Some people you know on only one level; the local barista, a taxi driver, the policeman pulling you over for speeding. Its a pretty simple relationship, because you’re the driver and he’s the cop.
But what if the cop who pulls you over is a guy from your soccer team? Or your barista is a member of your church? Or your taxi driver is the husband of the couple you’re doing marriage counselling with?
In those situations, you have to be clear about what “relationship hat” you’re wearing… you’re not wearing the soccer team mate relationship hat, you’re wearing the driver/officer hat.
You can really stuff up a relationship when you try to wear two hats at the same time; “So officer, remember how we won the final together!?” doesn’t work.
I think this is really helpful in church staff teams, where we’re all close and good friends in Christ. Sometimes we need to say things to each other on the basis that we’re “Christian brothers” only. Other times we need to say it on the basis that we’re “employees” only.
This also plays out in share houses. Flat mates need to get used to saying things like, “Hey, I need to have a conversation with you, not as a friend, but as a flat mate.”
Christians have an appropriate concern about their motives. We want to do things for the right motivations, and we want our church families to do things for the right motivations.
That’s a good thing. However, we can get caught up in the reasoning behind the right reasons. Are the reasons too guilt motivated? Are the reasons theologicaly sound? Are the reasons reasonable for where I’m at.
So, rather than doing Christian things for the right reasons, a better way to approach it might be to do things for the right person. Yes… Jesus.
When you consider who Jesus is, your forgiver, your brother, your master, your God… It motivates us relationally. We do things for him who died and lives for us.
Making friends with non-Christians is making friends. It’s not evangelism until you evangelise them.
And just so we’re all clear… Being friends with non-Christians is not evangelism either.
I’m all for building friendships! And its a great way to open avenues to evangelism. Just don’t call it something it’s not until it is.
Only rebuke when there’s not a conflict of interest; don’t do it because they’ve hurt your friend’s feelings, or to make someone else happy, don’t do it because it will give you an advantage.
Only rebuke when you’ve distanced yourself emotionally; don’t do it if you’re wrestling with forgiving them still, don’t do it if your feelings are going to be controlled by their response.
Only rebuke when you’re humble enough to admit you don’t know their motives; don’t do it if you’ve already decided that they intended evil or were malicious. You’d be rebuking something only God can know – and you’re not God.
Only rebuke when you’ve got the facts; don’t rebuke when you’ve just heard what they did, or when they’ve only told you snippets. Get the whole story from them first, prayerfully hoping that they haven’t sinned at all.
Only rebuke when your real desire is to please God.
Feedback is good. Even when its critical, hard to hear, ill-informed, or just wrong.
But feedback is bad when its anonymous because feedback – no matter how critical it may be – is relational. Its my opinion about you, but “voiced”. I’m not keeping it to myself, (and I’m not telling others ‘cause that’s “gossip”) but instead I’m making my opinion known to you.
But what happens when I tell you my opinion, but I don’t tell you it came from me?
All of a sudden you know what “someone” thinks, but you don’t know who that “someone” is. You could be speaking to them now, or tomorrow, or never even speak to them again. It could even be your best friend. You can’t know.
You can see how giving you feedback, without letting you know who I am, is ultimately very unloving, selfish and cowardly. Its a way of telling you what I think, without any consequences to myself.
So, if you get anonymous feedback, the only way to stop the effects of the selfishness that started it, is to just not read it.
If there’s no name on it, stop reading and throw it.
Since we pastor people, and people are not in a vacuum but are part of a culture, the cultural norms and tools affect what pastoral ministry look like from generation to generation. Our culture uses SMSs, phone-calls, emails and social media in particular ways, and if we are pastoring cultural-normalised sheep, we need to properly leverage these tools. So here’s my current perception/opinions/ideas… that will probably be proved wrong in many cases… But just observing the 18-25 year olds…
- Phone calls are for serious business. They are the 90’s equivalent of a formal letterhead. Calling to just say “hi” is a confusion of categories. Phone conversations needs to be planned-in; you need to SMS in advance, “Hey, can I phone you about this? How about now?”. This generation is telling us that the prospect of getting a “welcome phone call” is somewhere between weird and scary… and yet… if it’s done well, it still works!! Maybe because no-one else does it and they realise there’s actually a real person at the other end of the communication (sometimes lost in SMSs).
- SMSs are the new phone-calls. They work for our current Individualistic culture, because they are easily ignored. You don’t have to reply straight away. The message has arrived, but you are culturally allowed to deal with it in your own time (10mins, 10hrs, even 10days!!!). This means, while SMSs do steal people’s attention, they are good ways of one-way communication. And they do open the door to two-way communication.
We’ve recently tried sending mass SMSs to our whole church to pray for an evangelistic even WHILE it happens. Anecdotally, this has been received well.
- Email is more and more becoming a one-way communication tool. Most people are swamped by emails… but what that usually means is that they only respond to a very few of the emails they think they should respond to. Let me say that again… people still read almost all their email (headers/subjects at least). And for many of these emails, they feel an internal conviction that they SHOULD reply or take some action, but they don’t. Therefore email has become a huge source of individual guilt for people. They are not swamped by email, but rather swamped by the guilt produced when they look at email. Take home message, if you want a response, email is very unlikely to garner much.
- Social media is still a new beast. Someone somewhere made the valid point that in 20years time we’ll look back and think, what on earth were we doing then!?! It has certain characteristics of SMS and email; there’s so much of it (like email), but people don’t feel the guilt they do with email. It’s also personal like SMS. We’ve found that people are more willing to give their Facebook details and be Private Messaged on FB than they are being SMSed… maybe a trend to continue?
One of the take home messages is, if you’re involved in pastoring people aged 15-25… you should consider SMSing them a lot! I mean a lot… from a pastoral point of view, you get easy access to people’s personal thoughts almost 24/7. And then when you do meet with them, they feel much more connected to you – even if you don’t feel much more connected to them.
Power is an odd word, but in this case I simply mean the ability to make things happen within an organisation/church.
1. Role Power
This is the power someone has because of their title or position. They are the “pastor”, or the “youth leader”, or the “missions director”. This is the normal person people think of when you ask, “Who has the power?” But they’re just one type of power.
2. Expertise/information Power
This is the person who understands the details. They’re the Sunday school teacher who is the only one who seems to know WHERE to find anything, from mops to music sheets and everything in between. Or the guy who just knows whose house the couple are at tonight, and what they were doing last week, and that they’re on setup in the morning.
This person has significant power in your organisation. They, if they want to, can influence many and support or undermine your initiatives.
3. Relational Power
This is the person who knows everyone and how they’re doing. They are well liked, they are deep friends with many others. They are respected and a regular go-to person for people in trouble or distress.
These people have significant power in your organisation. They also have the ability to make your plans loved, or ensure your plans fail.
Do you know who the human powers are?
When you need to have a difficult conversation, one of the keys is to de-personalise it. You want to avoid them feeling attacked by you. You want to avoid it turning into a “relational issue” (simply because this is an easy way to get you off their back).
So grab a pen and paper, or a white board and a marker and write down the thing you want to talk about. This will take some planning on your behalf. For example it might be, “I want to have a discussion with you about how you can love your wife better.” Or, “I really want to talk to you about how you’re going to put your porn addiction behind you.” Or, “Lets talk about how you responded to Bob last week.”
And you write down “How can Tom love Tara better?”, “How can Tom put porn behind him?”, “How you responded to Bob last week.”
I know it seems a bit odd, but now it’s not YOU asking them this question, its the paper. The piece of paper becomes the “antagonist” and you and the person can work together to answer the antagonist piece of paper. It’s the 3rd party in your conversation.
And so when they go off on tangents or try to change the topic, you can redirect them back to the paper, “Tom, we still have this question in front of us… I’m on your team… What are we going to do?”
I can’t remember where we got this idea but it’s brilliant… our staff team has this phrase “umbrella of mercy”. It’s what we say before we say something that could be taken the wrong way, or something that might be offensive or touchy for other people in the conversation.
When one of us says, “umbrella of mercy”, we’re asking the other people to prepare their hearts and minds to hear something graciously… mercifully… ready to assume the best… ready to ask clarifying questions rather than make accusations.
It’s a little bit like saying “with all due respect”, instead it’s not a declaration like that. Rather it’s a request… “Please hear this as best as you can, because I’m not trying to hurt your feelings or attack your baby.”
I seem to use it a lot.
There’s a fine line, it seems, between talking about your feelings and emotional manipulation.
See, if I tell you that something you’re about to do is making me feel sad, unworthy, hurt… is it just a simple observation of the facts, or am I being emotionally manipulative?
There are two types of questions to ask… internal (or heart) questions and external (or action) questions.
The internal questions are, “Am I trying to leverage my feelings to change thing person’s actions?” If “yes”, then you’re emotionally manipulating. “Am I making this person overly significant to my self-perception?” (i.e. If you’re allowing someone to tell you how much you’re ‘worth’, then you’re giving them the place of God over you. It’s a form of idolatry.) If “yes”, there’s a good chance you’re going to use emotional manipulation.
The external questions are, “Have I made it clear that, whatever they choose, I will not take it personally?”, “Have I given them permission to make the decision despite my potential feelings?”
In the end, you have to ask yourself “Why” you would bring your emotions into the discussion. And if you are going to, what else do you need to say so its clear you’re not manipulating them?
There’s always going to be some people in your church who will never really see you as their leader/elder/pastor. They’ll come along, they’ll attend, they’ll agree with this and disagree with that. They might find you arrogant (ironic!), they might think you’re too young (again, read 1Tim 4:12), they might have some theological idea about how church leaders shouldn’t have authority (???). But in the end, in their eyes, your not their pastor.
The only thing you can do, as Scripture says, is set “an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”. Only by God’s grace can you become someone’s pastor, as you continue to wash them with the word of the gospel.
Don’t bother trying anything else. And… don’t bother caring much about it either. There’s nothing you can do.
…you have to show some of yours. That’s just how relationships and trust work.
There’s no use going into a conversation where it might be tricky and expecting the other person to tell you everything about themselves, where they’re at with their thinking or decisions, or even what’s happened to them. Whether its in walk-up evangelism, 1:1s, or in a group situation. People usually don’t just jump to a deeper level of self-revelation because you ask them to. But you can lead them to a point where they are more comfortable to talk by talking about a similar deep issue you’ve faced, or are facing.
The principle here is that you don’t have to share an experience with someone to talk about it. You just have to talk at the same level of the experience they’ve had. Open yourself up, allow yourself to be vulnerable, in order to help others be vulnerable with you.
*Yes. This can be used to great evil – so don’t use it for evil. Be holy.
You know the difference between poison and venom… if you bite it and you die – it’s poison, if it bites you and you die – it’s venomous. The same can be true of certain people.
Some people can be poisonous; you make the foolish decision to interact with them, to play along with their foolishness. The adulterous woman from Proverbs 5 is poison. It’s a death trap. “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death (v3-5)“. This is what some people are like. They draw others into their twisted view of the world. People die by their own decision to drink it all in.
Other people can be venomous. They are always on the attack. Always on the offensive. Always ready for a fight. They speak lies and claim evils have been done. They leave destruction in their wake. And you can get taken down if you happen to be in their line of sight. These are the advisors to Darius in Daniel 6, “Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.””
You can avoid neither, but it helps to know which one you’re dealing with.
(This is a series of reflections on Horstman’s Laws)
You could communicate more. Even if you feel you’ve already told them, even if you think they ought to know by now. It’s always, always, always better to risk over communication than risk under communication and all the risks that flow on from that.
Try this: ask yourself, “What if Person X actually hasn’t understood what I have been asking them/telling them? What might happen if they’re not thinking what I’m thinking?”
Yeah… That’s why you should just call and check, and communicate again.
(This is a series of reflections on Horstman’s Laws)
People are amazing. People, by the providence of God; decide, act, influence, dream, feel, speak, pray. And then, by the grace of God, Christians are used by him to usher people into Christ’s eternal kingdom.
Every hour that you invest in a person, encouraging them, challenging them, training them in godliness is not just an hour well spent. It’s an hour that echoes in eternity.
But even when you pull the context back from that eternal perspective, investing in people and relationships is the real ‘work’ of almost all modern ‘work’.
Think about the engineering student… They spend 4 years learning engineering, they spend 5-10 years doing engineering, but throughout that time, they spend less time doing actual engineering and more time managing people… Until they’re at the stage they don’t do any engineering and they only do management of fresh engineering students.
Every hour they spend developing a relationship on the way is a relationship they will use to get their new ‘work’ done.
Your work doesn’t matter, the people do, and if you didn’t realise it, the people are the work.
If you know what someone thinks, lucky you. But don’t take it upon yourself to speak on their behalf.
Speaking on someone’s behalf is a sacred role. You need to get specific permission to speak for someone. And if you assume that permission you will only hurt your relationship with the person you presume to represent, and the person you speak to.
A much better action would be to either stay silent with your privy information or say, “I think they might be thinking X, but don’t take my word for it, you’ll need to ask them yourself.”
Some people do this more naturally than others, but it’s a great skill to develop. Especially in pastoral ministry.
The fact is, when you speak to people (anyone) those people are going react to things you say. That is, they will react in some way. It’s just worth thinking about how they might react. Give yourself a little bet. Don’t tell anyone else, just yourself. See if you can guess their response.
If you’re right, bully for you. If you’re wrong… there’s a great learning experience!
Why were you wrong? How far off were you? How could you have predicted that response? What data were you missing? What aspect of their emotions/personality/history did you not take into account enough?
How did the way you communicate affect the way they responded?
In the end, it stops being about them, and starts being about you… your role in their response, your ability to perceive what’s going on.
If you’ve ever had to do 121s with people you don’t know very well, it can be daunting to sit down and just read the bible. It might feel a bit odd or awkward if your don’t feel you know the person very well. That’s fair enough, since the word of God cuts to the heart. 121s are an intimate activity. There usually does need to be some trust in the relational bank to get some biblical momentum.
So invest some time to go for a walk, take a drive, chat about growing up and holidays and big brothers. Get all that 2nd or 3rd level deeper stuff out in the open so you feel you know each other a bit better. It also means you get an idea ow the bible might apply to them and their story.
One student I used to meet with was really cold to me. We’d been meeting for a few weeks looking at Romans, but it was awkward as!! Walks, coffee, chatting about growing up… None of it seemed to make any difference, but he did mention sport a fair bit. So one week I turned up at his place when we used to read the bible, but I brought a footy instead. We went for a kick around. We hardly spoke for 30mins while we booted the ball to each other.
Then we stopped, and that’s when he started talking. Apparently all I needed to do to get “in” with this guy was kick around a footy. It’s like I had to perform some right of passage. After that, reading the bible with him was not only easy, but a joy as well.
The closer relational proximity you have to someone, the more important it is to define a clear process in disputes.
Ambiguous processes in the midst of relational disputes only make matters worse, as either party will have their own ideas about how things should happen, and those different ideas about process will quickly be added to the list of ways that the other party has wronged them. E.g. “… and you handled it badly!”
If there’s not heaps in the relational baggage, then the process doesn’t need to be so defined. Parties don’t have much emotional energy invested in the issue, and so the process doesn’t get put under the spotlight as much.
It might see counter intuitive; you might like to think that people who are close can work things out well, but the opposite is normally true. Emotions are like hallucinogenic drugs to reason.
First, because it’s right. If you make a mistake, if you’ve had to change plans late in the game, if you hurt someone, if you say the wrong thing, swallow your pride and be honest about what you did. Its the good and right thing to do.
Second, because it actually builds trust. Many people think that acknowledging your mistakes will loose people’s trust. And to some extent, depending on the mistake you’ve made, that’s true. But that’s the effect of making a mistake.
But if people think you NEVER make mistakes, and they stop trusting you because you made one mistake… well, they probably never trusted you very much in the first place.
Most people, on the other hand, will appreciate that you told the truth. The very fact that you swallowed your pride, stood up and said, “I think I’ve made a mistake, we need to go in this direction” or “I think I’ve done the wrong thing here, I’m sorry and I wan’t to make it right”… they both have the effect of earning people’s trust, because you’re choosing to act in a trustworthy manner.