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Tiptoeing on the Tricky Tightrope of Boundaries in Ministry

Photo of Julia MartinJulia Martin | Bio

Julia Martin

Julia Martin is a women’s speaker, writer and recording artist whose passion is to see Christians fully embrace the abundant life offered in Jesus Christ. She serves as Program Director at a transitional housing ministry for young adult women facing a situation of homelessness. Her favorite things are long dinners with friends and anything that takes place outside.

A woman comes into your office. She’s been in before. She has a reputation. She asks you for money and says the children won’t eat that evening if you don’t help. You suspect the funds will be spent on drugs and alcohol, but something about her seems a little more desperate this time.

What do you do? Ministry is tricky.

A struggling couple arrives for marriage counseling. You’ve been meeting with them for months. In addition to your regular appointments, you have fielded countless phone calls in crucial moments. You have poured so much into them, yet they don’t seem to be taking your advice. They say they are willing to do the necessary work to reform their marriage, but the lack of effort is apparent. Do you keep pouring countless hours into these individuals? Ministry is tricky.

The scenarios are endless. Tiptoeing the tricky tightrope of boundaries in ministry is not easy.

Broken people come to us looking for guidance and support, but the path away from brokenness is not a straight one. As guides we lead people through rocky slopes and jagged, winding paths. The way is not always apparent, even to us.

How much do you give? When do you hold back? When do you let someone walk away?

The existing material offering tips for healthy boundaries is voluminous. Most of us know the do’s and don’ts. While this information is helpful, it doesn’t address the icky feeling that arises when we have to draw a hard line. Spiritual warfare abounds as the enemy creates confusion regarding the validity of our decisions.

The question is how do we combat these feelings as we tiptoe along the tricky tightrope of boundaries in ministry?

Straight Paths

While much could be said, a simple proverb will do. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”

The linguistic implication here is that the path He makes for us will be right, pleasant, and prosperous. The Hebrew connotes a well-trodden road. God promises that He will take our current jagged, winding path and He will straighten it out. He will guide us in the way we should go. He will also help us to lead others on the precise path in which they need to travel. Isn’t that good news? We can be assured in our ability to lead others and have confidence in the tough decisions we make as we lead them.

Like so many Scriptural promises, this one is conditional. God seeks a cooperative partnership. Consequently, He makes incredible, fruit-filled promises that can be ours if we do our part. In this proverb, He vows to make our paths straight, but what is our responsibility?

Our Responsibility

What does it mean to acknowledge Him in all our ways?

There are two ideas inherent in the text.

The first is to acknowledge God’s ways; that is, to acknowledge and heed the wisdom of His Word.

What does the Word have to say about boundaries in ministry? Quite a lot actually.

  • It says that we must bear one another’s burdens, but also that each person must carry their own load.
  • It says to pour ourselves out in loving service, but that we are to shake the dust from our feet and journey on when facing the obstinate unrepentant.
  • It says we are to be a fork in the road, a herald proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We must teach, admonish, and warn of the coming wrath for those who disbelieve.
  • Ultimately, we are to love one another as He has loved us.

So, to acknowledge Him in all our ways first means that we acknowledge His wisdom.

There is a second implication here. It is found in the meaning of the word.

The term acknowledge comes from the Hebrew yada which means “to know.” This is more than an intellectual knowledge. It is intimate. It is the same word used to describe the union between Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam knew his wife Eve.

This acknowledging of God then is a soul-deep connection. It is an abiding interconnection with the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God of the universe.

To acknowledge Him is to intimately know Him, to deeply love Him, to trust in His character, and to commune with Him. It is to find rest, knowing that He will not fail you. He will not let you down. He will guide you. He will protect you. He will strengthen you. He will empower you and He will make your paths straight! Acknowledging Him is more than an intellectual exercise. It is a visceral, experiential union with God Himself.

And in this union, we find that we have all the wisdom we need.

He guides us. God’s Holy Spirit leads us. In this knowledge we realize that the confusion and discouragement we feel are agents of the enemy sent to disrupt our work. They are not based in truth. Instead of buying in to these feelings we can resolutely rely on Christ. We can mute the lies and trust His character. As we do this, we will surge ahead confidently, knowing that He will indeed make our paths straight.

While much could be said, a simple proverb will do. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”