• Rev. Dr. Craig Stephans

Healthy Boundaries in PRC Ministry: A Must-Have

Those who effectively minister in the pregnancy resource center (prc) arena for any extended tenure must have the primary characteristics of love and compassion along with a comfort with having intense, personal and intimate conversations with people. Myriad spiritual gifts work through prc staff for the purpose of bringing clients to faith, encouraging them to trust in the Lord in choosing life and then to provide wise counsel in helping them with the array of parenting issues. The prc ministry is life and death for many babies in the womb. The caring professionals who serve the ministry become deeply invested in the mothers and babies they serve. Some mothers choose life, and some choose to go forward with abortion or to return to abusive or unhealthy home lives.

PRC staff will at some point struggle with boundary issues. How far do we go into someone’s life and situation to help them and especially to help them choose life? The healthy boundary line isn’t always easy to discern; in fact, it rarely is easy to discern. In ministry, we are constantly in tension about where healthy boundaries fall. While Scripture doesn’t provide a script to follow, I believe the word of the Lord gives us guidance.

Relational boundaries are lines that separate our responsibility and healthy expressions in relationships with others from the area of unhealthy interactions, harmful emotional and spiritual ties and being involved in “ruling over” another’s individuality, even when we imagine it is for a good purpose. Spiritual boundaries in our relationships and in ministry must be discerned and maintained. Healthy boundaries can be described as mature and sustained differentiation from others.

Boundaries very much influence our level of peace. If we are too guarded from others or too involved in others’ lives, our peace becomes undermined by anxiousness and dissipation. Unsurprisingly to us, Jesus demonstrates the perfect form of healthy boundaries in his ministry. Jesus’ interactions with others are characterized by compassion, wisdom and discernment. We see him draw close to people and conversely letting people go. Whether they go madly, sadly or gladly or whether they go obediently or rebelliously, Jesus lets them go and goes on his own way in God’s peace. Jesus never tries to control people, not his friends or his enemies. He refuses to usurp responsibility over other people’s will and freedom.

I want to highlight especially a set of instructions that Jesus gives to his disciples that can help us in our ministries. The instructions occur when Jesus commissions his followers to go out and do ministry. This is from Matthew’s gospel 10:5-15:

5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

I believe there are some themes related to boundaries in this passage that are helpful to those in the PRC ministry:

1. Jesus gives his disciples a targeted ministry population. In contemporary words, he gives them a ministry “lane” in which to stay. He tells them “Stay in the Israel lane and don’t go into the Gentile lane.” (That will happen at a later time) PRC’s have a ministry lane that not only defines the focus of the ministry but also indicates how far we go into clients’ lives. Stay in the PRC ministry lane.

2. Jesus tells the disciples to proclaim “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This emphasizes their message and also emphasizes that their authority and anointing for ministry come from the kingdom of heaven and not outside it from other sources. PRC’s have a message for life, encouragement, support, counsel, instruction and truth that comes from the same authority. We speak from the kingdom of heaven and also operate in the kingdom of heaven. That is our area of authority and expertise. We need to stay in the boundaries of it, because we depend on the help of heaven. If we attempt to operate outside this authority, we become subject to chaos, spiritual attacks and burnout.

3. The disciples go forth with power to perform their ministry that includes healing, deliverance and other miracles. They will be reaching into peoples’ lives to bring about transformation. They will learn peoples’ struggles, pain, background, oppression, uncleanliness and the areas of death. It will get messy at times. If they stay in healthy boundaries, they have power to overcome and sustain their ministry rather than getting stuck, weighed down or overstressed and anxious.

4. Jesus prohibits acquiring treasures for themselves or worrying about provisions. The reward is in the ministry that flows from Jesus’ authority. Often in ministry, we are tempted to worry about ourselves and our significance. This can collapse our boundaries and cause walls to be built preventing the expression of compassion and care Jesus intends for us in ministry. In ministry we become poured out for Jesus. We become refreshed and restored by his presence during times of devotion and communion. Our reward comes from the kingdom of heaven—not the world.

5. Jesus gives instructions regarding the flow of peace in ministry. This is the money line of the teaching on boundaries. This indicates the dynamic presence of peace in us because of the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s gift of peace. When we minister to people, we must let our peace flow to them. This is an expression of the anointing of God upon and through us; it is the living water flowing from our hearts. A person of peace who is receiving our ministry and accepting the Lord’s guidance will receive our peace that becomes multiplied and flows back to us in the presence of the Lord. However, when someone rejects our ministry and resists the Holy Spirit or rebels against the guidance of God, we must let our peace return to us. Otherwise, if we leave our peace with an unpeaceful person, we become bound to them and overreach our boundaries by becoming too involved in their lives. We must let our peace return to us and re-center on Jesus. If someone takes our peace, it can figuratively go with them. This will make it seem like our peace depends on “fixing” them or their situation, and we can become distracted or even obsessed with that project. It can be helpful to prayerfully imagine our peace rolling off that person and returning to us and filling our hearts, minds and bodies.

6. The outcome for those who do not accept the Lord’s ministry through us and reject the peace of the Lord through us is not our responsibility. The letting go of responsibility for people’s decisions and lives is indicated by the instruction to “shake off the dust from your feet.” For us, this figuratively instructs us to let responsibility for them go and commend them to the Lord. And we continue in our ministry centered on Jesus and in his peace. Jesus alone is the righteous judge, and he will follow through in mercy, grace and love.

The gospels offer myriad examples of Jesus demonstrating proper boundaries in his interactions with all sorts of people. If you read the gospels with an eye out for insights regarding healthy boundaries in ministry, the Holy Spirit will continually enlighten you for the ministry of life. If I could emphasize any of the elements above to remember, it is to let your peace return to you when the ministry of the Lord has not been received.

My next post will include prayers to pray before and after ministry.



©2019 by PRC Chaplain.