Dr. Henry Cloud On Creating Healthy Boundaries In A Crisis

A crisis like COVID-19 inevitably unearths a myriad of emotions for many people. We're out of routine, feeling a lack of normalcy, and navigating extreme uncertainty. During this time, ministry leaders may find themselves taking on the responsibility of leading their teams to a feeling of peace and normalcy. When God created us for structure and we find ourselves in chaos, how do we find the boundaries we crave?

I could think of no one better to discuss this topic with than Dr. Henry Cloud, leadership expert, clinical psychologist, and New York Times bestselling author. We had a conversation on ways to navigate the emotions that unavoidably arise during crises and key strategies to help create healthy boundaries and help normalize our psychological system. By normalizing our psychological system, we are more likely able to function as our best selves in the middle of disruption.

Two Key Themes for Developing Boundaries and Structure in the Middle of Disruption 

1. Have a solid foundation. 

John 8:31-32 says "If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Your foundation must  be build on the solid ground of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Humanity is deeply rooted in relationships and connectivity to God and other people. You must think, feel, and operate through Christ before you'll sense real stability in your life. 

Although a pandemic disrupts our connectedness with others, it is possible to through video-conferencing and other virtual means. Connecting with others consistently assists in building a solid foundation of trust and security with other people. 

2. Embrace structure and know that it helps bring us peace

God has strategically designed us and our minds to operate in a routine and structure that calms us and brings us peace. A pandemic interrupts our routines and off-centers good boundaries we may have in place.

However, leaders should be intentional about restructuring our routines as much as possible. Having structure and boundaries looks different for everyone but there are 3 key themes leaders must address when creating a structure that works best for you.

  • Time and place. Everyone needs different amounts of time and different settings that are favorable for building an effective structure in their lives. Whether it's blocking out a specific amount of time to complete a task or making a to-do list to work through each day, find what works best for you. 

  • Creating structure for others. This can be as simple as creating a short-term structure for your team so they 're confident that their work is contributing the desired results for the company. Simply your structure down to 3-5 top priorities to ensure goals are achievable. Build in accountability by defining goals and laying out checkpoints for maintaining these structures. 

  • Finding a balance of control and boundaries. We are naturally wired to have a sense of self-control that drives an outcome of fruitfulness. However, we are also created to have boundaries to operate in.

    • Help your team find this balance by increasing the choices they have  within a set of defined boundaries. For example, if the priority for the week is to have 10 new members join a small group, give them options of how to accomplish this goal and then set them free to choose how and when the tasks are completed. This allows them to feel a sense of boundaries while exercising their need for control.

In a crisis, one of the reasons we panic is because of the lack of control we feel. During these times, it's helpful to list out the things you can't control and the things you can. Set a designated time to ponder the many things you can't control. When time is up, commit yourself to surrendering those things to God and move on to the list of what you can control. When you release what you can't control, you open your brain to enormous opportunity for innovation and creativity because you're focused on the areas where you have influence.

4 Major Skills for Leaders to Look for When Hiring After COVID-19

For those that have been able to adopt the mindset of laying aside what you can't control, we've seen incredible innovation and creation through COVID-19. As we've been saying a lot lately, chaos breeds opportunity. The increase in productivity, teamwork, and creation has led many people to realize the workforce's potential, and it's led to a new set of attributes and skills that hiring teams will be on the lookout for.

  1. Innovative ways of thinking. Moving forward, it will be imperative to find people to join your team who can think of new ways to innovate and create new things that may not already exist. It's no longer just being tech-savvy  but being an innovative thinker in all ways.

  2. A quantitative way of thinking. Thinking from a perspective that is incremental is also crucial. Seeing the steps and methods you'll use to accomplish goals will be a valuable perspective to bring to the table as people become more forward-looking.

  3. Ability to address needs. Someone who has the ability to identify and examine needs that haven’t been recognized before. 

  4. Forward-thinker. Forward-thinkers tend to be more agile because they aren’t focused on yesterday’s ways and they’re not glued to one model. They'll be willing to shift with you through different seasons.

Churches That Heal 

Churches That Heal is an all-new, digital resource from Dr. Henry Cloud designed to equip pastors and churches with a biblical and psychologically-sound plan to handle issues of mental health in their communities. Although this program was in the works long before we knew about COVID-19, the current opportunity for the Church to engage in mental health conversations is unprecedented. Here are a few of the topics that Churches That Heal covers:

1. Examining if people are well-connected or emotionally detached and isolated. Churches have the opportunity to foster an environment that spiritually ushers their community into divine connections. Even people who seem plugged into family or friend groups can experience loneliness and isolation, so it's important to dig beyond the surface level.

2. Finding ways to effectively set boundaries. This helps people maintain a sense of control in their lives by setting boundaries. Learning to hear and say "no" through a biblical lens is critical to spiritual and mental health.

3. Learning to process negative events: 

  • Tackling perfectionism and self-criticizing thoughts

  • Dealing with the reality of one’s imperfections

  • The spiritual process of grieving

4. Ensuring people mature and discover and utilize their individual gifts. People need to grow and develop spiritually to understand their unique gifts and talents. Breaking patterns of comparison and gaining a true understanding of Earthly authority vs. Heavenly authority are also major elements of spiritual growth.

5. Teaching ways that the church has an incredible opportunity to meet needs. Leaders are encouraged to fearlessly step in to meet the needs of those hurting, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. 

6. Understanding that there’s no division between emotional problems and spiritual problems. Situations that tend to cause emotional problems will also form one’s spiritual formation.

Life After COVID-19

As leaders continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19, they  need to be living in both the present, to address the current needs of their community, and the future, to create a plan to stabilizing moving forward. 

Here are a few guiding principles for leaders moving forward:

  1. Examine your church's ultimate message and DNA to understand what parts of your church culture will always remain stable. 

  2. Consider what you’ve done in the past that may not work in the future. This will give you more clarity of what you don’t want to change in the future. 

  3. Determine what your very next step is. Leaders tend to create 5-10 year plans. Right now, it’s important for leaders to try not to look too far down the road.

    • Your next step may simply be to equip your team to manage the new people coming to your church after COVID-19. 

    • Focus on your goals for today and evaluate how today’s activities can apply to tomorrow as you continue to focus on the next step.

Post-COVID-19, it’s certain that leaders will need to address the anxiety that their community is experiencing. To help your leaders manage a broken and lost community, sign up for Dr. Cloud's resources at ChurchesThatHeal.com. Dr. Cloud is honored to share this new resource with you and link arms as we build a Church that hurting people run to, not away from.