"Why are pastors failing? Why are churches angry? ... perhaps the greatest reason is the lack of soft skills among pastors.”

"It’s difficult to verbalize a person’s lack of empathy. It seems childish to be peeved over the fact that the pastor’s SUV is the first one out of the parking lot after worship services. Since churches can’t explain a pastor’s flat bedside manner before a dying saint or his lackadaisical attitude toward a frustrated children’s ministry volunteer, they look for other things to complain about." - Facts & Trends

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TylerR's picture

Editor

If a pastor were to fashion a list of "really important things" he must be able to do well, culled from all the blogs, and all the books, and all the evangelical talking heads who have glossy trade paperbacks out from Crossway ... and this pastor could see all the things he "must be able to do" laid out in one place ... he'd probably quit immediately.

So, my reactions to this article are mixed - to say the least.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

This is a great article. Now with regards to Tyler's comment, sure, if we list every supposed requirement for the pastorate that anyone comes up with, yes, any sane pastor should quit.  You see the same thing with business leaders, really.

Now enter the thought that a former pastor and leadership counselor John Maxwell noted to a subordinate while he was still in the pastorate; when the subordinate walked past a group of people into his office, Maxwell gently pulled him aside and asked him why.  When the man replied, not surprisingly, that he had work to do, Maxwell pointed at the people and told him Your work is right out there.

No doubt, preaching is important.  The facility is important.  But our work is right out there.  No?  I think the author makes a great case that we've been looking to a "modern business" type of qualifications for the pastorate instead of the Biblical ones.  An interesting parallel is that even in business, those soft skills are being increasingly emphasized.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Maxwell's comment makes me want to vomit. I grow weary of more and more articles, books and whatnot telling pastors everything they "must" and "should" and "ought to do" better. 

Yeah, well  ... spare me. Everybody likes to play armchair quarterback. Few people will ever actually play the game for real.

Here is a transcript of a conversation from last night:

  • PERSON: Pastor, some people have been talking about the decorations that've gone up on the walls.
  • ME: Yes... ?
  • PERSON: They don't like them.
  • ME: I don't care
  • PERSON: Oh. Ok.

I am not interested in anonymous comments. I'm also not interested in yet another article telling pastors they suck at yet another "crucial" skill their seminaries have "failed" to teach them. I  sometimes wonder if even Jesus could measure up to everything a pastor "must" be able to do? 

For context, I'm enduring some particularly stupid and hurtful criticisms from a few individuals at both work and church at the same time. So, take my comments with a grain of salt. I'm usually more diplomatic wwith my comments on SI, but my concern remains.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Tyler, my take on that--and I've personally been the target of anonymous complaints, so "been there"--is to ask the question "why is it that congregants/coworkers feel free to make anonymous complaints?"  The very question gives you your way out; why not simply say "could you ask them to talk to me directly so we're not handling this through the grapevine, with all the hazards of gossip?" and/or "if they don't like the decorations, we'd love to get their help on the Building Committee.  It's pretty male-heavy, so a feminine touch would be really welcome."

We might say that these soft skills--which I confess I've learned to a degree via the school of hard knocks in life--are part of the relational jiu-jitsu that tends to defuse, instead of inflame, tough situations, and can furthermore make life far easier in general.  

Another way of viewing the issues; the old "Andy Griffith" show.  Now granted, it's fiction, but the consistent theme of the show is that while Barney is tempted to use his authority and pistol to get things done, Andy takes a look at the people involved and handles it in a way such that the others hardly notice that the ground has shifted beneath them. 

Another take; 2 jobs ago, I consistently needed to approach assemblers and figure out why the parts they'd assembled had been returned to make sure we had things in order.  Now, given that their work was defective, it could have gone really badly, but I picked up on something very quickly when I came to talk; they kept working and cheered up.  So instead of a confrontation, I asked them to review the instructions and make them up and comment on what parts gave them problems.

End of each interaction was generally they did my job for me, and all I had to do was write it up and resolve the NMR.

Jiu-jitsu, brother.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mike Harding's picture

Tyler,

I know you are working hard and burning the candle at both ends.  Pastors need encouragement.  I thank God for you and men like you.  The soft skills article is a good one, and I speak from 41 years of pastoral experience.  Pastoral work is a people work.  We all need to remember that.  Mindless comments from different folks can drive any pastor insane.  Love God and love people ---always in that order.  Hopefully, you will survive.  Many don't.  Most pastors do not last very long and even fewer make it into their mid sixties.  So many reasons for failure and so many potential pitfalls. I do my best to encourage them.  My son is a lead pastor in church as is one of my sons-in-law.  They need weekly encouragement.

Pastor Mike Harding

Ken S's picture

Tyler,

I agree with Mike's kind words above. It can be really hard to love people who are near impossible to deal with. Being a pastor is probably one of the toughest jobs emotionally for a person to have. I don't envy the position you're in, and hope you can work through this tough time.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I will survive. I was just told by my Deputy Commissioner that she is reorganizing the entire division, taking an employee from me, and having me (the Investigations Manager) and the Attorney Manager report directly to the Operations Manager. This is the brainchild of the Ops Manager, who has apparently designed, orchestrated, sold and won approval for this move without any input from the Attorney Manager or myself. What a quaint way to reorganize an entire division and win support from managers; do everything in secret without any collaboration from your managers! 

I must admit, this has been an extraordinarily effective powerplay from the Ops Manager. He had to do something; he had no real responsibilities. Now, he does. Well done, sir! His 25 year Special Operations career in the Army has served him well. I am torn between rage at the treacherous way this came about, and admiration for how the Ops Manager pulled this off. I was just given three hours notice, and handed a copy of the PowerPoint that will be presented to the entire division this afternoon. My new assignment letter is already done. A truly astonishing coup. In the midst of my bitterness, I have to admire the technique.

Yes, my week is just getting better all the time. I am now going to look for another job at another agency.

On happier note, the Bible Presbyterian seminary out here invited me to speak at their chapel next month. So, I suppose that's a bit of good news - my efforts to establish relationships with other like-minded folks is bearing fruit.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Tyler, hang in there; it strikes me that when you're working for government--really any place with a pension plan--you are going to have to cope with a certain portion of people who are just biding their time in "on the job retirement" until their pensions are vested, and with another portion of people who see the bureaucracy and hierarchy as a high stakes game of "king of the mountain."  And there's another group of them that aren't participating directly, but they're witnessing what's going on and "signing off" on it by their silence.

Only solution I've figured out is to try not to get too angry at the things I cannot change.  In the organizations I've worked in--big ones often with 10 or more levels of management--I have come to the conclusion that I've got to trust God and free markets to administer discipline to rogue managers/executives and/or get myself out of a bad situation, which I did in November.

Yeah, government's harder to persuade that markets matter, so you've got it worse than I, but if we understand why we have problems, maybe we can cope better.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Tyler is the Bible Presbyterian the one that was in Tacoma? I seriously considered taking some language classes there when they were here and I was pursuing an MDiv. I called and talked with them. Seemed like a great group there.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, that's the one. The seminary president pastors the Bible Presbyterian church directly across the street from my church. Our church signs are literally directly across from one another on the road. He's a good guy. I hope to be invited to speak and be grilled about Baptist ecclesiology to a seminary class down the road.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Appreciate it. For some reason, even though I've taken a unit that consistently missed it's investigative performance expectations for seven years in a row, and we've exceeded them and excelled in any number of areas in the past few years  ... things suddenly aren't going very well. Not sure why.

I think it's time for a change. Time to get out and move on to another position ... with a higher salary. On the bright side, my salary and position here hasn't changed. My pride is just hurt pretty bad. Think my boss is handling this very, very badly.

Maybe I need to work on my soft skills.

UPDATE:

I've explained this sad saga so far, so I'll go ahead and provide the finale. After meeting this afternoon, I am told my deputy commissioner decided on impulse to re-organize the entire division without input or collaboration from her managers (except the Ops Manager). Ironically, she claims she did this in an effort to improve collaboration and communication for everybody (I'll let that irony soak in real good for a moment ...).

I expressed my profound disappointment in the way this was handled, but it was not enough to gainsay the end result. So, I have resolved to find another job immediately. I cannot work for somebody who does not trust or want input from her managers about how the division runs. After all, the managers make the trains run on time. We would, you know ... have some ideas about how things should be structured. She is well within her rights to not consult with us, of course. Likewise, I am well within my rights to find employment (and a raise) elsewhere in short order.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Tyler, the root problem is at least one level up from your boss; the person or people who didn't recognize that the org chart at your level was a mess.  Then your manager did what she had to do to preserve her headcount--and transitively, position and budget for compensation.  

It doesn't let her off the hook for what she did--like you say, she's making the whole situation very toxic--but at the same time, there's another layer of "why" that's pretty evident--and possibly others that are not.  And I'm going to dare say that again, keep an eye out for it as long as you work for big bureaucracies, especially in places where people will stick around in a job they hate for the sake of a pension.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Another story, somewhat at my expense.  My wife and I were talking with my dad and his then-girlfriend, and when a particular person was named, my dad's girlfriend immediately said "he's a drunk".  I was somewhat incredulous at how she knew this, having never met the individual, and she confessed that she'd learned the hard way, having been married to two of them.  My dad then volunteered a story from his sales career, where he'd been perplexed at why he'd never gotten any business from a particular account, and hence a VP came out and went on the call with him to figure things out.

My dad thought the sales call and lunch went well, but after they left the plant, the VP pulled him aside and told him "did you see this, this, and this?  He's not giving you business because he's an alcoholic and you didn't buy him his three martini lunch."

OK, so what does this have to do with elders?  Simple.  People with different experiences than you & I have will be able to spot things at a distance that we will look past every single time.  Multiple elders will see things and warn you if you let them.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.