Boundaries / Maintaining limits on availability and commitments.

What does flourishing leadership look like in the real world? Resilient Leaders Project asked alumni of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology about how they’ve flourished while creating contextually-responsive ministry. In listening to these leaders, we found six common themes–practices and ways of being that other leaders can apply to increase their own flourishing. This blog series will share those themes, one at a time, through the stories of flourishing leaders. To see the other themes and leader profiles, read the Flourishing in Service Report. This week’s theme is boundaries: leaders need boundaries around time, sense of responsibility, and self.

Michele Ward

MDiv 2015

Associate Pastor, Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church
Clergy Community Organizer, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), Metro IAF Affiliate

I enjoy ministry and find it life giving. With any work, though, the underside emerges when love of work becomes an addiction. I learned to be a workaholic through church and academia, receiving praise for unhealthy behaviors such as staying up late to finish projects, being constantly available to lead at church, and overscheduling myself. This all came to a head when I started my first ordained call in Philadelphia. The work culture there was entrenched in start-up mode concepts of work-life balance, which is typically more common in places like Silicon Valley and Seattle. I was not expecting start-up culture to follow me to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. We were serving a high needs population, with thousands of guests walking through the doors each week. My impulse was to reactively meet that need without thinking about the impact it might have on me. My colleagues and I had to work very hard to maintain and celebrate our boundaries so we could continue to serve.

To sum up my purpose in life and work, I come back to an ordination question that I said “yes” to: “Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” It is these four categories that I think about when I consider my flourishing and the flourishing of the community. In my work, I try to embody Christ through acts of compassion, play, hospitality, and neighborliness. My constant question is, “how can I be a better neighbor?”

Seth Thomas

RLP 2018-19
MDiv year 2016

Pastor, St. James Presbyterian Church

For me, flourishing in service to God and neighbor means calling out people’s ability to bear the image of God in them to its fullest form. It’s identifying people’s gifts and the opportunities they have to engage those gifts in the practical places they are in everyday. It’s an awakening of their image-bearing nature.

On the flip side, the challenges to my flourishing have been the denial of my own gifts and fear of using my voice that the image of God has placed in me. It’s easy to deny the gifts that we have and stay locked up in our brokenness, to not seek the healing that can happen in the community of the church. My own healing and growth are really key to my success as a leader and caretaker of others. I’m an enneagram 9; I am self-neglectful. So what I actually need to do is not go looking for ways to care for other people, I have to do the work of caring for myself, so that I can do the work of caring for other people. I need to tell people what I need, so an important practice for me is honesty about my needs. I need to attend to my whole being so I can attend to another’s whole being.

Flourishing requires slowing down. I have to do the prayerful and introspective work of asking “what’s going on that is so challenging, why is it so challenging, and what is it stirring in me?” Instead of running away from it, I have to take the time to engage with what the opportunity for growth is in that moment.

Learn more about Resilient Leaders Project and the Certificate in Resilient Service.