Other people.

The Turnaround pastor’s most effective professional development tool.

More important than biblical languages. More important that seminary education. More important than professional certification.

The only “tool” that surpasses the value of other people is the call to ministry and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Consider the following three scenarios.

Scenario 1 – developing assertive leadership

A young Asian seminary student is working as a Youth intern at a West coast megachurch. In his six month evaluation he receives feedback that he’s not assertive enough when dealing with Jr. High kids on field trips. Over lunch he discusses this with his peers in the Youth Department. He evaluates their input and calculates the degree to which his cultural background contributes to the dilemma. He enlists the help of his peers who guide him in developing an effective strategy to be more assertive with the kids.

Scenario 2 – improving homiletics

The senior pastor of a mid-sized Midwestern church receives criticism of his preaching during an annual review. He’s told that since he started his doctoral studies his preaching has become dry, pedantic and disconnected from “where the people really live.” He consults with a two trusted Board members who help him develop preaching guidelines and agree to provide weekly input into the Sunday sermons.

Scenario 3 – enhancing staff relationships

The Lead Pastor at a large, Midwestern congregation receives a 360 feedback that he is inaccessible and indifferent to his staff. After some personal reflection he decides to discuss this with several of the senior staff to determine what he can do to solve this perception. He initiates a process of visiting regularly with the junior staff and enters into mentoring relationships with several of them.

Each these pastors gained improved ministry skills through mutually beneficial relationship activities.

And do you know what the net cost to each was?

Other than a few momentary ego bruises the outlay was zip, zero, zilch.

Learning leadership from relationships

First, a word of caution.

Not every relationship between pastor and parishioner is suitable for growth-producing interactions.

A counseling relationship, for example, is one venue in which the pastor will facilitate growth in the counselee, with significantly less benefit flowing in the other direction. Yes, pastors often do grow as a result of counseling sessions. But rather than being a relationship of peers, the counseling relationship is a journey in which one (the counselor) helps the other find a path toward emotional, spiritual or relational health.

But with careful consideration, a bit of humility and the intention of learning any pastor can develop and nurture relationships that result in personal growth, improved relational skills and enhanced ability in managing social relationships that benefit everyone.

The key is that the relationship has to be bi-directional. The pastor is as much a listener and learner as the other party to the relationships.

Relational activity that supports learning is two-way – both parties enter the interaction expecting to be both expert and learner, to give and to receive, to enable and to be enabled…. Theories depicting relationships as one-directional events in which one individual learns and the other teaches and in which the goal is independence and separation… are insufficient. 1(P. 255)

Implications for pastors

Do you find your efforts occasionally (or often) stymied by people who misunderstand or consistently resist your leadership?

Would you like to be more effective in navigating around the roadblocks to your ministry, whether they’re thrown up by the Church Board, an influential member or the grumbling crowd?

Don’t call the District Superintendent! Don’t start sending out your resume! Don’t start browsing the seminar circuit.

Instead, spend some time learning the “best practices” of relationship management!

First, learn to be comfortable as a learner and a listener. Practice the art of asking good questions and stifle the impulse to offer quick answers.

Next, recognize the fact that there are other subject matter experts in your church. Maybe they’re not up to speed on theology, biblical languages and homiletics. But they’ll be knowledgeable about the church’s history, closely held values common to church members, likely areas of “push back” and how to get things done through others in the congregation.

Find those friends, mentors and coaches in your congregation. Pick their brains. Listen to them. Ask for and graciously receive honest criticism.

Your professional development will advance by leaps and bounds if you enter into a relationship of equals with key people in your congregation.

Nota Bene

If your self-image rests heavily on your role as teacher/preacher/proclaimer/prophet/teller, or if you place an undue value on education or degrees (Not devaluing education at all here, but it is not the source of your authority as a pastor nor the source of your value as a person), then (1) you have significant work to do (links back to previous articles and to Paul Tripp’s book) and (2) this will be disorienting to you because you will be operating in unfamiliar territory.

E.g. How do you respond to the church board member, whom you respect, when he tells you that your preaching is pedantic, dry and disconnected from daily life?