9th March 2020

Blog: Better with boundaries

In part 2 of her blog, personal and professional development coach Nicola Willcocks looks at the importance of boundaries – and shares some top tips for better wellbeing

Why should clergy create and keep boundaries?

Brene Brown’s research identified that the most compassionate people were those with the most robust and thought-through boundaries – the people who knew what to say yes and no to, who can state what’s ok and what is not ok. If we operate with good boundaries – in any walk of life – it helps us to be more generous, to live with integrity and to be more loving. All of which clergy are called to be and to do.

What are the consequences of poor boundaries on effectiveness and longevity of ministry?

If clergy are not clear on what is ok and what isn'[t okay in terms of boundaries, the impact could be felt in a number of areas: poor productivity as there are only so many hours a week that we can work effectively, unprofessional relationships which could make either party vulnerable, poor decision-making, increased stress levels, feeling overwhelmed, ill health and burnout. This adds up to a very high cost to the individual and to the organisation.

And on family relationships?

Poor boundaries adversely affect family relationships when insufficient priority is given to nurturing family relationships and needs. This can have a knock-on effect on the spouse and children. Children look to parents to provide them with role models of good values, practices and behaviours. A parent’s inability to manage their boundaries could lead to their children not knowing how to create and manage their own boundaries.

What other top tips do you have for better resilience and wellbeing?
  • Make it a given for your ministry that self-care is an essential, not a fluffy luxury. As the saying goes, you need to put your own oxygen mask on before you save anyone else. Assuming that God wants you to be the best that you can be to carry out the work for Him – surely he would be the first to advocate a positive  and proactive approach to wellbeing, resilience building and boundaries?
  • Find a mentor or role model who manages their own wellbeing in a positive way and grill them on how they do it.
  • Put healthy habits in place before taking up your role as a curate – it will stand you in good stead
  • Look outside theological domains for information and ideas that could be useful in supporting your wellbeing. We all benefit from stepping out of our own echo chambers so we can extract good practice from other ways of thinking and keep learning and developing.
  • We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control our response and attitude. It is not always easy, because we are creatures of habit, but realising the power of our thoughts and our capacity to change patterns of thinking can be transformational.
As well as St Luke’s resilience training which you work with, what other resources would be useful to clergy?

As a coach, I am bound to say that I think one-to-one coaching would be useful for clergy at particular times during ministry. Coaching provides valuable time and space within a confidential setting to think aloud and work on the goals and outcomes you want to set yourself. It could be one of the most useful, developmental conversations you ever have.

Do you encounter a reluctance to acknowledge the need for help?

Behind many successful people are coaches – high achievers know that they can’t do it in isolation and most clergy recognise the value of spiritual direction. Asking for help and support is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. In a clergy context, I think coaching sits alongside therapy, spiritual direction and mentoring as one of several approaches that can help support and enhance clergy wellbeing and practice. St Luke’s message is that ongoing reflection with others upon ministerial practice should be regarded as a norm to support and enhance clergy wellbeing and practice. Many dioceses have, with St Luke’s support, set up clergy reflective practice groups.

And finally, any suggestions for that non-theological wellbeing reading list?
  •  Anything by Brene Brown – all her books and TED talks – you can find a link to one of her videos here
  • Grit – by Angela Duckworth, book and TED talk
  • Mindset – by Carol Dweck
  • Resilient – by Rick Hanson
  • Man’s Search for Meaning – by Viktor Frankl
  • Coursera – free, online Yale University course on the ‘Science of Wellbeing’ (a good intro to this subject) which you can access here