Recently, however, I have discovered that my communication skills are not nearly as refined as my congregation would have me believe. Seminary training can mislead. If we're not careful, we might come away from our studies believing public communication skills are paramount in ministry.
Think again! Communicating regularly and effectively with small groups of leaders, such as those in our inner circle, is often much more difficult —and more critical to a ministry's success--than addressing the crowd.
Some months ago, a major leadership transition in our ministry forced me to confront my own deficit in the area of inner-circle communication skills. We needed to reassign roles among our pastoral team, so I did what all good leaders do when people change positions: I wrote new job descriptions, distributed them and met with the people affected by the changes.
In the weeks that followed, a close friend and leadership-development specialist happened to come into town for a few days. I asked him to spend time alone with my team and check everyone's pulse concerning our transition. Anticipating rave reviews, I urged the team to go out with my friend and "speak freely."
The results were anything but what I expected. It turned out most of the team did not fully understand the changes we had implemented. The team members trusted me, and they were trying to go with the flow; but they were not clear about where I wanted to take them.
My first failure —a mistake that is commonly made in ministry leadership —was taking a "hit and run" approach to communicating a major realignment in the ministry.
It takes more than a couple of meetings to explain an organizational tectonic shift. In particular, I should have spent more one-on-one time with my team members, reviewing their new roles until I became convinced we were on the same page.
Which leads me to my second failure: I did not ask each person to explain his or her new position back to me. Remember, just because those who work closely with us are loyal and dependable does not mean they always understand our vision. Some of our most trusted leaders will follow us even when they don't see the big picture. This impulse is what makes them loyal.
Yet if the people around us cannot grasp the essence of our aims, then eventually they —and those who work under them—will become frustrated. It is our responsibility to curtail this. We can begin by simply asking our inner-circle associates to articulate what they believe are their current missions.
Another of my gaffes was my assumption that my leaders would ask questions if they had any. We must recognize that those closest to us often are reluctant to ask us questions. In the battle zone of ministry, they do not want to cause us additional stress. We must take the initiative to draw out our leaders' concerns.
Working with people daily, we tend to take communication for granted until we experience a meltdown that sends us off reviewing everything we do. But take heart--our most ghastly errors often prove to be the greatest springboards to positive change in our lives and ministries. Blunders can become priceless commodities if we will put them to work for our future.