Almost every church, nonprofit organization, and Christian community I know bears deep scars and hurt due to a failure to steward power and set wise boundaries. I was no exception. My understanding of how power affects relationships and the need for wise boundaries was woefully inadequate for many years. I tried to be a good friend and a good “boss,” but I was neither. I lost relationships I treasured that I had spent years building.
I didn’t understand two key concepts – stewardship and dual relationships.
Every leader exercises stewardship of power, i.e. we have a capacity to influence others. That power is God-given. When we under-use our power out of fear, a need to be liked, or an aversion to conflict, we hurt people. When we over-use our power to manipulate and push, we also hurt people. Exercising power like Jesus requires we know our shadows and vulnerabilities, and build in healthy safeguards.
Every leader also finds themselves in dual relationships, i.e., when we have more than one role in a person’s life. A dual relationship, for example, is when I am a person’s friend, supervisor, spiritual authority, pastor or confidant – at the same time. Without the language and emotional maturity to talk about these complexities (I am not in favor of eliminating dual roles entirely from Christian leadership), they inevitably lead to great pain and hurt.
With a more nuanced, multi-layered understanding of power and boundaries, we know who we are and who we are not with and for others.
I spent 8 years writing The Emotionally Healthy Leader. But it was the lessons learned from pain around “Power and Wise Boundaries” that initially served as the impetus for the writing of the book. It was, by far, the most difficult chapter to articulate clearly. Let me invite you to ponder those pages slowly and prayerfully.
If you are going to serve as a leader over the long haul, you will confront the complexity of power and wise boundaries. And the stakes will be high – for you, for those you lead, and for the advance of the mission of Jesus.