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Boundaries in Leadership

When we think of boundaries in leadership, many of us think of putting limits on those around us or on situations. Not letting people take advantage of us when we need time and space for ourselves or our families or for other priorities. And that definition of boundary in leadership is truly important.

But there is another type of boundaries in leadership–and it is best seen over a span of months or years,

A boundary is a time period that God uses to begin to phase you out of one form or aspect of leadership and to prepare you for something else He has in store. Boundaries can be as short as several months and as long as five or six years.

Two distinct times stand out in my mind, both related to boundaries (there are more, but these two immediately come to mind):
1. The first was early in my ministry years. It was my first preaching ministry after seminary. There were three ministers in the little town in which we served in the mid 1980s: the Methodist minister, the Baptist minister and the Christian Church minister (me). We did a few events together as churches and all of us had church members who had extended family or close friends in one another’s churches. There was not a super emotional closeness between the three of us but there was a definite sense of fraternity

That is why what Dale S., the Baptist minister, did was so valuable to me. Dale called me up one day and said he wanted to have coffee at The Hospitality House (the only restaurant/coffee shop in town). After pleasantries, Dale got down to business: he said I needed to move on. It was not said in a hostile way. I fact, it was said in a very loving way. Basically the message he wanted to communicate was that there was no real future for me to grow to my potential in this church and community. I needed to actively seek another place to serve. It was not a power play…to get me out of town. It was an act of Christian love. I was a young (31) minister and he was almost to retirement age. He saw in me things I didn’t even see in myself, but which he knew could only be developed elsewhere. He believed God wanted him to communicate to me that it was time for me to move on to my next stage of ministry.

After prayerful confirmation, Loretta and I began to be open to moving. We began to put out feelers, and about a year later we moved to a wonderful ministry where we served for 13 years and grew tremendously. That year was hard…but we knew that we had heard from brother Dale that God was about to move us on.

2. The second memory is much less pleasant. We had been at a specific church for about seven years. My wife and I were in a social setting with a group of key families from our church. The group was a very distinct and tight knit social group and had recently taken actions that were very hurtful to the unity of our congregation. A number of church members had spoken of the hurt and confusion that had arisen from this groups actions. I wasn’t sure how it needed to be addressed, but knew it needed to be done. Suddenly, an opportunity (seemed) to open up in this social event for me to raise my concern with what this group had done. My description of the event and the hurt it had caused began well, but very quickly degenerated into shouting and accusations. It was a horrible mistake.

Loretta commented that day and repeated numerous times. “I didn’t know when we would leave or how, but I knew we would leave.” Again, it was a two and a half year process, some of the most painful years in our ministry years and our lives. But that period (that boundary) ended with a very public and painful departure from that church.

Bobby Clinton who has studied hundreds of leaders has pointed to nine different types of situations that result in us entering boundary times. I want to look at those in a future post.

But Clinton also notes that there are four purposes of boundaries:
1. to bring closure to recent experiences
2. to deepen our relationship with God
3. To expand our perspectives to see new things, AND
4. to make decisions which will launch us into a new phase of development.

Clinton has taken the work of Hans Finzel and identified three stages within boundaries.
The first is the entry stage (initiating activity). This can be as positive as graduation from a program of study or a promotion or a critical point such as a sudden serious illness or organizational conflict.

The second is the evaluation stage (turning point). This is the longest period of the boundary. This period is also the richest in terms of learning. The leader (usually) recognizes that change is coming. He/she reflects on past experiences. God does deep work during this time in teaching several leadership lessons. To go through a boundary and not learn the lessons that God is trying to teach through it is truly tragic.

The third stage is the termination stage (resolution). Clarity begins to emerge, the leader begins to look forward to a specific new situation, and planning for that new future begins to happen.

Boundaries are not the fun part of leadership. But they are part of the processing that God does in our lives to grow us into what he wants us to be. He begins to loosen our grip on things as they are and let us know that a change is coming. We are wise if we begin to intentionally look at the leadership lessons he wants to teach us in the transition.

Does this remind you of a critical boundary in your life & leadership? Feel free to share it in the comments below.

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