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How to Create Successful Working Relationships in Your Church or Ministry

How to Create Successful Working Relationships in Your Church or Ministry

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Martin Woodroofe’s new book Beyond Nice: Creating Excellent Working Relationships in Churches and Other Christian Organisations (Lulu Publishing Services, 2013).

Christian organizations – churches or other ministry groups, such as charities – rightly place a high value on loving relationships among the people who work there. But too often, they misapply that focus by making their primary goal being nice to people rather than getting their work done successfully. Doing what’s nice can prevent doing what’s right.

If people at your organization are too preoccupied with how nice they are to people, your people will eventually become frustrated because of how challenging it is to get work done in a workplace like that. You can create successful working relationships, however, if you boldly move beyond just being nice to working together to fulfill your organization’s God-given mission well. Here’s how:

Make relationships central to your organization’s mission and goals. Rather than thinking of relationships as an end in themselves, tie the relationships between the people at your organization into its mission and goals so people will be focused on being productive when they’re communicating with each other. Don’t be so preoccupied with being nice to people that you waste too much time and energy discussing your personal lives and neglect talking enough about the work that needs to get done. Consider such questions as: “What are the mission and goals of our organization, and does everyone know these?” and “Do people feel equipped to fulfill their responsibilities to help achieve the mission and goals?”

Align individuals’ agendas with the organization’s purpose. Some people’s God-given callings will fit in well with your organization’s purpose, but some won’t. When you see that certain people are not really helping your organization fulfill its purpose, don’t hesitate to speak with them about either finding ways they can move the organization forward or leaving to find another job or volunteer opportunity that better suits their callings.

Identify and address your leaders’ blind spots. Your organization’s leaders may have some blind spots – some weaknesses of which they’re unaware – that are interfering with their ability to lead others effectively. Such blind spots include: difficulty communicating with people on a personal and practical level, challenges building teams, an unwillingness to be vulnerable and deal with difficult issues, and impure motives. Figure out what blind spots are interfering with the work of your organization’s leaders, and train them to overcome those weaknesses.

Hold people accountable. Christian organizations sometimes misapply grace by neglecting to hold people accountable for their failures and mistakes. When that happens, the entire organization suffers. Keep in mind that Jesus blended compassion for people with a demand for excellence; Jesus’ example shows that you can love people gracefully while still seeking accountability from them. Make sure that paid staff and volunteers all clearly know their job descriptions, how their work will be measured, and to whom they’re accountable for their work.

Be professional. Sometimes Christian organizations don’t insist on excellence among their workers because they misunderstand what it looks like to fully depend on God. While it’s crucial to rely on God, that doesn’t mean that the best human effort isn’t required. Recognize that God calls all believers to excellence in their work. Don’t accept amateurish standards or efforts; motivate everyone at your organization to give their best every day.

Manage growth wisely. When organizations grow larger, that growth often changes them into more formal places to work. As your organization grows and more people come onboard, clarify how they should best contribute to the day-to-day work to minimize confusion and maintain good morale.

Attract, focus, and keep good volunteers. Christian organizations rely more on volunteers than secular organizations do, and the work those volunteers do is crucial to accomplishing the organizations’ missions. But it can be challenging to find enough volunteers with the qualities and skills your organization needs, to empower the volunteers you do find, and to keep them. Give volunteers all the information, training, and support they need to do their work well. Encourage their development by giving them regular opportunities to learn and grow. Listen carefully and respectfully to their opinions. Thank them regularly for the valuable contributions they’re making to your organization.

Follow the example Jesus has set of how to work well with people. Jesus used his authority to set high expectations for others; you should do the same with whatever authority you have at your organization. Jesus demonstrated tough love, in which: he had compassion for people yet didn’t hesitate to communicate challenging messages to them, he gave people what they really needed rather than what they thought they wanted, and he spoke the truth in love. Just as Jesus confronted difficult issues with people, you need to do the same so that what’s wrong in your organization can be made right. Jesus combined personal humility with a strong resolve to achieve his goals, and he calls you to do the same. Jesus also expects you to take personal responsibility for how you respond to the circumstances you encounter in your organization – he wants you to respond in the way he has modeled for you: with a positive attitude, and faith in God.

Use authentic conversations to build healthy relationships. Develop strong relationships with the people you work with by talking with them in authentic conversations, instead of simply trying to be nice to them all the time. Don’t hesitate to discuss any work-related topic that concerns you or them – even difficult issues – and be open and honest with each other. Invite your coworkers to share their views freely with you, and listen respectfully, even when you disagree with their views. Try to understand their perspectives. Rather than trying to enforce your will on them, collaborate with them to negotiate how best to resolve conflicts and solve problems in mutually beneficial ways.

Hire great leaders and support them well. Recruit leaders who show qualities such as: biblical faith, humility combined with a resolve to accomplish goals, a consistent focus on what they can give rather than on what they can get, integrity, and teamwork. Give your leaders the authority they need to move forward, the practical support they need, regular feedback on their work, and encouragement to keep doing their best for your organization.

Adapted from Beyond Nice: Creating Excellent Working Relationships in Churches and Other Christian Organisations, copyright 2013 by Martin Woodroofe. Published by Lulu Publishing Services, Raleigh, NC., /

Martin Woodroofe spent 25 years in the commercial world, becoming a senior human resources executive for a U.S. company in Europe. He has also played a leading role in a number of Christian and other voluntary organizations. He is married to Sue, a school principal, and they have two children.

Whitney Hopler, who has served as a contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Follow her on Twitter @WhitneyHopler.

Publication date: June 12, 2014