When someone mentions limits, it can bring to mind negative connotations like having unwelcome restrictions—or worse yet, feel like a concept tied to scarcity. Where do associations like these come from? In the wider US culture more, bigger, and without limits are messages that have transcended marketing and seeped into our consciousness. In the church, we sometimes confuse “with God all things are possible” with the American ideal of having no limits. The result is that we can miss the gifts that come with boundaries and miss out on how these very limits are part of God’s abundance for us.
Limits give us messages and help us understand who we are and what it is that God has called us to take care of. Limits also give us the gifts of rest and trust in God, opening us up to new possibilities that are hard to see without those perspectives. God, as Jesus, took on human form and embraced the limits that came from being in a human body. Some of this came in the form of taking rest and time away, but Jesus also exercised limits in walking away from some situations, places, and people. During his earthly ministry, Jesus empowered other people and sent them out, sometimes as pairs of disciples who were advised to only take a few things and to turn away from towns in which they were unwelcome. Perhaps counterintuitive to our cultural thinking, all of these limits helped God’s message to spread and grow, opening up possibilities.
So, limits can bring gifts of connection, community, knowing who we are, trust, rest, and make room for new possibilities. As stewards then, what does this look like in the life of leadership and the church?
As a pastor or leader during the pandemic, you have undoubtedly come up against many of your own personal limits. Perhaps, you have been ashamed or frustrated as you have found out what some of your limits are, seeing them as weaknesses. Yet, at the same time, have these limits led you to reach out to others? Has reflecting on these limits helped you to make new realizations about yourself as a leader and person? Maybe because of your limits, you can empower others? If not, it’s time to learn the wisdom God offers you within your own limits.
Steward the limits that have been revealed to you with gentleness and look for how they reveal God’s abundance for you. Offer yourself grace and compassion around your limits. They have messages for you—messages to rest, trust in God, and seek connection. These are messages that God’s abundance includes peace, hope, faith, and love. They are reminders that who you are is more than enough.
Facing and stewarding limits as a church community might feel like the scariest part of this. As church leaders, we are used to questions around a lack of money or not having the right space in our buildings. These feel like negative limits, maybe even of scarcity. Yet, as a church, if we can steward our limits, we can again see God’s wider calling and possibilities for us.
Maybe a lack of money is a message to look for a partner in the wider community—a non-profit, a school, a business— to continue the work outside the walls of the building. It could also mean that it’s time to gently let go of something—making way for something new that right now we can’t even imagine.
Looking at our limits with compassion and trust in God can help us understand where and to whom God is calling us and may even help revive our sense of mission. As with personal limits, a community needs rest and a reminder that God’s abundance comes in the form of connecting with others. Our limits can help us see what our congregation and wider community actually need, instead of focusing on what we think they need.
Called to Honor Limits
Both personal and community-based limits reveal more about the mission God has for us and who God is calling us to empower, partner with, and send out. As a leader, assessing your own boundaries gives you a chance to look for the people God has placed around you who can complement your gifts. Your limits are a blessing and opportunity to open up to the abundance of talents, love, and wisdom in the people around you. As a community, limits help you understand what God might be asking you to let go of and where to focus your mission. Stewarding these limits and turning away from what isn’t working, makes room for new possibilities. By gently respecting limits, we start to see all that we already have and that what we have is more than enough.