Consider Talking About Healthy Congregational/Pastoral Boundaries

This week’s post is written by Rev. Stephen Boyd, Minister for Chaplains and Ministers in Specialized Settings in the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team within the UCC’s national setting. 

In these past weeks many of us on the MESA Team have attended Conference Annual Gatherings throughout the denomination. It has been wonderful to connect with colleagues, lead workshops and to gain knowledge about ongoing programs. In our research we have found that most Conferences require that their authorized ministers enroll in clergy boundary training every three to five years. And, I have been pleased to discover that many of our conferences are modifying this training to address issues and subjects that are timely for our ministers: ethics and social media, special boundary training for chaplains and ministers in specialized settings, retirement, ethics and preaching in addition to boundaries and sexual ethics.



Recently Conferences, congregations and ministers have entertained the idea and have recognized the value in boundary training intended to educate the laity, the congregation. There are a few individuals within the United Church of Christ who have started to explore this area of interest. This past month, I led two introductory sessions of laity boundary training at conference annual gatherings, based on David Olsen and Nancy Devor’s book, Saying No to Say Yes. These sessions were meant to introduce laypeople and ministers to the issues and tensions that can strain the pastor/congregation relationship. Through conversation and case studies we explored instances, some which appeared harmless and ordinary on the surface, which had the potential to damage the congregant/pastor relationship and lead to a potential case of misconduct.

The response to these conversations has been very positive. Lay people were surprised to discover the many assumptions that they, and our congregations, have about their ministerial leadership and to learn of the danger of unclear and blurred boundaries.  Ministers were reminded of the need for clear boundaries and the importance of caring for them. Together, ministers and lay, gained a better understanding for the need of clear boundaries within the minister/congregation relationship in order to avoid misconduct which could result in lasting challenges to the health of the faith community. For an introduction to this subject I recommend Olsen and Devor’s Saying No to Say Yes.

Another resource which may be helpful in the areas of clergy and congregational ethics is the United Church of Christ Local Church Ministries, in collaboration with the Faith Trust Institute, study guide and resource for the 2015 movie Spotlighthose resources may be found here: Spotlight Guide and here: Faith Trust resources.


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