In every sector of society, including the church, we see relationships defined by three (3) different kinds of formality: Informal, Semi-Formal, and Formal. Which category of formality a relationship falls into governs our expectations for the relationship.

Level of Formality Categories of People Expectations Examples
Informal · Family

· Friends

· Colleagues

· Limited and varying expectations, depending on the depth and duration of the relationship.

· No expectation of pay

· Variable investment of time (specific and aggregate)

· Flexible scheduling

· Casual meeting environment

· You call your mom on your drive home when you are having a bad day

· You meet up with your small group leader for coffee.

· You go running with your friend for accountability.

· You stop by your colleague’s workstation to bounce an idea off them.

Semi-Formal · Volunteer Caregivers

· Lay Caregivers

· Mentors

· Non-formal support group facilitators

· Pastors/Ministry Staff

· Defined meeting times

· Defined meeting locations

· Indirect & voluntary forms of payment (bartering, donations, reciprocity)

· No formal documents defining the nature of the relationship

· Dual-relationships are common

· You attend a church recovery group on a weeknight and put $5 in the donation basket.

· You meet a mentor at a coffee shop and buy the coffee.

· You are visited by the pastoral care team who brings cookies, you send a thankyou note.

· You attend a workshop presented by a professional pro-bono

Formal · Professional Counselors

· Spiritual Directors

· Life Coaches

· Doctors/ Physicians

· Personal Trainers

· Scheduled appointments

· Professional Settings

· Defined Fee/Payment structure

· One directional relationship (no reciprocity beyond payment for services)

· Standardized licensure/educational/experience requirements

· Formal documents that govern the relationship (codes of ethics, professional registrations, legal definitions and parameters)

· Legislative and/or organizational accountability

· Dual-relationships are discouraged

· You make an appointment to see a counselor, who was required to earn a certain level of education before they could be licensed to practice.

· You are not invited to your Doctor’s birthday party the weekend following your trip to their office.

· Your life coach is accountable to their certifying organization.

· The nature of your relationship with your Spiritual Director is subject to a specific code of ethics, and their supervisor’s oversight.

· Your interactions with the practitioner are governed by specific laws which prohibit certain behavior.


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