Put an x on where you’d place yourself on this continuum.
I’m about ¾ of the way toward task (maybe more). The tension in every ministry position is to serve both of these things well. There are both tasks and people involved in every ministry endeavor. If you’re a people person, you still need to get the job done, meet your deadlines and pay attention to budgets. If you’re a task person, you need to keep in mind that in God’s economy it’s all about people.
Paul says it this way in Ephesians 4:1-3 when he describes what it means to “walk worthy of your calling.”
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Notice his description of walking out your calling in a worthy way didn’t involve calendars, and to-do lists, and performance reviews. Walking worthy of your calling is a very relational thing. Paul’s check-list for ministry success includes; humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, love, and unity.
That list is a gauntlet for a task-oriented person! I know for me, I have to schedule myself to be relational, to encourage, to walk around the office and say “hi” to people. But ignoring the people part of the job is not an option. A ministry leader must care for everyone on the team. So, whether you are a pastor, a church staff member, or a volunteer leading a team of people, here are…
4 Ways to Care for those You Lead
- Pray for them
Don’t rush by the most obvious and most important means of caring, prayer. You pray for your team because you love them. You desire their good, you desire their growth, you desire their conformity to Christ. Praying for someone is more than just the best thing to do when all other options are exhausted- it is always the best starting place.
Praying for team members helps you to internalize the burden they carry. It helps you to empathize and encourage them in new and profound ways. It deepens your ownership of their struggles and your partnership with God on their behalf.
But what should you pray? When we’re praying for people these days, the vast majority of our prayers center on two main themes: safety and success. I might throw comfort in there for good measure. “God keep them safe, protect them so that nothing bad happens to them.” These are fine prayers, and I’m not trying to be picky, but strange thing is – as I read through the prayers on the Bible – I rarely see these themes.
And what I’m proposing today is not that we stop praying for safety or success for people, but that we start adding some other biblical themes into our prayers. Because guess what – there are times when God doesn’t want us to be safe, or successful or comfortable – but He wants our character to grow and his mission to go forward during times of danger, and defeat, and discomfort.
If you’re looking for a model or fresh language in your praying for others, I would suggest two passages to use as a jumping off point. Colossians 1:9-12 and Ephesians 1:15-21. As you read through those passages, just make a list of the kinds of things Paul prayed for people. You’ll see themes like wisdom, hope and power, strength and faith to walk through difficult circumstances, knowledge of God’s love, spiritual discernment, personal holiness, walking in God’s will, steadfastness, boldness in sharing their faith.
Can you imagine if, instead of just praying for safety and success, we added to our prayer vocabulary these kinds of intercessions for the people we lead? We might walk in a whole new level of power if we consistently prayed these things over one another.
- Listen and diligently respond to them
Caring for people doesn’t always involve lovey dovey stuff. One of the greatest acts of care and concern is to listen to someone and then respond to their request.
I love Acts 6:1-7. The Greek-speaking widows felt like they were being slighted by the early church food pantry ministry. So they complained. They offered feedback that wasn’t good. Notice, the church leaders didn’t ignore their requests. They also weren’t sidetracked from the mission by it, they listened and then the diligently responded to meet the needs of the people they had charge over.
How do you determine who to listen to? Every leader has people that they listen to and people they ignore. My question to you is, what is your filter? What determines who you listen to and who you don’t?
For me some of those filters include things like
- Are they on board with the vision?
- Do I trust them?
- Do they have some history with me or the church?
- Are they presenting a legitimate problem?
- Are they legit or just trying to grandstand?
One of the reasons that these filters are important is the warning of Titus 3:9-11
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.
How to Care by listening and responding to feedback:
- Affirm their initiative immediately.
Quickly thank the person for coming to you and bringing some issue to your attention. Even if it is something that is painful – you should be thankful that they had the courage to bring it to your attention.
If their feedback comes by email be quick to get back to them. No more than a 24–48-hour turnaround. Even if you don’t have the answer to their question within that amount of time, they need to hear from you that you got their input and are working on an answer.
Billy Graham used to respond to input from people using the phrase “Thank you very much for bringing this concern to my attention. I’ll prayerfully consider it, and I promise to do as the Spirit directs.”
- Acknowledge the truth in their comments.
Our tendency is to defend ourselves or our position immediately, when typically there is a kernel of truth to all feedback. It’s easy to limit what we take in to only that which fits our existing self-perception. If it doesn’t fit what we’re already thinking we reject it. This is a dangerous posture. What is unknown to you may be well known to others. There are certain blind spots in your character, but there are also blind spots on your team. It’s good to take a searching inventory of their comments to find and acknowledge the truth.
- Follow up quickly with communication and potential action.
In your communication response, don’t just answer with policy, but provide the “whys.” And if you plan on taking action on something they suggested, communicate that back to them. One of the most caring things you can do for someone is to implement their feedback and then give credit and thanks where it is due.
- Encourage them
The word “encourage” means “to give courage.” When you encourage someone, you are infusing them with courage that they didn’t have already. This is a tremendous gift and a powerful way to care for them.
The author of Hebrews alludes to the idea that the main reason for meeting together as believers is to encourage one another. Worship services, classes, groups, ministry events, team meetings, are you viewing each of these gatherings as an opportunity to care for your people with encouragement? This encouragement ties back to the foundation of hope. One of your key jobs as a leader it to be a bringer of hope to your people, and one of the main vessels to transport that hope to them through words of encouragement.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.
The original language says, “And let us take note of / notice / observe carefully / perceive one another.” True encouragement will only come after careful observation of others. Not as nit-pickers or as fruit inspectors, but as those committed to helping others find the courage they need to go forward in the strength of God’s will. But, the very first responsibility is to genuinely notice people. To lovingly pay attention to people so that we might pick up on their hurts or needs in order to care for them accordingly.
As the passage suggest, the goal of such observation, is “to spur or stimulate one another to love and good works.” To spur means to provoke, irritate, or stimulate people toward love and good works. For the people in your life, their need for encouragement might never be greater than it is today. What a great opportunity for care.
- Challenge them
Remember, the act of caring isn’t all warm fuzzies. Sometimes it involves challenge. Can you think of a time you were challenged by someone and in the end, it turned out to be a turning point for you? Maybe they called you out, or coached you, or pushed back on something you did or said, and that act of bravery made a difference for you? Sometimes the best way to care for someone is to challenge them.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Exhortation is very similar to encouragement. The only difference is that it has an element of warning. It is important that exhortation to avoid the extreme of legalism and judgmentalism – but the fear of these extremes should not keep us from the gift of challenging someone. Notice the outcome of a proper word of challenge, it will help that other person to avoid the deceitfulness of sin. This is a beautiful act of caring, but it must be done very carefully.
In the name of “challenge” I have seen someone verbally dismantle another person – just shred their character and reputation – and walk away from the encounter saying “well I’m just being honest. I’m just telling the truth. You can be honest without being a jerk. Some people think there are only two options 1) say it bluntly or 2) don’t say it at all. Actually there’s a third. 3) say it carefully and lovingly. The bible calls it speaking the truth in love.
The teaching that is so helpful here is the log and the speck illustration that Jesus used. It’s often used as a verse on how not to judge others – I think it’s much more helpful in showing us how to challenge another person with the truth. In Matthew 7 Jesus says, don’t try to remove the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own. But he doesn’t leave it there. He says first remove the log and then you’ll be able to see clearly to remove the speck out of his eye.
He doesn’t say don’t worry about them just worry about yourself – he says worry about yourself first and then you’ll be able to do the important work of helping them, challenging them, helping them to see clearly by doing very delicate surgery on their eye. The analogy is perfect because think of all the things that it assumes. Removing a speck assumes: 1) a delicate approach – it assumes that you’re looking closely at their life. 2) A detailed knowledge of that person, and 3) close proximity with that person. It also assumes 4) permission has been given. You generally don’t take tweezers to someone’s eye without their permission. And it assumes 5) a posture of care. You’re trying to help them. So, a word of exhortation is a delicate but necessary act.
You need to care enough about people that you’re willing to challenge them from time to time. Challenge them to think rightly, to act in accordance with scripture, to assure that their behaviors and their beliefs match up, to avoid sin at all costs, to love people radically, and to serve Jesus with their every breath. Usually, this kind of care takes courage – but in the end these moments of exhortation are often turning points for the people you’re leading.