Relationships are hard. A “to-do” list is easy. This is true in every aspect of life—even our ministry life. If you are like me, you’d much rather simply tackle your to-do’s than tackle what may be at the root of the issues that consistently plague us in ministry . . . difficult relationships.
It’s easy to address the symptoms we see that so often result from unaddressed relational complications—not enough volunteers, hurtful gossip that makes people feel disconnected and left out of the “inner circle,” volunteers who are continually working around (and sometimes downright sabotaging) instructions from leadership. It’s far easier to turn ourselves into pretzels to try to make everyone happy by doing all the surface things—allowing volunteers to teach whatever they want in “their” classrooms, printing out lessons in four different formats because each volunteer likes it the way they like it, allowing small group leaders to serve only once a month because they feel that is all they feel they should have to “sacrifice.” And with all the to-do’s this adds to our list as leaders. It’s far easier to put conversation on the back-burner because, honestly, managing the tasks it takes to address all the issues created by our own pretzel-making truly does take up every minute of our time and every ounce of our energy.
I get it. I have the wonderful perspective of being a ministry leader myself and also being a pastor’s wife! The real double-whammy, as they say! How we are seen handling relationships, for some people, shapes how they view God. But no pressure there, right?! Believe me, I have heard just about everything under the sun. Name your situation, and in over 14 years of “professional” ministry, I’ve heard some version of pretty much everything. And, in every situation, here is what I have found to be true. Ignoring the relational portion of any consistent problem in our ministry only compounds the problems and, in actuality, only further damages the relationship. I have never, and I’ve searched the recesses of my memory for even one instance, seen a problem actually resolve itself or a relationship improve by ignoring the relational elements involved.
So, as ministry leaders, how do we move from being task-focused to relationship-focused. This is going to sound trite, but, first, pray. Ask God to reveal to you the root of what is really driving the problems you are trying to fix by adding more tasks to your list. Write it down if you have to. Once you find the root, determine what part of the issue YOU need to own. Are you so busy with tasks, you have never cast vision for your volunteers? Have you made assumptions about people that may not be true (people don’t want to come to meetings, so I just won’t have one)? Once you have determined the root, seek to get your heart in the right attitude. In a place where it is not about you being “right” about an issue, but rather, about understanding, about healthy relationships within the Body of Christ, about extending forgiveness where needed—and expecting nothing in return.
Once you are certain your heart is in the right place, address the relationship. And, NOT on social media! In person, face-to-face, one-on-one, or maybe making the time to stand in front of your team and DO the training, CAST the vision and then, set the bar. Be clear. Be firm. Be kind. Be willing to have conversations, and in the end, be willing to agree to disagree, where necessary. And, did I say, be kind? What I have learned is when I take the time to “do” the relationship part of ministry—I mean, really do it . . . really invest, really listen, really be kind—then, eventually (not immediately) you’ll find you have even more time on your calendar to continue to invest relationally because, wait for it . . . many of the tasks will have been crossed off your list because you aren’t doing “the pretzel” as much any more! And you’ll need that time to continue to invest.
Relationships are not a one-and-done. We’ve all heard the joke about the frustrated wife of 35 years who complains to a counselor that her husband never says he loves her. And his quip in reply is: “I mean, I told you I loved you when I married you. Isn’t that enough?” Well, we all know the answer to that! And it’s not enough in any of other relationships either. We have to keep having coffee, doing lunch, sending cards, checking in, casting vision, training our volunteers. But I’ve also found that when this becomes our habit, it also become easier, because we begin to know the fruit of focusing on relationships. We know that pushing through a difficult relational challenge truly does pay off—for ourselves, for the other person, for our team and for the health of the Body overall. As the leader, it takes YOU to take the first step. Take it. I dare ya!