defining boundaries. The fundamental problem will be that the family's reactions will range from shunning to being supportive and helpful.

And yet there may be an underlying feeling of urgency among most family members that something must be done to address this family issue.

So, for any particular family, with a particular set of possible may be useful to have a family gathering to which all are invited, including the convicted person. Secret meetings create insurmountable problems in communication. Some family members will decline the invitation.

But the question is one of redefining boundaries for the family (never an easy task) with who has, or wants the responsibility to call for such a gathering? There is usually in most families one or more individuals who are respected by the other family members. They would most likely be the one or the ones to bring such a meeting about...using their own words and style of influence.

This meeting would provide a forum to discuss what the responsibilities are for that family and who is responsible to take necessary actions with respect to the family member...and what those actions are.

Since families have both effective and ineffective ways of communicating, and feelings are likely to be powerful, it may be useful to hire a family therapist, for a set number of sessions, as a facilitator of the discussion (not to do therapy, which is something entirely different). In my opinion, the best choice would be a therapist from the problem-solving school of family therapy as opposed to someone who deals with personality dynamics based on complex theories.

For example, if someone at such a meeting explodes in anger at the convicted member, it would be very difficult for other family members to get the meeting back on track. A well trained family therapist would know how to help the meeting stay focused.

If feelings are running so high, a facilitated meeting about those feelings may be appropriate before more neutral discussion can take place. Again, a well trained family therapist would know how to help people express and own their feelings and not let those feelings impede the success of the meeting as a whole.

If any of our readers have a similar problem they've dealt with successfully, it would be a great help to others if you would let us know via our contact form.


Looking over this site, I saw the story of Father Mike, a priest, and his actions. Catholic priests have been in the news. Have there been stories of pastors in Protestant churches who have been convicted of being pedophiles?


This is an important question because all the publicity surrounding the cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic church might lead people to believe that it's a Catholic problem. Some think (erroneously) that the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests causes inclinations to sex abuse.

Child sex abuse occurs across denominations and in other non-ministry groups as well (e.g. among UN peacekeepers who have reportedly molested refugee children).

Defining boundaries to protect children from sex abuse is necessary wherever children are vulnerable to possible predators.

You may see the problem the Baptists are having addressing this problem by visiting this site.

Thanks again for this opportunity your question gives us to educate people.

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