On the show today we are talking all about how to talk to your volunteers about boundaries.
Boundaries are especially important in different aspects of lives where people interconnect with one another and care ministry does bring together a number of individuals.
Amongst this bunch are the volunteers who primarily offer care ministry. While navigating their different responsibilities, this passionate group of individuals may encounter some tricky moments.
It is in these moments that the issue of boundaries comes up and I would like to address how you can talk about boundaries with your volunteers.
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ENGAGEMENT MOMENTS WITH VOLUNTEERS
Before we dive into assessing the boundary issues, it is important to note that engagement with your volunteers on a regular basis is vital because much as they offer support to others they do need support as well.
Engagement with your volunteers typically happens in these moments;
- Onboarding training
- Quarterly meetings/ trainings
- Monthly group emails
- Indivudiaul check-in/support/supervision on a 6-8 week rotation
- Ad-hok debreifing/support.
These moments of engagement help to equip volunteers to better serve and keep them fully aware of who to go to for support in those ad-hoc moments.
You can also address boundaries in these moments by sharing a case study or hypothetical situation, pointing out clear boundaries, and having people sign an ethical guideline or working through a specific issue with a volunteer.
THE TOP 5 BOUNDARY ISSUES
Here are the top 5 boundary issues that come up;
This is essential to building a trusting relationship with those you are serving.
Churches are small communities and the fear of personal information being leaked can be a real barrier for those looking for support. Therefore those offering support should remain committed to keeping information confidential unless given permission to share it.
However in certain cases where someone is a threat to themselves, to others or exposed to risk by abuse of a child or elder. The aspect of confidentiality is overruled and such information should be shared with an appropriate authority.
If you as the volunteer feel like you have breached the trust of a person in need, keep in mind that their safety comes first and in such scenarios, it is being attacked so look for help to address it.
Clear communication is very important while addressing matters of confidentiality because a breach can possess a loss of trust and lead to the end of the relationship however with clear communication you are honoring boundaries, keeping the trust, and ensuring safety.
2. RELATIONAL ISSUES
In formal settings, there is clarity on when the relationship between the supporter and one in need begins however in care ministry there may be pre-existing connections or familiarity and this can be challenging because there is a shift in power dynamics.
The beneficiary starts to perceive the supporter as someone knowledgeable, resourceful and skillful.
It is very important that while this relationship comes into play no romantic connection is happening because this can ruin the connection and affect both parties.
For that reason, I highly recommend that volunteers sign a code of conduct to refrain them from romantic relationships.
Most volunteers sound out how they do not want to take advantage of those they are supporting however due to the power differentiation, this can happen in subtle and innocent ways.
This can be in the simplest of things like buying meals, groceries, or even coffee. A tendency of you buy this time, I buy next time may come up, and yet for one party they feel constrained.
Also for tendencies where the beneficiary is in need of work and the supporter offers to help a power dynamic outside the pre-existing one is created and juggling the two can be difficult.
Therefore to prevent this from happening, the church can set up a benevolence fund or community board for people to post jobs for hire.
Respecting such a boundary helps keep the image of ministry because as supporters and followers of Christ we want to live above reproach and ensure that we align with 2 Corinthians 6:3 and put no obstacle in anyone’s way.
This is one of the boundaries that is commonly crossed.
Support can only be given for a specific period of time in view of the fact that it is unrealistic to offer support for years.
The goal of support is that the beneficiary becomes fully equipped to carry on their own however there are times people get accustomed to support and may keep bringing up new issues to keep connected.
In order to prevent this from happening clear lines of the process should be drawn and a picture of competence and independence is painted.
This way ending the support becomes easier and if you find yourself working with someone for long, reflect on the work you are doing and if the support is helping or enabling the person.
5. PERSONAL TRIGGERS
Experience, as they say, is the best teacher and this is what positions the majority of caregivers because they have experienced trauma or difficult times and have been a recipient of support and want to give back.
Nonetheless, as they offer support it is necessary to be aware of the impact other people’s stories can have on you especially if they are so close to home. If you struggle with other people’s opinions, rejection, and stories of domestic violence because of your past experience be aware of this so it eases your interaction.
My co-worker is a great example of how to integrate boundaries into your caregiving work.
She is capable of working with the roughest, toughest people and hearing the most graphic stories but when it comes to animals she melts.
Fully aware of this she has shared it with our team and is rarely given cases where animals are at risk. Her ability to care for animals is a gift to the community however her creating boundaries is imperative to the work she does.
Jesus will always be our reference as believers and He did practice boundaries as well.
JESUS’ EXAMPLE OF BOUNDARIES
In Luke 5:16, we see that Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people however he left them and withdrew to be by himself and prayed.
He didn’t stay and meet their needs, he left them standing sick, broken, and tired. Hard as this may be to picture, Jesus set a boundary for himself by showcasing what He was able to do at the time (healing the man with leprosy).
At that moment, that was what he did.
Let’s allow Jesus’s standard of boundaries to be our guide because for us in the helping profession, it is very difficult to say no to a person in need.
Take into account that no matter how skilled or compassionate you are there will be a time in your support and care ministry that boundaries will be challenged.
This is the time for you to do the right thing and stay within your framework.
CONNECT WITH HOPE MADE STRONG
Join the Church Mental Health Facebook Group! In the Facebook group, we chat about how to care for others, what are your challenges as well as share tons of resources. This is a great community of pastors, clinicians, and those with lived experience and we want to get to know you.