LEADERSHIP MATTERS by Roger Yancey, D.Min.
All through 2023 we are looking at how to grow in our leadership capacity. I would like to share with you the chapter I submitted for the 2020 book, Guard Rails: 10 Vital Questions To Guide Your Ministry Journey. It focused on the value of close personal friendships and how God uses them in our lives and our development as leaders. I trust you will find it helpful and my prayer is if you see a gap in your “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships” you will begin to ask the Lord to help you develop them in the near future.
Who keeps you connected? – The Value of Close Personal Friendships
By Roger A. Yancey, D.Min.
As Jim pulled out of the parking lot of the church, he couldn’t shake how different the day had started compared to its ending. He had awoken that Wednesday morning with a sense of energy he always felt when he knew his sermon for Sunday was finished and he was even ahead on working on his sermon for the following Sunday as well. The call from Pete Miller, his Chairman of Deacons to get together for coffee at the newest local downtown brew shop would be a chance to find out for himself the rave reviews he had heard about their version of his favorite caffeinated drink, the Cortado.
When Jim entered the Café, he was surprised but glad to see Glenda Wilkins, the Chairperson of Personnel was at the counter ordering a coffee and it appeared she would be joining the conversation as well. It occurred to Jim that this conversation must be about his upcoming 5-year anniversary and perhaps they wanted to run some ideas past him before meeting with the entire Personnel Team. He had mentioned to Glenda several weeks ago that he was not comfortable with having too much of a focus being put on himself but decided to wait and see what they had in mind before trying to minimize their efforts.
After a round of greetings Jim saw Pete fidget in his chair for a bit before clearing his throat and then saying in an unfamiliar tone, “Jim, we need to talk.”
The next 45 minutes were both the longest and shortest time periods Jim could ever recall experiencing. His mind reeled with the statements that Pete and Glenda made about his ministry at First Church and the impressions and sentiments they expressed as the appointed voices for both the congregation and his staff.
“Unapproachable” Members were complaining they didn’t feel comfortable bringing their concerns directly to him. They expressed earlier attempts resulted in a feeling of being corrected or ignored.
“Unavailable” Members and staff stated Jim was often away from the office and not easily reached when decisions needed to be made or when visits to shut-ins were left undone.
“Unaccountable” The staff in particular felt that Jim was arbitrary in his decision making and favored his own projects over their ministry needs. They saw Jim as drum major of a one-man band and everyone else was expected to march in time with his parade.
“Unconsiderate” Jim knew this wasn’t a word but he was too much a preacher to not alliterate. Church members, church leadership, and again, his “faithful” (Jim was thinking fitful) staff had shared several ongoing encounters where careless and hurtful words had been spoken by Jim that resulted in wounded hearts. They all expressed that they knew Jim was a “kidder” but the sense of the underlying sarcasm outweighed any humorous value.
When Pete and Glenda finished talking, they got up to leave while telling Jim to be ready to meet after the Wednesday activities jointly with the Personnel Committee and the Deacon Leadership to determine a way forward so his future ministry could be ensured at First Church. They also directed him to not return to the church office until after they met that night so he wouldn’t make the staff uncomfortable as they were all aware of the meeting that morning and the one that evening as well. As Pete said, “Perhaps it would be best for Jim to take a day or two to reflect on what he needed to address before making additional contact with his staff.”
When Jim left the downtown area, he found himself driving down one of the many country roads that entwined around the town. His reeling mind ached to find some semblance to the words he had heard versus the life he thought he was experiencing as the pastor of the church. While he could see kernels of truth in many things, they had spoken to him it seemed to be more of a tinker-toy connection of a web of instances instead of an actual reality that was substantive.
He wanted to talk with someone. But who?
Jim knew that if he called his wife Kathy and let her know what had happened that morning she would be devastated. They had just had the staff and their families over to their home a few weeks earlier and nothing seemed amiss. That was part of what was so puzzling and hurtful about this whole thing. Why had no one spoken to him directly?
He knew he needed to talk this out with someone.
Jim’s thoughts drifted back to his seminary days more than a decade ago when he would gather each Tuesday at noon with his friends Brent, Chase, and Doug. All of them were 2 to 3 years into their first pastorate and they would compare notes, share stories, seek counsel, and pray for each other. There was nothing he couldn’t share with those guys and those conversations were a source of strength that had got him through some rough patches in his first pastorate and even was a safe place to hurt when he and Kathy had experienced two miscarriages before the birth of their daughter Sarah and later her brother Samuel.
But that was more than 15 years ago and the circumstances of ministry had caused the drifting away of those close relationships. For a while, Brent and Chase had reached out to him but he found it hard to keep up with them. Eventually, they quit talking altogether though he would get an email on occasion from Chase who now served as a Director of Missions in a neighboring state.
Life had taken its toll with the pressures Jim experienced as he left seminary to go to a new ministry location 1,000 miles away to start a new church followed by his coming to First Church with its prime location, growing population, and his first real fulltime staff to lead. Growth had come and with it the challenge of trying to meet expectations and capture increasing opportunities.
He had a growing ministry with expanding responsibilities in a church that had doubled in attendance since he arrived. But as Jim found himself turning around on a dead-end of a country lane it occurred to him that when he needed a friend the most, he didn’t really have anyone that he was comfortable calling.
Oh, he had people he could call but no one other than his wife Kathy who really knew his heart and could be trusted with the pain that was now deeply lodged within it. More out of desperation than desire Jim sent Chase a text asking Chase to let him know when he could call to talk with him.
Jim was surprised when his phone rang within five minutes of sending the text and a voice from the past said, “hello friend, how are you?”
Suddenly Jim felt like he was back at that table in the seminary cafeteria with a cup of coffee in one hand and his heart in the other. Over the next two hours, Jim poured out his soul to Chase about the meeting in the coffee shop, his hurt, his frustration, and his embarrassment that he had neglected keeping up with their friendship. While Chase shared with Jim many things that would become the foundation of Jim’s resetting his ministry footing at First Church there was one concept he shared with Jim that became foundational in Jim’s personal growth as a pastor and a man God could use more fully.
Chase called it the “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships”. Chase explained that everyone in ministry needed to develop three kinds of relationships so they could navigate and grow in their personal ministry journey. Like the legs of a three-legged stool, each circle was needed for personal stability.
The first circle is the Ministry Relationships. Everyone needs to identify and connect with people who are skilled in their ministry vocation that can help us grow in our area of calling. These people are invaluable in helping us understand different and fresh ways of doing ministry, so we continue to be challenged and not get stuck in routine duties. Whether as mentors, coaches, or challengers in our lives they drive us forward to be all God called us to be.
The second circle is the Journey Relationships. These relationships develop in the journey of our ministry where we connect with people inside and outside of the walls of our church who become important and dear to us. While these relationships can be challenging at times there is a unique strength found in connecting well with our people and loving them even through possible disappointments.
The third circle is the Heart Relationships. We need people in our lives who really know our hearts, our joys, and our sorrows. Friends who we know without question love us and want the best for our lives. People who see our lives are a reflection of God’s glory and have walked with us through the reality of the dark nights of our soul. Friends who can ask us hard questions and speak into our lives truths that cause us to rethink our direction. These are people you can call at 2:00 a.m. and spill out the hurt of your soul without them being more concerned about their losing sleep when you think you’re losing your mind.
While this is the smallest circle in number of people in comparison to the other two circles it’s the one that can have the strongest impact in shaping us into who we will become.
Chase described the “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships” were not separated but often overlapping and interlocking circles of influence in our lives.
Chase asked Jim to take time over the next few days and identify people God had put into his life that might fit in each of the three circles and to make note of which circle might be lacking. They agreed they would talk later that week on how he might go about the discovery of who God was putting into the circles of his life.
One thing Jim quickly realized was that he already had someone other than Kathy (his wife and best friend) that he would welcome in his “Heart” circle and he was grateful God had used his moment of challenge to draw him back into his friendship with Chase.
Perhaps like Jim you know what it is to find yourself in a situation where you really need a friend. You may consider yourself to have many “friends” but you don’t really have a friend whom you can be totally open with without fear of rejection or judgment.
You might have tried to develop those deep friendships in the past and didn’t sense it was reciprocated or valued in the same way. Maybe you resonate with the story of the group of ministers who joined a prayer circle and began to share with one another their personal struggles.
“I struggle with gambling,” said one, “I struggle with anger,” said another, “I struggle with lust,” said the one to his side. So summoning his courage the minister shared he struggled with “coarse language” only to hear the final minister say, “I struggle with gossip and I have to get out of here and talk to someone.”
Whenever we consider Confessional Relationships we must do so within a construct of Wisdom and Discernment but to fail to develop them is to position yourself to experience the reality of Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
So what do you do now? How do you ensure that you don’t live out your ministry in self-imposed isolation?
Consider taking the following steps as a beginning point.
- Prayerfully list your three circles and identify whom God has brought into your life in each area. You might find in the Ministry Circle that you want to consider just including your top 10 instead of listing everyone possible. Limit your list to those who are ready to invest in you and help you grow in your ministry. Do the same for your Journey Circle and finally your Heart Circle.
- Identify where the gaps are in each circle – which circle is lacking (or absent) of people who would make up the circle.
- Began to pray specifically for God to add people to your “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships” as he sees fit. Remember, friends are made they don’t just appear.
- Ask yourself where you might fit in the circles of someone else’s life. Is there someone who is trying to connect with you that you haven’t made time for? Are you open to God planting you in someone else’s life just as you need to have others planted into yours?
In Kingdom service,