Why not try this? …Review Your Personal Relationship Boundaries With the Opposite Sex

An updated version of this article was published Ministry Magazine September 2006.

Review your personal relationship boundaries with the opposite sex and discuss this issue with your church and school boards.

I had been a pastor only a few months when the phone rang. “I desperately need to talk with a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. Can I meet you at the church in thirty minutes?”

In most cases I would have said “sure” and hopped in the car. But I had just finished reading an interview with evangelical pastor Chuck Swindoll, where he talked about how important boundaries are for spiritual leaders. He said we often want to respond to needs and we don’t use good judgment. He mentioned that sometimes when he was talking with women they would say “You seem distant,” to which he would reply, “If you would like to feel closer to someone we have ladies who are spiritual leaders in our church we can arrange for you to talk with.”

Back to the phone conversation. “Just a minute. Let me see if my wife can come with me so we can meet at the church.” “O-kay” was the reply. “She says she can. Let’s meet there in about half an hour.”

My wife sat on the back pew in the sanctuary, reading, while I sat on the front pew with the attractive lady, listening to her story. Raised in an Adventist home, but feeling rejected, she had run away during her teen years. Later she had gone back home, but as soon as her dad met her at the door he said “You’ve been smoking again, haven’t you.” She turned around and left home for the last time.

Now in her late 20s she had a daughter of her own and wanted her to have a better life. The daughter was enrolled in a local Christian school. “The only way I can keep her there is to be a strip dancer at a night club,” she told me. I was glad I had made sure my wife was with me!

I did a lot of listening, then shared with her that God had a better plan for her life. He would serve as father of her daughter if she would accept His leadership in her life and home. Hesitant at first, she finally decided she needed to get out of the situation she was in and start new somewhere else. We explored options, then had prayer. She left with hope and purpose. That was the first and last time I ever saw her.

As pastors we want to be available to everyone when they need us. Yet there are crucial relationship boundaries that we must insist on. Any of us who have been in ministry for a few years have at least one friend (and maybe a dozen) who is no longer in ministry because of fuzzy relationship boundaries. Insisting on these boundaries may seem unreasonable at times, yet this could mean the difference between whether we remain in paid ministry or shut that door for the rest of our lives. Healthy boundaries will not hinder our ministries but rather enhance and multiply them.

Some of the clearest boundaries I have ever seen were put together by Saddleback Community Church in southern California. I would recommend you make copies of the list below and talk these over with your church and school staff and board members. If it saved even one person’s marriage and/or ministry it would be well worth it.

Saddleback Staff Standards (see more at http://www.pastors.com/RWMT/?id=6&artid=206&expand=1)

  1. Thou shalt not go to lunch alone with the opposite sex.*
  2. Thou shalt not have the opposite sex pick you up or drive you places when it is just the two of you.*
  3. Thou shalt not kiss any attender of the opposite sex or show affection that could be questioned.*
  4. Thou shalt not visit the opposite sex alone at home.
  5. Thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex alone at the office, and thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex more than once without that person’s mate. Refer them.
  6. Thou shalt not discuss detailed sexual problems with the opposite sex in counseling. Refer them.
  7. Thou shalt not discuss your marriage problems with an attender of the opposite sex.
  8. Thou shalt be careful in answering emails, instant messages, chatrooms, cards, or letters from the opposite sex.
  9. Thou shalt make your secretary your protective ally.
  10. Thou shalt pray for the integrity of other staff members.
    * The first 3 do not apply to unmarried staff

We’ve been given some very clear, pointed counsel on this subject that can save our homes, families, reputations and ministries—

“When one who claims to be teaching the truth is inclined to be much in the company of young or even married women, when he familiarly lays his hand upon them, or is often conversing with them in a familiar manner, be afraid of him; the pure principles of truth are not inwrought in his soul. Such are not in Christ, and Christ is not abiding in them. They need a thorough conversion before God can accept their labors. The truth of heavenly origin never degrades the receiver, never leads him to the least approach to undue familiarity; on the contrary, it sanctifies the believer, refines his taste, elevates and ennobles him, and brings him into a close connection with Jesus. It leads him to regard the apostle Paul’s injunction to abstain from even the appearance of evil, lest his “good be evil spoken of.

This is a subject to which we must give heed. We must guard against the sins of this degenerate age. We must stand aloof from everything that savors of undue familiarity. God condemns it. It is forbidden ground, upon which it is unsafe to set the feet. Every word and action should tend to elevate, refine, and ennoble the character. There is sin in thoughtlessness about such matters. The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to diligence and thoroughness in his ministry, and urged him to meditate upon those things that were pure and excellent, that his profiting might appear unto all. The same counsel is greatly needed by young men of the present age. Thoughtful consideration is essential. If men would only think more, and act less impulsively, they would meet with much greater success in their labors. We are handling subjects of infinite importance, and we cannot afford to weave into our work our own defects of character. We want to represent the character of Christ.” {Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5 p. 593.1-2}

Do not see how close you can walk upon the brink of a precipice, and be safe. Avoid the first approach to danger. The soul’s interests cannot be trifled with. Your capital is your character. Cherish it as you would a golden treasure. Moral purity, self-respect, a strong power of resistance, must be firmly and constantly cherished. There should not be one departure from reserve; one act of familiarity, one indiscretion, may jeopardize the soul, in opening the door to temptation, and the power of resistance becomes weakened.” {Medical Ministry p. 143.4}

Blessings to you,

Dan Serns

NIV Ephesians 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

About danserns

Happily married and father of three great kids. Seventh-day Adventist pastor who invites everyone to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, embrace all the teachings of the Bible and join a vibrant Adventist group.
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1 Response to Why not try this? …Review Your Personal Relationship Boundaries With the Opposite Sex

  1. Pingback: Pastoral Visitation Made Easier | Dan Serns

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