Have you noticed how some individuals just have a way of putting others at ease while another causes people to tense up?
Have you noticed how some people seem to recruit volunteers fairly easily while others struggle to do so?
Why does it seem like some leaders sail through tension and conflict with their teams while others capsize the ship?
Whether you volunteer at church, serve as a small group leader, lead praise for your church, or serve on your campus ministry, you've probably witnessed this discrepancy first hand.
But why does this discrepancy exist?
The Skill We Really Need
I used to think it all boiled down to gifting.
Besides, everyone naturally defers to the person with strong communication or leadership skills, right?
But we may personally know a good communicator or leader we wouldn't follow, even if they paid us to.
So it it a personality thing? You know, the whole charisma deal? I'm not sure. There are charming but untrustworthy people and there are also awkward but dependable individuals.
Is it a knowledge thing? But let's be honest, there are a lot of Bible geeks who are really unwise and there are strategists who give us weird vibes, right?
So what is it? What separates some ministry workers from others?
I am not a leadership expert and I'm sure there are a myriad of factors that would require a series of articles.
But from my personal observations, after making countless mistakes, early and often while leading the largest club (campus ministry) as a 17 and 18 year old High School student and jump-starting my pastoral track as a 3rd year college student, I've concluded the single greatest ministry skill to be the ability of winsome human interaction.
Winsome interaction is the ability to wisely navigate relationships with people in a way that propels individuals and/or teams forward for a greater destination.
Though some would call this "people management" or simply "leadership," I think "winsome interaction" is bit more nuanced and a more accurate reflection of ministry reality.
The greatest ministry resource
We know ministry is people oriented. Ministry exists because people exist.
But people are not just the objects of our ministry efforts. People are also, arguably, the greatest ministry resource.
After all, if you want to provide a great small group experience for your church or para-church ministry, don't you need capable people who can lead those small groups?
If a worship leader has a vision for what music could be like on Sundays, it's irrelevant if he or she doesn't have any band members.
Ask any pastor who has tried to put together any kind of event. Vision and branding? That's the easy part. The hard part is maintaining momentum at the grassroots level, because that's a man-power issue.
This means if anyone wants to be part of something fruitful, it's going to require other people. Fruitful ministry necessitates a team effort, where a group of people are moving together in a certain direction, for a unified purpose.
But that's precisely where it gets tricky.
How does someone motivate and move all of those people toward a certain direction? How does someone even get their attention in the first place?
Unless someone is able to somehow bring individuals together, convince them of a goal, that they must work together, and then get them moving toward a certain direction, while guiding them through transitions and setbacks, nothing will happen.
Yeah, it's a tall order. So how does this happen?
Those who have ministry experience might be tempted to say something like, "Give a clear and compelling vision with easy first steps." Others might be tempted to say, "Give them power through responsibilities."
And though these things matter, if these are a ministry leader's first knee-jerk responses, I wonder if these are early symptoms of poor interaction skills.
the problem of poor interaction
What is poor interaction skills?
Well, it isn't a stylistic issue.
It's not a stylistic deficiency, such as one's inability to be charming or humorous. It's entirely possible to be very charming and humorous and have poor interaction skills.
Poor interaction skills is a substance deficiency, namely in one's inability and/or unwillingness to make people around you feel and sense that they have been seen and heard.
It's the deficiency of not taking the extra step to carefully consider other people's perceptions and relevant feelings of a particular situation before trying to lead or direct that individual or team.
Instead, the ministry leader simply speaks and acts out of his or her own perspectives and feelings, with little regard for others.
Wouldn't this have a negative ripple effect on those around the "leader?"
Wouldn't this make people around him or her feel a little second-class? Disposable? Even if the leader is innocent of intending those things, it's just not winsome.
Sure, maybe some people are too sensitive, but maybe it also has to do with the fact that we live in one of the most advertised societies in history. The average person walks around everyday feeling like some brand or institution is grabbing for their attention, time, and money.
So it's not that hard to understand why people might be naturally suspicious especially when a ministry leader comes from a self-absorbed angle which will cause anyone to start feeling like a little chess piece in the ministry game someone is playing.
See, I'm all for having a good vision and giving responsibilities where it truly helps people serve other people, but I'm just saying it could also easily be the leader's tunnel-visioned attempt to impose his or her agenda without any genuine consideration of actual people.
And even if it was from a leader's heart, is that really the most winsome route?
"Hey, Here's my vision." "Here's the power I give you to do the work."
Who wants to give an hour of their time to listen to some guy ramble about vision or responsibility? Isn't this why there are so many churches and ministries with sweet logos and cool vision statements but little buy-in?
But this type of poor interaction happens all the time.
We've all seen a ministry leader haphazardly engage in small talk with a visitor. I've been guilty of this. I may have been busy at that moment but would that visitor ever want to come back?
We've seen a department leader hurriedly and rudely demand help in a time-sensitive situation. I'm sure he or she was under pressure but don't you think that left an impression on the people who may have felt a little bulldozed?
Don't we all know of a leader(s) who keeps leaving behind a trail of disgruntled people who never felt heard or understood by the so-called leader?
I've been surprised to discover how many ministry leaders are clueless that this is an issue. I've heard people say things like, "Yeah, I didn't realize that may have been hurtful."
But weren't we doing ministry, which is people oriented? If people weren't in the equation in the first place, what was the initial goal?
And then ministry leaders will win little battles, while losing the big picture and act like martyrs. "Oh, this terrible reputation is the sacrifice I have to pay as a true leader."
Is it really martyrdom, or is it folly? Maybe we didn't wisely navigate relationships.
The greatest hindrance to our ministries isn't always competency, (gifting) or character (godliness). Sometimes it's the issue of connection (relational).
The need for "other-awareness"
There's been so much talk in recent years about the importance of "self-awareness."
It's the idea that individuals and leaders need to pay attention to their wirings, motivations, emotional triggers, and so forth, since it will have a ripple effect in their actions and surroundings.
But maybe it's also time we start talking about "other-awareness."
Maybe it's worth paying attention to the wirings, motivations, circumstances, perspectives, and felt needs of others around us.
Wouldn't a little "other-awareness" round off the edges and give perspective to the sometimes immaturity of isolated "self-awareness?"
So when self-awareness says, "I am a lion of a visionary," other-awareness can course correct us by saying, "And sheep will run from a roar but will respond to a voice."
When self-awareness says, "But God has called me to lead these people," other-awareness completes the picture by saying, "And leading people requires loving those very people in real time."
I believe the public buzzword for this has been dubbed "relational intelligence" (RQ).
Jeremie Kubicek, founder of GiANT and author of 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time, defines relational intelligence as "the ability to connect and be present in the midst of tasks."
This is helpful because the natural tendency of so many is to simply compartmentalize "task" from "connection."
But this "connection or task" philosophy can be problematic because one cannot truly separate the two in reality. Tasks are often accomplished alongside and through people (greatest resource).
But when individuals and leaders shut down connection in the name of task, it places the team in a strange place because of arising relational ambiguities.
Individuals can begin to believe that task performance is the way to maintain healthy connection which means that when a task begins to falter, individuals will be tempted to enter into self-preservation mode as a means of coping with the relational ambiguity from disconnectedness.
And when a team of individuals go into self-preservation mode, it means the ship is already sinking.
Are there times and moments to put aside connection for the accomplishing of a task? Yes, but the relationally intelligent individual would, at least know this is even happening, and guide his or her team through it.
The efficiency of winsome interaction
Winsome interaction requires thought and energy.
And perhaps that's the challenge, after all, who has the brain space and the energy to maintain this in the midst of an already busy ministry schedule? Isn't this inefficient?
Steve Saccone in his book, "Relational Intelligence: How Leaders Can Expand Their Influence Through a New Way of Being Smart, describes human relationships in interesting fashion by describing it as "the virus of influence."
His point is all human beings have this ability (virus) to influence others for good or bad by virtue of their relational capacities. He reasons, "When leaders embrace the positive force of this virus, it can empower them to create positive change and a better world through their relationships." (emphasis mine)
For Saccone, winsome interaction, is not a hindrance to effectiveness, but the precise means of effectiveness.
Winsome interaction can exponentially multiple a person's efforts.
So yes, taking extra time in the hallway to stop and chit chat with someone could feel inefficient, but tiny blocks of trust are being built which could pay dividends in the long-term, and may be the reason why they decide to volunteer for your ministry later down the road.
Yes, taking time out of the meeting to see how the team is doing personally could feel like a waste of time. But raising collective team morale and the team's morale toward their leader, is way more important than a disjointed team being told a few extra minor details only the leader cares about.
Yes, taking the time to genuinely encourage a volunteer could feel a little weird. After all, didn't they simply do what they were supposed to do? But know that he or she may be more inclined to be more gracious with you when you fail to do what you were simply supposed to do as his or her leader.
Because people are a ministry leader's greatest resource, it's imperative for ministry leader's to treat people well. Saccone writes, "True spiritual leaders create relational health around them because they know that their influence flows best wherever healthy relationships exist."
I don't think this means a leader can't ever make tough decisions that may be hurtful to people. I think it means the leader ought to know how it may hurt people and ponder to do things tactfully before he or she makes this decision.
This is only good news for us.
It's good news because this means you don't have to be a rock-star communicator or have the greatest ministry strategies to be an effective ministry leader. Anyone can grow in "winsome interaction" through genuine interest, thoughtfulness, and careful listening.
The good news is also that "ministry ends" and "ministry means" find unity in Christian love. Where ministry leaders are sometimes tempted to run people over to accomplish a task, winsome interaction views the very people in front of them as a task in them of themselves, namely - neighbors to love. In this way, the Great Commission is accomplished in the spirit and tone of the Great Commandment.
So with that being said, here are 3 practices to grow in winsome interaction:
1. Get honest feedback
Ask your spouse, friends, team members, and staff whether you interact well with them or not.
Ask detailed questions such as:
"Do I give off the impression that I don't care about you?"
"Do you think I use people?"
"Could you tell me a recent occasion where you felt like I cared for you or someone on our team?"
If you have reservations about asking these questions or if your team members even struggle to tell you the truth, that's already indicative of a culture problem and it may be hindering your ministry effectiveness.
2. Create Margins for Reflection
Create margins in your routine and life where you can pause, reflect, and open yourself up to God on this very issue.
If a leader does not intentionally pause to course-correct him or herself, he or she will likely continue down a path of unwisdom for the unforeseeable future. Leaders don't accidentally course-correct themselves. It's only done through intentionality, but intentionality requires time stoppage.
Once a week, I take time to pause and think about the overall culture and emotional health of my leadership teams. I try to think through which of my leaders are motivated by affirmation, which need to feel listened to, and which ones need to be platformed. But if I don't take time to reflect, I know I won't be loving them well.
3. Embed action into the Calendar
Leaders have "sermon preparation time" or "administration time."
But what if we carved out a little bit of "Who do I need to reach out to encourage right now" time?
It could be an email of thanks for something seemingly insignificant. It could be something they did that encouraged and blessed you.
Here's a small example. As I watched our college outreach event unfold last Friday, I kept a mental log of little things that staffers and students did that encouraged me. When I got home later that evening, I started giving out shout outs through direct messaging (with emojis!).
Imagine the impact this would have on people and teams if we did this for 15 minutes, once a week, for the rest of our lives.
"Winsome interaction" or "relational intelligence" are just complicated ways of describing the life and loving ministry of Jesus isn't it?
Jesus had the profound ability to love everyone equally by applying his love differently for different people at different times.
Though Jesus was self-aware, he was profoundly "others-aware" and maybe this was because he was constantly "God-aware."
"[Jesus] was the most relationally intelligent person who ever walked this Earth. He compelled people to Himself through authentic love and compassion. He accepted people where they were at, while at the same time challenging them to grow and change. He extended grace, but also carried out justice. He related to people with confidence while simultaneously remaining humble. He knew when to challenge others and when to encourage them. On His brief journey when He walked on Earth, He never saw a single person as disposable or unworthy. He was highly relational and knew how to consistently guide people wisely and meaningfully." (Steve Saccone)
May God's people minister skillfully, just as Jesus did.