Learning how to be healthy in ministry

November 02, 2017
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“When we look at healthy boundaries, we’re looking at how can we respect and honor those differences and be aware of how we relate to each other in ways that feel good and safe for everyone involved,” says Rev. Andrea Severson. She, along with Rev. Amy Spangler-Dunning and Rev. Diane McClanahan, all from the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, is leading a series of 16 workshops on healthy boundaries this fall and continuing into early 2018 across eight districts in the Iowa Annual Conference.


Click to listen to the interview with Rev. Andrea Severson.


“We’re inviting some reflection on what it means for us as clergy to be healthy, but also how that influences what healthy ministry looks like in the congregational setting as well,” she explains. “One thing that is a little different this time around is that we’re asking churches to bring a lay person along. That’s really purposeful because we want laity to understand as well some of the complexities of life as a clergy person and some of the challenges to being able to set and maintain healthy boundaries.”

So what exactly is meant by the term “boundaries”? Rev. Severson suggests that “it can be a really broad way of looking at how we are separate from one another, how we maintain our own sense of self and who we are. And how we appreciate and honor the people we come into contact with us as individuals as well.”

Much of the training is about asking questions like: What do we do in relationships to be healthy? “But it’s also about looking internally and developing an awareness of what’s happening in me that might get in the way of being able to do what’s healthy for me or what’s healthy for this other person, or what’s healthy for our community. So it’s really an invitation to look at ourselves.”

The idea is certainly not to just be checking off a simple set of rules. “Being a clergy person who’s been required to attend mandatory boundary trainings in the past, there’s always a little resistance to being told what you have to do. Our intention is to make it as meaningful and interactive as possible so that it serves more of a purpose than just crossing off a requirement,” says Rev. Severson.

“When we think of boundary training, there are some very obvious things that most of us know pretty clearly are not very good or healthy or life-giving. Our intention is not to spend all of our time looking at those really obvious places where boundaries are transgressed and people are hurt, but to look at the more subtle and everyday experiences that we all find ourselves in, where things can get a little bit murkier.” She adds, “Really just the everyday ordinary situations that clergy and congregations are moving through.”

Having lay people participate along with the clergy brings an interesting dimension to the process and can be very enlightening. “It’s really easy to assume that what you see is what is happening, but there’s a lot happening that the average person isn’t going to have a sense of, just because you don’t follow your pastor around everywhere they go.” It also presents a chance to better explore clergy-lay person relationships and how to care for those friendships in a healthy way.

One of the key takeaways from these trainings will ultimately be the importance of communication. “Our hope is that this will be an opportunity to get a conversation started – that clergy and lay people can come back to their congregations ready to share at least a few things that they have learned or to start some conversations about how can we be really intentional in doing this well,” says Rev. Severson. “Whether it’s supporting our pastor and setting healthy boundaries within the congregation, or whether it’s looking at how we are in our life together.”