Boundaries and clergy spouses

Posted Nov 16, 2016 | Academy of Preaching and Celebration

By Joyce Thomas

Boundaries are important for everyone, but especially those in relational and public positions. Boundaries define where a role begins and ends. They make clear its responsibilities and parameters and help guide correct action. Boundaries establish necessary limits and safe guards for a variety of contexts, from relationships to ministry, and even for personal growth.

Maintaining boundaries as the spouse of a pastor critical. Most importantly, they allow for the dignity and integrity of self-care. There are times in ministry when clergy spouses must find ways to prevent from being overextended, and firm boundaries do just that. Many clergy spouses can attest to expectations being forced upon them without ever being asked.

At one church I remember being designated to the nursery when my children were young. No one asked me to serve there, but it was assumed I was willing to sit with other people’s children while they attended service. This might have been okay except there were no other volunteers to help deal with all the crying children I was left with. I did not complain. I was young and wanted to please the church so I resentfully served. Looking back, I now realize that was not a good way to handle the situation and wish I had better understood how to protect myself by explaining how I really felt.

There are many ways to draw boundaries; however, the most immediate way is to use the word “no.”   Saying “no” is an act of taking responsibility for your own life and it frees you to make decisions for yourself. It lets others know that you are your own person with your own wishes and desires. If you don’t take ownership of your life, your options will be limited and someone else will end up choosing for you. Being clear about your “no” and your “yes” is one of the best ways to set boundaries. The Bible tells us in Matthew 5:37 to “Simply let your ‘YES” be “YES” and your “NO”, “NO.” The Interpretation commentary on the Gospel of Matthew says for this verse, “It is God’s will that men and women be absolutely truthful in their words and faithful to their commitments.” Such simplicity in our lives by honestly speaking “yes” and “no” will ensure that we serve with and avoid being manipulated by others.

As clergy spouses, we must be truthful about our own desires, and we must be willing to say “yes” and “no” with conviction. If we do not, we risk finding ourselves under the pressure of demands placed on us by others that end up taking control of our lives. When this happens, we are likely to become miserable and resentful in our ministry. Ministry is not about pleasing others who insist we do things a certain way. It is about serving God from the heart and making our “yes mean yes” and our “no, no.” Only then, in control of our lives and ministries, will we feel content in our service to God, family, and the church.

To help you get started thinking about setting your own boundaries, here are three I have found helpful:

  1. Refuse to be volunteered for any position without being asked.
  2. Create a time frame or schedule of when you are willing to serve, and allow it to determine your participation in ministry.
  3. Create a list of positions in which you are interested or gifted and another for those in which you are not interested. Be mindful to stick to list to prevent being manipulated into working where you are not gifted or interested.
What about you? What are some of your boundaries?

Dr. Joyce Scott Thomas is the Associate Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration.

The Academy of Preaching and Celebration at CTS seeks to generate excellence in preaching and worship. To request permission to repost this content, please contact



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