Sociologist and thought leader, Dr. Brene Brown has developed a helpful acronym in her teaching on the Anatomy of Trust:


I invite you to join me for the next few months as we unpack this together, especially in the context of growing trust within ministry teams.

B is for Boundaries:

I wrote about boundaries back in June of 2016 from the perspective of self-care, resilience and stress prevention. But I’d like to circle back around and look at boundaries again. This time, as a component of trust.

What is it?

Boundaries are the lines between what’s ok and what’s not. Boundaries can be related to time or space, or they may be physical, emotional, behavioral, mental, etc.

What does it have to do with trust?

Dr. Brene Brown, says that boundaries are a vital component of trust because in a trusting relationship, I know where your boundaries are… and I respect them. You know where my boundaries are… and you respect them.  This cultivates trust. Sounds obvious, right?

So what gets in the way?

  • If I’m feeling insecure in my ability to meet an expectation at work, I may be tempted to protect or improve my image with you as my co-worker or supervisor by saying I’m able to do something that I’m not, or agreeing to something that’s beyond my capacity or ability to do…over and over again. This leads to frustration, resentment and disappointment. So, it’s my responsibility to make sure I understand the expectations, compare them with my capacity, and make my boundaries known within those expectations. When I do that, it builds trust between you and me because I’ve been clear about what you can expect from me.
  • Maybe I’m your supervisor and I’m experiencing pressure from my supervisor to have something completed by my team, so I pressure you to work late or beyond what you’ve understood would be expected. You might do it, but if this becomes the culture of our working relationship, I compromise the trust between us by disrespecting your boundaries. As your supervisor, it’s my responsibility to protect your boundaries and not ask you to compromise them. That builds trust because you know I see you as a person, not just for what you can produce.

What can we do about it?

Let’s explore some Myths and Truths about Boundaries.

Boundary Myth #1: Boundaries are selfish.

Maybe we’ve been raised to believe we should always say yes when ‘ministry’ is asked of us. We may even believe this is our calling. The problem is that this puts the responsibility of discernment on everyone except us. Harmon reflected the other day, “Setting boundaries is not a ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approach. Instead, when I set healthy boundaries and tell you about them, I’m letting you know that I desire to serve in a way that will be by far the most benefit to you and those I desire to serve.”

Boundary Truth #1: Boundaries protect me from being selfish!

  • What would it look like to prayerfully allow God to guide me in setting boundaries that protect the calling he has placed on my life?
  • What relationships will benefit from this?
  • Where will trust increase?


Boundary Myth #2: My Life is too unpredictable for boundaries.

Often it feels like ministry is an ‘on-demand’ service-oriented business; we can’t schedule ministry needs, so we give up on setting boundaries. But maybe there is much more within our reach to influence regarding our daily life than we realize. My ability to show up in a healthy way in those unpredictable but immensely important ministry moments actually depends on my ability to have boundaries in place everywhere I can.

Boundary Truth #2: My life is too unpredictable NOT to have boundaries!

  • How might I organize my time and space within boundaries so there are margins for the unpredictable?
  • How much of my life is more ‘boundary-able’ than I realize?
  • How might better stewardship of my time and space build trust in my relationships with my team members, or supervisors?


Boundary Myth #3: Boundaries will reduce results.

This comes from the old-school assumption that the only way to get great results is through top down or peer to peer pressure to perform. It’s almost like we are afraid our co-workers or team members won’t be motivated to do their best if we protect their boundaries. So we give lip service to holistic health, but might be in danger of sending subtle messages that, over time, consistently communicate, “you’re not enough”. This breaks down trust. Boundaries are not about the exceptional unusual circumstance when we are asked to go beyond what is normal in order to meet an unpredicted demand, but when unhealthy expectations begin to become the very culture of the work environment, we begin to break down in our ability to be what we were created to be. We lose motivation and eventually, we withhold trust from one another.

Boundary Truth #3: Boundaries will cultivate Trust; and Trust produces authentic results!

  • Do I trust my team members to be motivated enough to do their best without pressure from me?
  • As a supervisor, if my emails and communications were examined, how might the message, ‘You’re not enough’ be heard?
  • How can I better protect boundaries for my team members?
  • How might this increase their trust in me? And what about motivation?


Boundary Myth #4: Boundaries create Barriers.

Some like to have an “open door policy”. Is this healthy? It depends on what we mean. If “open door” means “unrestricted access”… it’s not healthy and in the end, it can’t even be true. Because, actually, there really is a limit to my accessibility. Boundaries are transparent; Barriers are a mystery. Boundaries are consistent and made known; Barriers are always moving and they feel like a surprise. Boundaries define the way you can access the best of me; Barriers make me inaccessible. When you feel like I’m hiding from you, that’s an unhealthy barrier. When you know what my needs and limitations are, that’s a healthy boundary.  When we trust each other, we make ourselves vulnerable to each other and we share our boundaries. And that cultivates more trust!

Boundary Truth #4: Healthy Boundaries eliminate Barriers.

  • How can I make my boundaries more transparent so they don’t become barriers?
  • What relationships might grow in trust as a result?

What conversations do we need to have with our supervisors and team members to clarify boundaries in order to cultivate trust?


-Submitted by: Cindy Schmelzenbach