10 Ways for Every Pastor to Be More Relational

by Mike Ayers April 20, 2021

There are pastors who love crowds, but not people so much. I understand. People can be the worst part of ministry, and at the same time be the best part. But, I think it’s important as we approach the new year to remind ourselves that leadership, at its core, is really about people. Here are several practical actions to help leaders be relational and build the kind of authentic community that makes leadership personally fulfilling.

  1. Build community one relationship at a time. There really are no shortcuts for building community. It takes time to sit with people, get to know them, and prove that you genuinely care. Sending out an e-mail or having a group meeting helps you communicate information, but it’s no substitute for getting to know a real person.
  1. Make time for downtime. Setting aside planned time to “build relationships” can make it seem forced or programmed. Build relationship all the time in brief, everyday interactions with people. Take a minute to ask someone how he or she is doing. Say hello to people you pass in the hallway. This may seem basic, but a friendly word or smile can make someone’s day. In other words, be friendly and make a connection.
  1. Listen more than you talk. Leaders are famous for loving to hear themselves talk— and to mostly talk about themselves. Seek to listen to others more than you speak (James 1:19). If you ask people about their life and world, and take the time to listen attentively, they will become drawn to you and more readily trust you. This means sincere care, not pretend listening.
  1. Try to remember names. You will be amazed at the response if you remember someone’s name after meeting him or her the first time. This one practice attracts people toward a leader like almost nothing else. It shows your interest in the other person and dignifies their presence with you.
  1. Go where people are. If you want to build community, you have to go to the places where other people go: picnics, parks, events, parties, playgrounds, youth soccer games, etc. Don’t isolate yourself from people. They matter.
  1. Accept people as they are. Some leaders communicate in subconscious ways that others just don’t measure up. Leaders who constantly critique and come across as judgmental are leaders no one wants to be around.
  1. Work with people; don’t use them. It’s inauthentic to form relationships just to get people to do things for you. That approach won’t work in the long term because people will feel used. Leaders should approach relationships with integrity. We form relationships because we genuinely care and because we share a common mission. Of course, we cannot be friends with everyone. Determine the appropriate level of a relationship, establish boundaries with it, and act authentically within those boundaries. Remember, however: the more you ask of someone, the more need there is to have relationship with him or her. Making demands of people without a measure of care, concern, and trust for them creates resentment.
  1. Be relational; don’t just act relational. People quickly learn whether you genuinely enjoy people or are bothered by them. Again, appropriate boundaries are needed because there are many demands upon a leader’s time, but how you are perceived is important—and perception flows from what is actually in the heart of the leader. Ask God to give you a genuine love for people. If you genuinely enjoy people, whether you can spend a lot of time with them or not, others will be attracted by your attitude.
  1. A note about time. It’s not logical to assume that leaders can spend quality time with every person in the organization. However, biblical leaders determine the key people with whom they will have quality relationships, and they go about investing in them by the example of Jesus. This number can normally be no greater than ten to twelve (notice that Jesus engaged twelve disciples). Beyond this number, time is a constraint and relationships enter into a different category of intensity and intimacy. In other words, you cannot build community with all, but you must have it with a few. Normally, many of these key people will be those with whom the leader interacts on mission and on a regular basis. While leaders should be genuine with everyone, it is wise to invest at this level with people who hold pivotal roles in an organization. This matter of ten to twelve not only aligns with the time bandwidth of leaders, but also with the emotional bandwidth. We only have a maximum amount of time to be able to invest in this number of relationships, but we also possess a maximum emotional capacity that tops off at about the same number. Most of us don’t possess the emotional resources to genuinely care, be concerned for, and build authentic relationship with more than that. Understanding these limitations actually helps leaders be more effective toward the ones God has given them.
  1. Building friendships. Finally, leaders should give themselves permission to have the deepest of friendships and it is healthy for these relationships to exist outside the church or organization. These kinds of friendships provide downtime and companionship, wise counsel outside the loop of the organization, healthy accountability, and loving support during difficult seasons. A good pattern for healthy leadership seems to be one or two safe, deep friendships with people of the same gender and who stand outside the leader’s core group, church or organization.