I recently participated in a learning workshop with faculty from a half-dozen seminaries and schools that train persons for ministerial leadership. One thing that came very clear in the reports we heard and in the conversations that followed was the vital role that relationality plays for effective leadership and care in congregations.
Relationships are not critical for ministers alone! In the Siburt Institute’s Church Health Assessment (CHA) we measure the quality of relationships of elders and ministers as a critical component of a church’s leadership.  It is not surprising to see correlations between low relationality on one hand and low morale with risk averseness on the other.
In short—relationships matter!
I can imagine some readers saying “I don’t have time” or “There is too much other stuff to do” or “I’m not a touchy-feely person.” Those reasons and many others are no doubt true and real—but that doesn’t change the inevitable reality that people (in churches and out) will be reluctant to move, adapt, or follow if their leaders don’t have caring and connected relationships with them.
So how might elders and ministers develop stronger relational ties with each other and their congregations? Here are some ideas:
- Make relationships a stated priority for the leadership team; include relationship building as a working goal.
- Encourage each other to find a relationship mentor, especially if interpersonal relationships are challenging. I once had an older brother who had previously served as an elder, who was willing to meet with me and actually go “visiting” with me. His relational skills and personal wisdom shaped me in important ways.
- Team up with another elder and minister to go see someone.
- If you are married, partner with your spouse and have lunch or dinner with someone.
- Make it a point to inquire about the spiritual well-being of others and offer to pray for others. Why not use time before or after services to simply visit with whomever God brings your way and simply ask, “How can I pray for you?”
- Take some time to learn about emotional intelligence. Although it is a relatively new phrase, emotional intelligence reflects the deep wisdom of knowing your own emotions, handling your feelings, and learning to be in touch with the emotional state of others. Consider reading a recent book by Roy Oswald and Arland Jacobson, The Emotional Intelligence of Jesus: Relational Smarts for Religious Leaders. It would make a valuable study book for your congregation’s leadership team.
Relationships are not optional in the church; we are, after all, the community of Christ. And effective leaders know that the capacity to influence, serve, and shepherd their congregations rests in the capacity to know and connect their relationships.
Blessings to you!
 The Siburt Institute developed the Church Health Assessment through collaboration of church consultants and researchers in 2016. Officially available in August of 2016, twenty churches have utilized the instrument as a way to learn about the well-being of their respective congregations and to help leaders discern important next steps to healthy missional life. For more details see the Siburt Institute’s website.
Dr. Carson Reed is Vice President for Church Relations at Abilene Christian University and Executive Director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as the Director for the Doctor of Ministry Program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work with congregations and church leaders across the country. His teaching and research centers on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married for over 30 years and have four grown children.