by Andrew Mochrie
I can vividly remember sitting with my fiancee on the couch in her small house. We had been engaged for five months and our wedding was only three months away. At that moment, on that couch, I did the best, yet hardest, thing I have ever done in my life.
I broke off my engagement.
I told the girl, who I had asked to spend the rest of her life with me, that I no longer believed we needed to be together. Of course I had valid reasons, but they didn’t negate the fact that I went back on a BIG promise. I walked out of that house feeling like a liar, a fake, and a jerk. (And a lot of other things that I can’t say here.) After the dust of that initial hour settled, the first thought that crossed my mind was, “How can I go back to doing ministry with my teenagers?” I was emotionally unstable, depressed, angry, aggravated, and insecure. Yet it is a little over a year later and I am still in ministry at the same church, with the same teenagers. How? Boundaries.
Boundaries are these seemingly intangible things that we either intentionally or unintentionally have in place in our lives for multiple reasons: protection, safety, health, or stability. I have found boundaries in ministry to be extremely necessary. If I didn’t have limits I’m not entirely sure how my situation would have played out. Though there are many boundaries that can be set up in life, in ministry there are two that come to my mind. These two played an instrumental role in the healing process I went through as a youth minister who broke off an engagement: authentic honesty and outside community.

How honest is too honest?

When it comes to being open with teenagers, there is a fine line. I always think I need to be honest but not too honest. That’s a little ridiculous isn’t it? We don’t want our teenagers to have the same mindset. We want the junk, the raw nasty truth because we know that when exposed to the light that nasty truth begins to heal. There was no way around being completely honest with my teens about what just happened in my life. Come sooner or later they would wonder where my “wife” was. In that moment I could not help but be reminded of Ephesians 5:8-13. Paul calls us out of the darkness and into the light. Everything “exposed by the light be comes visible–and everything illuminated becomes a light.” (v. 13) How is this “junk” in my life going to be come light for others? I’m not advocating for exposing every gritty detail of your life or for anyone to vent to their kids in the name of honesty. That is why I throw that word “authentic” in there. I needed to be the real me in front of my kids.
If we’re serious about the church being a place to bring your brokenness and let Jesus heal it, then we need to be somewhat vulnerable as well. People need to see how God transforms the darkness into light. Yet we need to examine our motives: is this for me to feel better about myself or is this a moment to witness to who God is in the midst of darkness? One is about me and one is about the reign of God being made known, an announcement that darkness has no power over the light. How can we be authentically honest with our teenagers? For me it was admitting my fault in the matter, being real about my hurt and insecurity at the time, but also reminding them and myself that God works in the midst of the mess.

Community is essential

The second boundary I have is a community outside of my church and youth group. I have a group of close friends who know me and love me for who I am, and we can be brutally honest with each other. They ask me the hard questions, the questions that you pray no one asks you. These friends were there for me before and after I ended the engagement. These friends walked side by side with me the whole time. This outside community is hard to come by at times but worth the work to find. Who are your friends who provide the space for you to be brutally honest and who ask you the hard questions? Who are your friends who know and love you for who you are?
It has been long year but a good one. Healing is always difficult but worth it. It isn’t a process that you get excited about but it is a process that is necessary, especially in ministry. Our teenagers and congregations need to know that we need the healing that only Jesus can offer just as much as they do. Yet our friends are the ones who walk side by side with us through the thick of the mess.
May you learn to set up boundaries of authentic honesty and outside community. May you be afforded the space to be the real you in front of your teenagers that they may see how God works in the midst of the mess. And may you have the outside community that provides the space for you to be painfully honest and be asked the difficult questions in the midst of pain.

Andrew Mochrie is a third year graduate resident with the Center for Youth Ministry Training and is the youth minister at a church in Middle Tennessee.