In yesterday's post I addressed the problem of toxic people in our personal lives. Such people, as I pointed out, will prevent us from becoming the person God wants us to be and from achieving the purposes for which He created us. Also, if we are not careful, they will pull us down to their level and cause us to become toxic ourselves. The best way to overcome toxic people is to just ignore them. Walk away. Find new friends and develop relationships with healthier people.
But, what if you are a pastor or church leader and those toxic people are in your church? It's not always easy to walk away, and in most cases we shouldn't, but what can we do to protect ourselves from their toxicity?
First, and foremost, we must set boundaries in all our relationships and especially with the ones we have with toxic people. Dr. Henry Cloud wrote an exceptional book on this issue called Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Since many of us struggle with setting appropriate boundaries for different relationships in our lives, I often recommend this book as one that everyone needs to read.
One of the first things to remember about boundaries is that we really cannot set boundaries or limits on other people. We can only set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly. Those boundaries are not going to immediately cause them to act differently. They will just change the way we respond to their actions. In time, we hope setting appropriate boundaries will cause them to consider their actions and change, but the initial boundary is to protect us from their current misbehavior.
As church leaders we know that our churches are going to attract people with problems. That is as it should be. The church was never intended to be a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners, and we are all sinners. However, some check in with more problems than others, and some are more toxic than others. We have to protect ourselves from that toxicity or we will find ourselves soon unable to help anyone. Setting proper boundaries help provide that protection.
Pastors often struggle with setting boundaries. Most of us go into ministry as a result of sensing God's call on our lives. We want to help others, and if we set boundaries we can begin to feel as if we are failing them. By the way, some will accuse us of ignoring them or not wanting to help them if they run up against some of the boundaries we've set. Be prepared for that!
However, we are not failing them. We are helping them by allowing them to assume more responsibility for their lives. We are also helping ensure our own well-being by not being drawn into every mess in their lives. Healthy boundaries are beneficial for everyone. In fact, refusing to set boundaries really isn't helping those we think we are helping.
There's not space in this post to go into great detail about setting boundaries. If this is a need you have I highly recommend reading this book. It is an incredible resource for anyone who needs to have better boundaries in their lives.