“Boundaries are meant to be broken, boundaries are meant to be pushed.” This sounds very daring and inspiring. Very American. But is it true?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)
What catches my attention about laying foundations and building is what Paul says about his relationship between himself and other teachers that came after him. They each work within their God-given boundary and limits.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced over the years has been managing my ambition. We ministers are ambitious people. Most of this ambition is good because we’re mostly ambitious for God. But there were times when my ambition caused me to ignore God-appointed boundaries and limitations, leaving me restless and stressed.
There are boundaries and limitations to every calling and ministry. Instead of seeing them as restrictions to be broken through, they’re to be respected. No farmer looks at fences as restrictions to be broken down as a sign of progress. The fence is a border defining his or her place. We ministers, like farmers must know our place or rather our call – the scope and focus of our ministries. When I know what is mine, I know also what is not mine.
When ambition has gotten the best of me it’s caused me to ignore my limits and boundaries becoming compulsively busy running from meeting to meeting, taskforce to taskforce, conference to conference, doing all sorts of good work, saying ‘yes’ to everything, at times scattering seed in everybody’s field but my own. Often my reason for doing this was that it seemed more important than the humble task I had been given in my own field – my own congregation. It seemed more urgent, more exciting, more attention grabbing. I itched to be where the action was. This had to be resisted. I had to learn to work within my boundaries and limitations. I needed to come under authority and become accountable.
Understanding boundaries and limits – my place, scope of responsibility, my limitations – helped me define spiritual growth and progress and determine what success was for me. For Paul it was planting seed; for Apollos it was watering the seed. Each one of us has to figure this out…
Boundaries and limits are different for every spiritual leader, every church, and every ministry. Your boundary and limit might be a “two-talent” enterprise, while for others it might be a “five-talent” one. For Paul it was planting. For Apollos it was watering. But for each, no matter the boundary or limit, God caused the progress, scope, and success.
I had to stop evaluating growth in terms of larger numbers alone. Paul is using a biological not a mathematical term here. It refers to maturity and completeness. There’s a proper size, proportion, balance to each thing in the world. Maturity is different for every individual, congregation and ministry. I don’t determine this growth. No one or thing can determine what that mature size is. Paul says that’s God’s business. He sets the boundaries and limits. I can only plant and water… Jesus put it this way, “…I can only do what I see my Father doing.”
I was obsessed with attendance numbers and size of offerings… they determined my sense of self-worth, my sense of accomplishment and if you wanted to be around me on Mondays. Someone wrote, “Maturity… is finally being able to accept that reality ‘is what it is’.” A big part of maturity for me was accepting my boundaries and limits; what I’m called to and what I’m not called to. A sign that I was maturing was a gradual loss of interest in these kinds of numbers. Now the thing that really counts is how I score in the faithfulness-to-my-boundary-and- limits department. Coming to the realization that as Peter Forsyth wrote, “You have but a corner to the vineyard, and cannot appeal to all men; humility is a better equipment than ambition, even the ambition of doing much good.”
There’s a great need to develop a healthy respect for boundary and limits in today’s aggressively ambitious society. While we should cultivate a large enthusiasm for God, we must also develop a sensitivity to our human limits. We have to know when and where to stop. We need to be careful not to overstep them and interfere in what we don’t understand or have God’s permission to do. After all a very wise person once said, “The artistry of a barber is not in ‘cutting off’ but in knowing when to stop.”
Do you know what your God-determined boundary and limit is? How does one discover his or her God-determined boundary and limit? Does someone’s God-determined boundary and limit change over time?