Negotiating Boundaries in Ministerial Relationships

REL 3990 Negotiating Boundaries in Ministerial Relationships, a one-day workshop (8:00am-5:30pm) generally offered three times each year, is a degree requirement for the Master of Divinity and a prerequisite for any internship taken for academic credit. REL 3990 is a basic course in professional ethics and augments the training that clergy and service providers typically receive as part of the credentialing process. Students must complete REL 3990 before they can begin a YDS internship. There are no exceptions. Hence students are encouraged to take REL 3990 during their first year. Note: REL 3990 is a recommended prerequisite but not required for Clinical Pastoral Education.

The workshop is ordinarily scheduled for the Saturday before classes start in August, the first Saturday in February, and the first Saturday in April. Please check to confirm dates. Students register for the August session of Negotiating Boundaries by completing a form in the Registrar’s office.  Students register for one of the two spring sections of REL 3990 along with their other courses for the semester during registration in January. The workshop receives no academic credit but does appear on the student’s transcript.

2020-2021 Academic Year -

Due to COVID19 considerations, this course will be presented in an online format with readings and assignments to be completed ahead of the class. Generally, instead of a full day in-person schedule with meals provided, students will be asked to set aside 9:00-2:30 on the Saturday of class to be taken online from the comfort of home. 

The primary goal of the course is to help each student develop critically reflective understandings of professional ethics as it applies to maintaining boundaries in the practice of Christian ministry in the church and world. This subject is explored through the analysis of aspects of spiritual care and ministerial behavior, including sexuality, power, boundaries, and the personhood or character of the minister or religious professional. 

Course Objectives

  • To become aware of ones power as a professional ministerial leader, and to understand its potential for both healing and abuse;
  • To be able to recognize and maintain personal and professional boundaries, and to be conscious of the consequences of not doing so;
  • To become familiar with current policies and resources of one’s tradition as they relate to professional ethics and human sexuality;
  • To gain an appreciation of the need to personally grow so that the one is a healthy leader in the holistic sense, and to be able to help others do the same;
  • To develop a beginning understanding of pastoral care strategies for those one serves.

Required Text

Professional Sexual Ethics: A Holistic Ministry Approach, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and Darryl W. Stephens (Fortress Press, 2013)

Course Topics

  • Personal/Professional Needs and Boundaries
  • Dual Relationships in Ministry
  • Confidentiality and Privacy
  • Defining Sexuality and Sexual Health
  • Sexual Ethics
  • Sexual Misconduct / Abuse Prevention and Policies
  • Fiduciary Duty and Sacred Trust

Course Instructor

Kate Ott Photograph

Kate M. Ott, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Drew Theological School of Drew University; Yale Divinity School Lecturer in Pastoral Care


Office of Supervised Ministries

(203) 436-5703
(203) 432-5356