People Skills

Pastors Need People Skills

Editor’s note: This article is part of Dean’s Pathways to Preaching series, aimed at young men considering pastoral ministry. I believe there’s plenty here also for “not-young” men, already in ministry, perhaps as a reminder (2 Pet. 3:1).

With any vocation, a set of skills is necessary to do your work. Is this true for pastors too? Doesn’t God enable a pastor to do his work? Yes, He does. He makes you able to do what you could not do in your own knowledge and strength. But there is a human side to pastoral work as well. A pastor grows in his understanding of how to do pastoral work and in his skill at performing the work.

My focus here is not so much how to preach, how to share the Gospel, how to perform a wedding, etc. Of course you need to learn those too. What I’m talking about here are finer points of conducting yourself in your pastoral responsibilities. One of these areas is people skills.

Some people skills can be learned, but …

There must first be a genuine love for people in your heart.

I was talking with a neighbor couple recently about my work. I explained to them I am equipping a new generation of pastors. The sweet, elderly lady said, “Oh, they need to love people!” She’s right.

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The Importance of Presence in Ministry

Going Beyond Public Gatherings

God calls every believer to teach His Word to others at a grassroots level. To motivate and equip them to do this, He provides pastors. These are responsible to “hold nothing back,” devoting themselves to ministry in two venues: public gatherings and private settings (Acts 20:20). While both settings are necessary, it seems that prevailing Western models favor public gatherings over more personal settings. Perhaps this imbalance hinders our efforts to engage people in ministry.

We work hard at our public gatherings. Pulpit style. Stage lighting. Usher training. Multimedia presentations. Music of all kinds: congregational, choral, instrumental, solo, ensemble, instrumental and choral. Service orders and liturgies. Invitations (or not). Announcements. Special events. Dramatic interpretations. Guest speakers. Sound systems and auditorium acoustics. We give attention to all these things and more.

But do we give equal or adequate attention to the other important ministry setting? Do we devote ourselves to connecting with believers in personal settings to the same degree? Church ministry that occurs only (or primarily) at a central church building misses a key element of the “hold nothing back” approach that Paul emulates.

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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.

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People Skills, Africa and Coaching

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

Most greetings are mundane and meaningless. “How are you” is the standard icebreaker in the U.S. That inquiry is normally answered by an equally empty: “fine.” The greeter normally doesn’t really care how you are doing and the responder normally isn’t all that “fine.” But this perfunctory greeting moves us to further conversation. So we continue to do it.

Greetings in Africa are totally different. The normal Zulu greeting is “sawubona.” It literally means “I see you.” It is a kind and gracious way to acknowledge the worth of an individual. It acknowledges the presence and importance of the other person. It means my life stops to focus on yours.

African greetings can be long. It is not unusual to engage in an extended line of questions about the condition of your home, children, wife, goats, farm, garden and work. Greetings can go on for several minutes.

As a Westerner, it seems like a waste of time to spend five minutes saying hello. But in a relational culture, there is serious interest in the other person as an individual. Relationships are important in an African culture. So greetings take a while. It just isn’t polite to launch into a conversation without an appropriate greeting.

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Learning People Skills (Part 2)

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

(Earl Brubaker continues sharing some of the people-skills lessons he learned during his years of ministry as a pastor. Read Part 1.)

A third lesson

On another occasion, in what could have been a major church crisis, Ray and Goff taught me to respond with compassion and understanding to the negative reactions we sometimes face. Ray, one of the church trustees, taught in our Christian Day School. Goff, the church treasurer, was a retired Los Angeles County fireman.

I sat in my study that Monday morning with a heavy heart reflecting on a Sunday evening congregational meeting that turned ugly. No violence, no overt threats, just ugly. Midway through a building expansion, we discovered that an additional piece of property was available. Most folks saw it as a great opportunity to complete the block of property already owned by the church. Others thought adding that final corner to our property was a merely cosmetic, large, unnecessary expense. The discussion got heated, voices raised. Charges of waste, deceit, and trying to control the church through private negotiations were all aired in the tense exchange. In the end, calm prevailed and the congregation voted by a large majority to complete the purchase.

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Learning People Skills

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

During the afternoon of an IFCA Regional Conference, several Regional leaders interviewed two young men who were preparing for ordination. Since I knew the young men and had recently been through that same process, I asked Dick how the interview went. Dick Schwab was a man twenty-five years my senior, a long-time IFCA member, and a member of the founding board of Northwest Independent Church Extension (NICE) with which I served. He loved details and ardently, but graciously, defended the faith. He chose his words carefully.

“I have observed,” he began in answer to my question, “That many more men fail in ministry for lack of people skills than for lack of theological training.”

I have long since forgotten the remainder of Dick’s comments in that conversation, but I often recall his assessment of the importance of people skills. Over a period of years I observed Dick defending his convictions about such often debated issues as cessationism, eschatology, and dispensationalism. I appreciated his scholarship as well as his commitment to the truth. It was his defense of those views without alienating those who disagreed, however, for which I most remember him.

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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!

5737 reads