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  • Mr. & Mrs. Miller

    Jim Wallace

    Christmas morning.

    Is there a more significant or special family time on the calendar?

    I remember serving in my first church after seminary, located in a rural area of west Tennessee. My three young children had gleefully opened their stockings and there was great excitement as we sat around the tree. As was our tradition, all of us, still in our pajamas, were settling in for a long morning of intimate family revelry in the best traditions of an American Christmas. Suddenly, I was startled by what sounded like the back door opening. Moments later, in walked one of the dear ladies from the church, husband in tow, sonorously wishing us a merry Christmas! I pulled my bathrobe drawstring tighter and sheepishly greeted them — inviting them in to join us for a cup of coffee and signaling my annoyed wife to put the pot on. Dressed in their Christmas best, they agreed and settled into the only available chairs in the living room to watch our children open their gifts and play with their toys.

    Two hours later, our friends finally headed home and we were able to resume our family traditions uninterrupted. To this day, we often mark that Christmas memory as “the one when Mr. and Mrs. Miller came by.” While they were delightful people and no doubt missed their family — who had long since grown and gone — they assumed on our hospitality and should not have walked into our home unannounced and uninvited. Needless to say…

    My training did not prepare me for the establishment of boundaries in ministry.

    Protection of family is one of the most important principles I’ve been forced to learn in ministry. Boundaries are essential to the health and preservation of precious family time. Frank Schaefer discusses the many boundaries that ministers must establish. Among them are those that protect the sanctity of the minister’s family.

    “. . . ministers must be very intentional to draw boundaries around their families. Too often is the privacy of  [ministry] families violated. In many congregations, there are still high expectations on ministry spouses and other family members.”

    We are called into “life together” with our congregations and communities,  but limitations are essential to the life and normalcy of family. Some steps can be taken to ensure a healthy balance between shared community and family privacy:

    1. Discuss what is acceptable interaction and shared time, with family members.
    2. Share that as a strategy with church leaders who can help reinforce those boundaries with other members of the community.
    3. Establish a covenant with church members or ministry partners that honors your commitment to family.
    4. Be welcoming and hospitable to your community within those established boundaries.

    Perhaps we should have been more welcoming to a lonely older couple on Christmas morning, but that kindness should have been planned intentionally and with the full participation of our family. Then the richness of shared life balanced by family intimacy would have been a memorable joy.