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This content is adapted from the PursueGOD Network YouTube channel.

As you help others pursue God, you can really get in trouble if you don’t observe appropriate interpersonal boundaries. This is true in an individual mentoring relationship as well as in a small group. Here are two major boundaries to be aware of.

Gender

Don’t mentor across genders. A discipleship relationship can generate a level of spiritual intimacy, which can eventually stimulate inappropriate feelings and connections – and possibly actions. At very least it can open the door to false accusations. That’s why it’s not ever appropriate for men to disciple women (apart from their wives) or for women to disciple men. Find someone else who can disciple that person. No exceptions! It’s also not proper for a small group leader to have an individual follow-up appointment with a group member of the opposite gender. Take your spouse along or assign the follow-up to someone else of that same gender. Don’t ever do it alone.

Confidentiality

Keep everything you discuss in a mentoring relationship confidential. Trust is essential to the relationship. Any breach of confidentiality will destroy that trust. However, there are some exceptions to the confidentiality rule:

  • The person gives you permission to share the information with some specific other person or persons. For example, you ask if you can talk to a pastor about the situation, and they agree.
  • The person threatens harm to himself or herself, or to harm someone else. If there is clear, immediate danger, you must break confidentiality by calling the proper authorities.
  • The person reports knowledge of child abuse or neglect. If you receive information that includes suspicion of the abuse or neglect of a child, you are legally mandated to report that information to the authorities. This is true of every citizen regardless of their profession. I don’t believe this mandatory reporting requirement applies to other crimes, although you may feel an ethical obligation to report what you learn.
  • The person reports an area of sin that affects others – whether it is a crime or not. For example, if a man reports that he is having an affair, you might respond, “Do you want me to be there with you when you tell your wife? Because if you don’t tell her within the next week, I will.” Such disclosure is an important part of the repentance and healing process.
  • The person reports his or her own crime to you, acting as a spiritual leader or confessor. This information is covered by clergy privilege. This means you cannot disclose it without that person’s permission. (Even if you are not a pastor, in Utah you are covered by this privilege if you are acting as “a minister, priest, rabbi, or other similar functionary of a religious organization or an individual reasonably believed to be so by the person consulting that individual.”) This includes child abuse or neglect. (If you learn about child abuse or neglect from any other source other than confession of the perpetrator, you are required to report that, even if you also heard it from the perpetrator.) If a person does tell you about a crime they have committed, you should still encourage that person to come clean before the authorities as part of a genuine repentance process.

Some of these situations might be complicated. Know when to seek additional help from a pastor or professional. Your pastor or small group coach can help you discern this.

[Related Topic: Group Leaders Have Limits]

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Why is it so important to observe gender boundaries in mentoring or counseling?
  4. What happens in a relationship when confidentiality is breached?
  5. Why is confidentiality sometimes not the highest value in a given situation?
  6. Summarize the guidelines for when it is appropriate to break confidentiality.
  7. What questions do you have about boundaries in mentoring? Where will you get the answers?
  8. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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