On the whole, I believe pastors are a pretty smart bunch. We earn advanced degrees, study biblical languages, go to conferences to learn, and constantly challenge our brains when we prepare messages and talks. I’ve earned two theology degrees and consider myself a relatively smart guy. But, brain smarts won’t guarantee ministry fruitfulness. Our walk with Christ fundamentally matters. And how we manage relationships probably ranks second in influence. As I look back over my 38 years in ministry, I realize I repeatedly made this one really dumb mistake in the relationship area.
I hid out.
I don’t mean that I intentionally hid from people. But I isolated myself too much from staff and people in the church. I didn’t make myself visible enough.
- In one church my office was the furtherest away from everybody else. And I stayed in it way too long during work hours. I seldom came out of the office.
- In that same church I didn’t emerge from my office until three minutes before the Sunday service.
- In another church as a low level associate, I would never meet with anyone unless they made an appointment several days in advance. This practice certainly may be necessary for the lead pastor of a large church, but not for my role at the time, my first full-time position.
Since those early years, I think I’ve grown up and become much wiser. Most church people (and staff) recognize that lead pastors are busy. Yet, they want to feel they have some connection to him or her. They don’t want to feel we are always in a rush to be somewhere else.
I now recognize that my visible presence matters greatly. And I don’t mean that we should make ourselves 24/7 accessible. We, too, must keep healthy margins. But, church people and staff need relational touches. Even small ones matter.
Here are changes I’ve made to help me be less of a ‘hider.’
- When I’m not preaching on a Sunday, I visit the kids’ areas, poke my head in each classroom, and thank the leaders. I don’t just sit in my office and read (which I enjoy doing).
- Before each Sunday service I intentionally finish my prayer time with an elder 10-15 minutes prior to the service start time so I can shake people’s hands and chat.
- I ask an elder to close out each service in prayer, and just prior to that as I share some final comments, I explain that I will be at the welcome center after the service and would like to meet new people.
- I more often manage staff using the MBWA technique, Management by Walking Around. Although I still keep my door closed to minimize interruptions, I intentionally break throughout the day and wander around to touch base with staff.
- When I talk to a staff person during the week or a church person on Sundays, I try to give them my full presence through eye contact and genuine listening. Even a minute or two of ‘fully present’ interaction can make a positive deposit into the souls of others.
I’m much wiser now and hope that going forward I won’t make as many dumb mistakes as I did when I was younger.
What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve every made as a pastor?