Seven Relational Skills of Great Church Leaders

The longer I am in ministry the more I realize how important relationships are; at home and at the church. Growing in my relational skills will take my leadership to another level. Ignoring them may mean the end of effective leadership.

Here is Thom Rainer sharing “Seven Relational Skills of Great Church Leaders.”

Originally posted by Thom Rainer

They are the two most common causes of forced termination of pastors.

  1. Weak leadership skills.
  2. Poor relational skills.

Much has been written in the past decade on leadership skills. The body of literature on the topic is massive and growing. I certainly have little to add in a brief blog post.

It is for that reason I focus specifically on the relational skills of great church leaders. Admittedly, my approach is both anecdotal and subjective. But I have been in the ministry of working with church leaders for thirty years. I think my cursory overview would be supported by more thorough research.

Most pastors and church leaders have never received formal training in relational skills. Perhaps these seven observations of outstanding leaders will prove helpful to many of you.

  1. They have a vibrant prayer life. The more we are in conversation with God, the more we realize His mercy and grace. That realization leads to a greater humility, which is a key attribute of those with great relational skills.
  2. They ask about others. Listen to people with whom you have regular conversations. How many of them focus the conversation on you and others? A key sign of relational health is a desire to direct the conversation to concern and questions about others.
  3. They rarely speak about themselves. This trait is the corollary to the previous characteristic. Have you ever known someone who seems always to talk about himself or herself? They are usually boring or irritating. They are definitely self-absorbed.
  4. They are intentional about relationships. They don’t wait for others to take the initiative. They are so focused on others that they naturally seek to develop relationships.
  5. They have a healthy sense of humor. This trait is natural because the leaders are not thinking obsessively about themselves. Indeed, they are prone to laugh at themselves and their own perceived inadequacies.
  6. They are not usually defensive. Pastors and other church leaders deal with critics regularly. Sometimes a defense is right and necessary. Most of the time, the leaders with great relational skills will not take the criticism too personally.
  7. They constantly seek input. Their egos are not so tender that they are unwilling to receive constructive criticism. To the contrary, many of these leaders seek such input on a regular basis.




A leader's Critical Skill

Probably no skill would be more helpful to develop than that of being an excellent communicator.  A number of years ago I realized that my ability to communicate well needed major work, so I joined Toastmasters International in order to improve both my private and public communication. It was by far the best investment in my leadership portfolio that I have ever made. I am still reaping the benefits of eighteen years as a Toastmaster.

Brian Tracy, author, speaker and seminar leader says,

“Your ability to communicate effectively with people will contribute more to your success than any other skill that you can develop. I’ve studied success and achievement in America for more than 30 years. I’ve spoken to more than a million people, individually, and in groups, and I’ve taken extensive courses on speaking and the art of persuasion.

"I’ve read countless books and articles on how to influence, negotiate with and persuade people.  I’ve learned that fully 85% of what you accomplish in your career and in your personal life will be determined by how well you get your message across and by how capable you are in inspiring people to take action on your ideas.”

What is involved in saying what you mean, meaning what you say and having others understand your meaning and respond positively?

Let’s go way back to Aristotle who lived, wrote and taught three centuries before Christ. What he had to say still serves us well today. He believed that effective communication was comprised of a combination of: the speaker, the message and the audience.

To get across what you want to say, to be understood and not misunderstood was a combination of ETHOS (the credibility of the speaker) LOGOS (the truth and relevancy of the message) and PATHOS (the emotional and appropriate response of the receivers).

The ethos of the speaker sharing the logos of the message will elicit pathos in the audience. What he believed has been accepted, taught and practiced for 23 centuries.  Must be something to it!

For the remainder of this post, I want to focus on the ETHOS of the leader. Realizing, of course, that having well-prepared, truthful and relevant content (Logos) and understanding and listening to your audience so as to elicit a response (Pathos) is as important.

ETHOS: We, of course, get our word ethics from Ethos. Aristotle identified three principles in the communicator’s ETHOS (intelligence, character, good will). Translated, I believe it means: 

Knowing our subject, being a person of inward genuineness, conviction and sincerity, and having the interests of others as a high value. It is safe to say that people want to know three things about the person who is communicating. Do we really believe what we say we believe? Secondly, do we live by it? Thirdly, does it make much difference?

I think that an important aspect of Ethos is being passionate about what I say. It has a grip on me. I recall hearing about two leaders who were discussing what they believed and how it was different or similar.

After a few minutes one said to the other, “Well, it appears to me that we believe the same things”. To which the other replied, “The difference is that you have it on ice and I have it on fire.”

Ethos should be truth on fire…conviction, deep passion that is picked up by the listeners. Aristotle believed that people are much more likely to respond to a message if, in addition to understanding it, they experience the emotion that elicits an appropriate response. This emotion starts with the communicator.

In today’s high tech, information overload culture, facts and reasons alone are unlikely to trigger action. We need some fire… some excitement. I am not suggesting phony, trumped-up enthusiasm or empty emotionalism, but conviction from the heart. I believe that effective communication is, first and foremost, a “work of heart.” People know if you really believe it and if it grips you. If not, why should they care?

DL Moody was once asked how he had become such a dynamic communicator. He replied that before he spoke, he went off to a field by himself and asked God to set him on fire! That is my constant prayer.


Ten things that drive me crazy in leadership

As a leader there are some things that just drive you crazy. Here are ten of them from Ron Edmondson.

Originally posted by Ron Edmondson

There are some things in leadership I could honestly say I despise. Ways people behave. Things they do. I should note – not the people involved in them, but the actions.

And, I have probably been guilty of some of these also in my career. But, I hate when I did them as well.

Perhaps you have your own list, but this is mine.

Here are 10 things which drive me crazy in leadership:

1.  Responsibility without authority – If you ask someone to lead something – let them lead. Don’t make them jump through humps, constantly come back to you for approval, or second-guess everything they do.

2.  Small-mindedness – I like big dreams and those who dream them. I’ve never once out-dreamed God. Neither have you.

3.  Naysayers – There is always someone who says it can’t be done, it hasn’t been done this way before, or no one will support your idea. Listen to wisdom, even constructive criticism, but don’t fall for the person who has never met a good idea in their life.

4.  Laziness – Not only is it a sin, if it is allowed to fester it can be contagious or disruptive to an organization. I believe in protecting my Sabbath. I have learned and teach on the need to protect our soul – to rest – but, work is work. And, we there is much work to be done.

5.  Settling – Even if it involves conflict, I want to push for best over mediocre. Settling eventually means no one wins and everything stalls.

6.  Popularity seeking – Leaders who say what they think people want to hear in order to be liked – it drives me nuts. (I’m not even sure these types are technically leaders.)

7.  Power hunger – Leaders who are easily threatened by others or who always try to control others limit people and organizations.

8.  Caution out of fear – Some leaders refuse to take risk. They take the safe route every time – especially when pressure rises against them. Personally, I prefer a bold faith every time.

9.  Bully management – Some leaders get their way from force. They beat people into submission, are never satisfied, or badger people to perform. This has always seemed like cowardly leadership to me.

10.  Passion squelchers – I’ve known leaders who never liked a new idea – unless it was theirs. They prefer to say no to people more than yes. Drives me crazy. Leaders should energize others to realize their dreams, not stifle them.


Are you guilty of laughing at God?

Genesis 18:13-15, ESV

"The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh…Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ …But Sarah denied it…I did not laugh…. ‘No, but you did laugh.’"

Jesus, in what ways do I laugh at your promises, both general and specific? Do I discount your ability to still do the impossible, the improbable, the unexpected?  O, me of little faith. 

Help me to continue to believe you for the salvation of those for whom I pray. 

Help me to continue to believe you to use me well beyond what is explainable and reasonable. Blow my mind and my expectations with your power and grace!

+Additional thoughts:

JB Phillips wrote a book entitled: 

Your God Is Too small

Two of Mark Buchanan’s books are: 

Your God Is Too Safe" & Your Church Is Too Safe

Experience has taught me that when you see your problems as big, you see God as small. When you see your God as big, you see your problems as small. Don’t go to God and tell Him how big your problems are, but rather go to your problems and tell them how big your God is!

Sarah and Abraham’s issue was thinking that their age, and being beyond child-bearing years, precluded them from having any children. Think again; all of us who laugh, or scoff, at what God says, he wants to do and can do!

Abraham and Sarah both laughed at God’s pronouncement that they would have a son. They didn’t take into account that nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Let me say it again. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

  1. What idea or dream have you given up on because you thought it was too hard?
  2. What person have you given up on because you thought they were too hard?
  3. What set-back or sin have you given in on because you thought it was too hard to ever experience victory again?
  4. What weakness or perceived liability have you accepted because you thought it was too hard and God could not overcome these and use you anyway?

Have you ever laughed at God…his promises, his pronouncements? He can overcome your laughter, your disbelief, your doubts and your fears! Learn from Abraham and Sarah.

God loves to take ordinary people and do extraordinary things!


Six ideas on significantly growing in your leadership!

I’ve said it hundreds of times. If you’re not growing you’re not leading. Good leaders are life-long learners who continue to grow, learn and remain curious and eager to learn more; until Jesus takes them home. Here are six simple ways to grow your leadership by Brad Lomenick

Originally posted by Brad Lomenick

Leadership can be overwhelming, especially in regards to the daunting task of "continual growth as a leader." 

So here are 6 Simple Ways to Grow in your Leadership:

1. Read-

Leaders are readers, pure and simple. I recommend business books, Christian living, historical biographies/autobiographies, and magazines. And of course the Bible as your #1 source. I've written several blog posts over the last couple of years that list out some of the most important books I've read. 

2. Serve-

Jump in and help wherever needed. Ultimately, just keep leading, more and more and more. Action and repetition leads to growth and wisdom. The more you lead, the better leader you will be. And believe me, if you keep asking to take on leadership in your organization, you will continue to have more responsibility piled on you.

3. Watch-

Learn from those around you, especially those who are more experienced, wiser, and have something to offer. Find a few leaders who you want to learn from, and seek them out. Ask them for advice.

4. Listen-

Never before has so much content and conversations been available to us to glean from. Podcasts are now my "go to" for sitting in on conversations with leaders I admire and want to learn from. 

5. Pray-

The prayers of a righteous man/women accomplish much. Pray for wisdom, pray for favor, opportunities, connections, new platforms, and also pray that your influence will be expanded. And pray for humility.

6. Connect-

Hang around other leaders. Go where other leaders are. Catalyst, Leadership Summit, Leadercast, Hillsong Conference, etc. Local gatherings. Small roundtables. Large conferences. Lunches. Receptions. Whatever. Osmosis really does work when it comes to growing as a leader. And getting outside of your "norm" is essential to growth- many times just hearing how another leader is handling a situation will bring great clarity and perspective.