Pastoral Ministry

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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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!

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