A Counselor Reflects on Healthy Boundaries and Safe People


Ask a Professional: An Interview with Kristi Clements; LPC

We are on Week 6 of an 8-week series called, “You Are Here.” As a family, we’ve been navigating through some common cultural phrases to see if they hold up to any real pressure or scrutiny in the face of the Gospel. This past week, we examined the phrase, “Eliminate negative people from our life” and the cultural belief that we should get rid of anyone in our lives who is difficult or draining. 

To follow up on this topic, we talked with Kristi Clements, a licensed professional counselor and long-time missionary member. She and her husband, Brandon, helped plant Midtown Lexington two years ago. She also started her own Counseling & Consulting practice and regularly treats people dealing with anxiety, depression and eating disorders. 

How do you define “boundaries” as a counselor?

Boundaries are our personal property line, which marks what I am responsible for. Boundaries define what is mine and what is not mine. They are incredibly freeing because they show me where my responsibility ends and someone else’s begins. Boundaries give us our sense of ownership and help us take responsibility for ourselves. 

We’ve been talking about some cultural norms or phrases that have slowly but surely seeped into the way that we are living our lives, and specifically this sense of freedom to “eliminate negative people from our lives.” How would you encourage people in discerning if it’s the right time to remove yourself from a person or situation? 

I would use a process called “boundary development” which allows a person to examine why they are finding another person to be challenging or difficult to love. From there, we would work to discern how they are being responsible “for” a person versus “to” that person and we would work to correct that behavior. We would then begin the process of identifying healthy boundaries that need to be established in order to start developing a healthier relationship with that person and the best way to communicate those boundaries with the other person. 

Where, in your practice or around your group of believers, have you seen people misuse this concept of “boundaries”? 

Boundaries are a lot like chainsaws. They are incredibly helpful when we need to cut down a tree or a limb, but if used incorrectly they are quite damaging and can easily cut off an arm! So, we have to think of them as helpful and yet, they are secondary to what the Lord has called us to in our relationships (carry one another’s burdens, speak truth to one another in love, etc.). I find that many people try to use boundaries to just be selfish and not have to do things they don’t want to do. 

How do we to confront or bring up the conversation with someone who is infringing or pressing against our boundaries? Or how do we confront someone who is using boundaries like chainsaws to not be challenged or pressed by people in their life?  

I think we make communication harder than it has to be because of our poor boundaries. So, if someone is infringing on your boundaries say to yourself: “Self, you get to tell them that. You need to tell them that. Don’t have poor boundaries by ignoring your needs because you are scared to hurt their feelings.” Then, go tell that person in a humble way that you need to check in with them about this boundary you have. 

The term “self-care” gets bounced around a lot when we’re talking about boundaries. Where have you seen this idea being misused or abused? What is a helpful way for us to think about self-care as believers? 

I see people use “self-care” as a way to be selfish and mindless, which is not the intent of self-care for believers. The simplest way I can define self-care would be taking time to care for the soul/mind/body and confessing to the Lord our need for Him. Self-care looks a lot like checking in with ourselves (and the Holy Spirit!) and asking what to do with the ten minutes we have between meetings. TV may give us a moment of rest, but true self-care happens more in proactive things like praying, contacting a friend that needs encouragement, moving our body in a healthy way to care for it, drinking a really good cup of coffee that reminds us that God made coffee beans! I think the ultimate goal of self-care is renewal and rejuvenation, but we only get that when we realize we need a savior and the savior is not us.

For you personally, what do healthy rest, self-care, and boundaries look like? 

This is actually really difficult for me. I keep using “they” or “client,” but man, I have a hard time not just being selfish and zoning out. I learned from a sweet member at Midtown to look at my week and highlight energizing things green, draining things red, and neutral things yellow. Then, I can’t just take off all of the red items the next week (let’s be honest, I sometimes want to!) but instead, I make sure to cushion those red events with green items. So, if I know I’m going to have a really difficult conversation with a client, I will attempt to go grab coffee and pray while I walk to Starbucks from my office after. I can’t be selfish and say, “ummm, client, I’m too tired and you’re too difficult this week…gotta cancel!” but I can know that for whatever reason, I will be drained after that hour and need to care for my mind and soul. I think that routine has helped me to know of my neediness for the Lord and practice a lot of “I need a savior and I am not my own savior.”  I also have a running list of things I know I need to do to actually care for my body/mind/soul that I am continually trying to practice. 

The term “safe people” is another phrase that gets tossed around a lot. Where did this term actually come from?

The term, “safe people” got pretty popular when Cloud and Townsend, the authors of the book Boundaries, wrote about it. They defined safe people as people who draw us closer to God, to others, and help us become the person God created us to be. Pop psychology has damaged that last idea, but I do think there is some value in someone knowing you and being able to encourage you in the giftedness the Lord has given you. So, safe people are people that are like you, not like you, and everything in between. Safe people are legitimately any people that are pointing you to the Gospel in your life. 

How do you encourage people to reach out to community as they are going through counseling with you? 

I usually ask for them to create a list of people that we call their “support system.” This can range from their family to friends to coworkers to neighbors to sorority sisters/fraternity brothers to lifegroup/small group/whatever group with their church to 12 Step Programs to pastors. We sometimes even have sessions with that group to help foster a healthy, working relationship between client and their support network. I also tell my clients they are in session with me 1-2 hours a week max, so the hard work happens outside of the four walls of my office. They need people to help support them when they are doing that hard work.

If you are interested in learning more about the work that Kristi does, you can check out her website: If you think that you need counseling, please contact your lifegroup leader or Ryan Rike, pastor of care. 


Sure, Sex is Meant for a Covenant. But What About ______?

Cole Simpson serves as a teaching team resident through our Residency program. For more information about the Residency, visit

I grew up in the south. I grew up in church whenever the doors were open. And by the time I got to high school, proms and dating; pretty much all I knew was I wasn’t supposed to have sex. I certainly didn’t know why that was the rule. I just knew it was the rule. In fact, one of the most important rules. And in this moralistic environment, I frequently found myself asking, “How far is too far?” 

The problem is that’s pretty much the opposite of what Paul says to do:



Get your heart as far from sexual sin as possible.

Reminds me of when I was a kid. My brother and I got into fights. Frequently.  Sometimes we aggravated her so much, Mom would tell us, “Stop touching each other!!” So of course, my little brother’s response was to “not touch” me. Instead, he would antagonize me by getting as close as physically possible. If I asked him to stop, my brother would calmly reply, “I AM NOT TOUCHING YOU!”

This is an unfortunately accurate description of my high school view of sex. I could justify everything by saying “I AM NOT TOUCHING IT.” I am not having sex. No matter what I happened to be doing with a girl, I could always tell myself that I wasn’t doing it. So it was ok.

Fleeing is the opposite of that. 

Fleeing isn’t getting as close to sexual immorality as we can.

It’s running from it. 

Wherever we are tempted to move towards it; we stop, turn and run. This is why Paul in another letter tells us not to have a hint of sexual immorality. My thought process was backwards. God’s design for all sexual expression to exist inside a marriage covenant is wise and gracious. It’s a good design. 

Like the good dad that He is, He warns us that sex used outside of it’s intended purpose can cause harm to us and everyone involved. So of course His command is flee.

Ok...but doesn’t that make God’s view of sex restrictive? 

Is that even realistic in the 21st century? Why does God care so much? Doesn’t God want me to be happy? 

I asked all these questions and hundreds of others, because I was confused. When I was told I couldn’t have sex until marriage, my assumption was that God and His rules were dumb. I knew better than He did.

I heard sex is supposed to be satisfying. So then the idea of waiting until marriage seemed pointless and harmful. God must have been some kind of mean tyrant who made this rule just because He could. 

But overtime I considered other questions:

  • Why might a loving God have given this design and these restrictions for sex? 
  • What if there were real reasons why I should trust God? 
  • What if God is smarter than I am?

And the answer I slowly came to see is that God understands that sex is actually a really big deal.

Not the biggest deal ever. Not the only big deal. 

But a big deal nonetheless.

Despite what we’ve been told, sex is much more than just physical pleasure. We know this even when we don’t want to admit it. I remember talking to a friend about her boyfriend and she told me “I know it is a good thing because it’s not just physical! It has actually brought us closer together.” 

Her point was that sex was relational, emotional and even spiritual. The Bible describes this aspect of sex as becoming “one flesh”. Flesh doesn’t just mean body here. It’s the whole person. Their heart, their mind, their body and their soul. So the Bible is saying that sex is a physical picture of what’s happening at every level; two persons becoming one. 

God designed sex to physically, emotionally, and spiritually bind us to our spouse.

Over the years it’s been interesting to see more and more research explaining how this happens at a physiological level. The brain literally starts to addict itself to whoever we have sex with. God designed orgasm to connect two people at deep levels. And not just anyone or everyone, but one someone who’s not going anywhere because we’ve committed to addict ourselves to them for the rest of our lives.

After wrestling with this for years, I realized that God wasn’t trying to hinder my pleasure. He was trying to maximize it. God designed sex for marriage because it’s unhelpful to form these deep, complex bonds with multiple people. There’s even research that indicates over time, having sex with multiple people negatively affects our ability to form these bonds. 

Sex is an incredible bonding agent meant for you and your spouse. And no one else.

Because any sexual activity that doesn’t bind us to our spouse is powerless to accomplish what God actually intends for it to do.

Any orgasm outside of marriage fails to live up to its amazing design.

God’s view of sex isn’t restrictive. Our modern Western view of sex is restrictive. It restricts us from experiencing all that sex can be. It restricts from enjoying all that sex has to offer.

Ok...but what counts as sexual sin? 

As I grew to understand God’s design and command to flee sexual immorality, I still found myself asking “but what exactly is sexual immorality?” A little study and I found out that the Greek word translated into the English phrase “sexual immorality” is porneia. It’s the same word we get pornography from. It means any sex act outside of marriage. So then I asked, “Well what exactly is a sex act?” 

Let’s say I didn’t exactly love the answer I found. 

Especially not when I found it coming out of Jesus’ mouth. On the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes lust in the mind as being equivalent to committing adultery. I knew adultery counted as a sex act. I didn’t really want to accept that lust counted as a sex act. Then Jesus says it would be better to tear out your eye than to continue using your eyes for the sex act of sinful lust.

Like it or not, it was clear that Jesus thought this was a big deal.

Lust, no matter where it happens, whether it occurs in your mind or your heart or your hands is porneia. And anything else that we would put on a spectrum between lust of the mind and cheating on your spouse counts too.

  • So if you are making out and you lust... porneia. 
  • Fantasizing about that girl in the coffee shop… porneia.
  • Daydreaming about that guy you work with… porneia.
  • Steamy romance novels... porneia.
  • Picking a movie because of its sex scenes... porneia.
  • “What if we just use our hands?”... porneia.
  • “What if our clothes stay on?”... porneia.
  • “What if we didn’t plan on this happening?”... porneia. 
  • “But we’re going to get married so it’s okay, right?”... porneia.  
  • 1 out of every 8 internet searches... porneia.

Jesus undermined all my attempts at justification. The games I liked to play. He cut through all the noise and cut to the core of my heart motivations. Lust is too far. If it was sexual sin in my mind, I had already crossed a line. 

Ok...but what about porn? 

It doesn’t hurt anyone after all, right? This question is very personal to me.   Around the age of seven I started watching porn and it became a regular part of my life.

I was seven.

However, even as a child I understood that porn was something I wasn’t supposed to be looking at. I was always very secretive. In fact, there was one instance where our laptop froze while I was looking at porn. I was so panicked about getting in trouble that I poured water all over it. 

I destroyed the laptop rather than have anyone find out what I was doing.  

I have had countless conversations with myself and others where I have asked “what’s the big deal?” It’s not like watching porn affects anyone other than me. 

Well first off, we know Jesus says if we lust when we watch porn then it is a sex act; it’s porneia.  

But there’s something else here too. When we watch porn we are taking human beings with souls that God made and loves and adores. And we turn them into objects that exist for our pleasure. As I’ve thought about porn in light of the gospel, I’ve become more and more heartbroken about it.

As a brother who has a younger sister that I love dearly... As a friend of some amazing ladies that I respect greatly... As a boyfriend of a beautiful woman that I really care about... It tears me apart that I have objectified women in this way. And it isn’t like that objectification stops at the screen, it sinks into all aspects of our life. Over time, I started to see almost everyone as objects and nothing more. 

And I don’t even have time to talk about the unbelievable damage and destruction that happens to the sex workers in the porn industry.

But it’s not that porn just hurts other people. Paul is clear that it hurts us, too. For me, and everyone I’ve talked to, porn is never just a lust problem.

It is an intimacy problem.  

It is easier for us to go to a screen for instant gratification than it is to recognize that we are sinners in need of true  connection. We long to be known and loved. Porn tells us we are desired by gorgeous women and/or men but the truth is the feeling doesn’t last. 

Only in Christ have I found any lasting satisfaction.

Only in Christ can we be fully known and fully loved.

What about masturbation? 

Sometimes guys will ask me “but what about masturbation?”. The reality is that this is a growing question that many people have in our church and in our culture. It’s seen as the best, least harmful alternative if I’m trying not to have sex outside of marriage.

I tried to type up a short answer to this question and I realized it needs a more full answer so I’m going to write a follow up blog post on that question specifically: “Why is masturbation a sin?” For now let's wrap up here:


At many points in my life, if I had read this article, I would have been crushed. I would have found myself thinking, “I understand God’s good design. I understand His calling on me to flee from sexual immorality. I don’t even disagree with Him. 

But I can’t do it. 

It feels impossible. 

Especially when I consider that God’s call is to perfect obedience.”

The good news is God knows we will never be perfect. And He still loves us anyway. The good news is He knew how deep my porn addiction would go. He knew how many women I would turn into objects of lust. He knew how much I would resist and reject Him.

And instead of rejecting me, He loved me so much that He sent Jesus to rescue me. He knew I would never uphold this standard so He sent someone who could. This is the unbelievable grace of the gospel. I’m loved despite my brokenness.

Now don’t hear me wrong: I’m not saying sin isn’t a big deal.

It’s a huge deal.

So big a deal that Jesus died and took that sin upon himself. And until I really understood this incredibly gracious love of God for me, I never tasted real freedom. God’s unconditional love for me is what gives me hope when I fail. Hope that empowers me to fight my sexual sin; not to minimize it. 

I hope this blog has been helpful and clarifying about what sexual sin is and why it matters. But more than anything else, please hear me tell you this:

God looks at you and said “I know every way you will fail, I know exactly how impossible it is for you to perfectly flee from sexual sin.

And I love you. 

And I want you. 

And I sent Jesus to die for you.”

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)