People Skills & the Pastor

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Mar/Apr 2013.

I was talking to a young pastor recently, and after our lengthy conversation I commented on his wisdom and warmth. I told him many pastors fail in regards to dealing with people (something we often refer to as people skills). When I said this, the young pastor was surprised and asked me to elaborate further. So I provided him some specific sad examples of ungracious pastors and their interpersonal blunders. At the close of our conversation, he said something quite profound: “That’s so strange. Why would you become a pastor if you don’t love people?”

That young pastor asked a great question which summarizes the basis of pastoral interpersonal skills…love. Love is the bottom-line way to define people skills. And the pastor’s life must be characterized by love in the same way that Jesus’ life was characterized by love.

The pastor needs the ability to interact with people in a friendly way and with courtesy, compassion, and empathy. He needs to be “others oriented” as opposed to being self-absorbed or task driven. He needs to notice people (without looking past them) and look them in the eye and smile. He needs to be able to call the people of his congregation by name like Jesus said a good shepherd does (John 10:3). The pastor must interact with people and ask sincere questions demonstrating concern, communicating both verbally and non-verbally in ways that demonstrate courtesy and love. The pastor needs to be able to listen effectively, handle difficult conversations, discipline his anger, and help resolve conflict. And if he fails at much of the above his ministry is hindered and he may even be fired from his church!

This is serious because people expect personal interactions with their pastor to be loving and kind—and for good reason, because Christ was the living embodiment of love and grace. He exemplified courtesy and concern for others. He valued people, welcomed them, conversed with them, ate with them. So is it wrong for people to expect their pastors to reflect Christlikeness in such basic ways as kindness and personal care? If that’s not a wrong expectation, then I would like to ask: what do Christlike interpersonal relationship skills look like?

The Bible’s Answer

The Bible clearly addresses the question of interpersonal relations. Note just a few passages. “You shall not bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1). The New Testament commands us to “be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32). Paul commanded Titus to “to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:2).

The pastor is to reflect Christ’s love in his personal interactions, and love is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Scripture teaches that the natural works of the flesh lead to terrible human relationships filled with hatred, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions (Galatians 5:20). But when we walk in the Spirit, the fruit demonstrated in our lives will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If a pastor loves Christ and walks in the Spirit, his people skills will grow! That’s why our congregations expect pastors to deal with people in love and wisdom…and that is not an unreasonable expectation.

The simple truth is that pastors and their wives want to be loved by their congregations. But I say to pastors and pastors wives: if you want to be loved by your flock, then you must first love them. Know them. Serve them. Respect them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. If you want to be loved, you have to love others first.

Pastors need to understand the power of building relationships among the people of their church, skillfully developing and utilizing the process of inter-relationships. Connecting with people, in person-to-person relationships, is the way of the wise pastor. Because the pastor’s effectiveness in ministry is determined by his relationships with people, an hour of personal time with someone in your congregation can have more impact than a dozen sermons. And one hour of personal time most definitely will have an impact on that person’s attention the next Sunday when the pastor is preaching.

Ministry takes place in the context of relationships. We do not minister to pews and bricks and books. We minister to people who desperately need to be changed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. And what changes people is the truth of God’s Word in the context of relationship.

The World’s Answer

The leaders of the world know the value of interpersonal skills. The book How to Win Friends and Influence People was written by Dale Carnegie and first published in 1936. Tens of millions of copies have been sold world-wide and the book’s title has become a familiar catch-word. Carnegie’s premise was that if you want to influence people, then you must win friends.

Although the pastor may chafe at taking advice from Dale Carnegie (“What does that man have to say to me?!”), I think many pastors could learn a few things from what Carnegie taught. I am committed to the sufficiency of Scripture to counsel pastors in their interpersonal skills. And I know Carnegie was not inspired nor did he attempt to teach from the Bible, and I agree that he was just a man, sharing practical tips from his own experience and at times he seemed to advocate techniques that may seem manipulative. But from what I have experienced and observed in churches, parsonages, seminaries and Bible colleges, many pastors could use a little advice from Carnegie if they filter his advice through their own Scriptural worldview.

Below are the four main components of How to Win Friends and Influence People, with the subsections listed. Look these over and consider your interpersonal skills.

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re Wrong.”
  3. If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise every improvement.
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

Conclusion

I challenge you to re-read the Bible passages above and consider your own people skills, or lack thereof. Ask your wife to read this article and then tell you the points you need to work on. And since so many of the pastor’s interpersonal problems come from his wife’s own relationships at church, after carefully listening to your wife’s input regarding this article…graciously offer to your wife the points she can work on. See if there is anything both of you can learn from the revealed Word of God and the uninspired advice from Dale Carnegie.

The pastor needs the ability to interact with people in a friendly way and with courtesy, compassion, and empathy. He needs to be “others oriented” as opposed to being self-absorbed or task driven. The pastor must interact with people and ask sincere questions demonstrating concern, communicating both verbally and non-verbally in ways that demonstrate courtesy and love. If he fails at much of the above his ministry is hindered and he may even be fired from his church!

No pastor wants that. This is serious.

Les Lofquist Bio


Les Lofquist earned his BA at Grace College, and his MDiv at Grace Theological Seminary. Over his years of ministry, he has served as a missionary church planter, Bible college instructor, youth pastor and senior pastor. He has served as Executive Director of IFCA since 1999. He and his wife Miriam have been blessed with several children and grandchildren.

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