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How Ministry Leaders Can Prevent Hurt Feelings in Workers

Updated on October 27, 2017
RonElFran profile image

Ron is the founding pastor of a church in Harrisburg, PA. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary in Colorado.

If you are in a leadership position in your church or ministry, there is one thing you can be sure will eventually happen among your team members:

Sooner or later someone's feelings are going to get hurt!

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It happens all the time. You notice that someone's attitude or attendance pattern or willingness to serve in the ministry has changed. And when you're finally able to get them to be honest with you about what's going on, they relate how someone in leadership said something, or did something, that bruised their feelings. Now, in response, they've drawn away from whole-hearted participation in the ministry of the church.

Ironically, the leader who is blamed for the problem usually had no intention of causing any offense, and is often totally unaware that offense was taken. But leaders need to know that just by virtue of the delegated authority they have been entrusted with, everything they say and do has a disproportionate impact on those working under their leadership.

Leaders should also be aware that many people (especially those who are less spiritually mature or less experienced in the church) have an unstated expectation that godly church leaders will always be perfect in treating workers with Christ-like love and consideration. When they feel that a leader has failed to meet that standard, their judgment can be harsh.

Some workers expect leaders to always treat them with perfect Christ-like love and consideration!

Of course none of us, leaders included, is perfect. We all sometimes make mistakes in the way we deal with others. That's why in our church we teach our leaders some keys to help them avoid hurting workers' feelings, and when (not if) feelings do get hurt, to help heal those bruised emotions. And the first key is understanding what the true purpose of godly leadership is.

Christian Leadership is Not Just About Getting the Job Done!

If you’re going to be an effective ministry leader who achieves your goals without frustrating, offending, or wounding the feelings of the workers in your ministry, you need to have absolute clarity about the target you should be aiming for.

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A good leader is usually very committed to accomplishing the goals of their ministry. Of course that’s an important leadership quality. But it’s also something that can make it easy to slip into being more task-oriented than people-oriented. If you want a sure-fire recipe for getting feelings hurt on a ministry team, give that team a leader who sees the team members as just tools to be used in achieving the team's objectives. That's why leaders need to be keenly aware that their major purpose is not accomplishing the task!

There are, in fact, two other considerations that take precedence over the task itself. Here's the first and most important of these:

1 Corinthians 10:31 (NKJV) Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

My Primary Purpose As a Leader is to Glorify God in the Way I Lead My Team

For Christian leaders who are concerned about glorifying God, some common secular methods of getting the results a leader wants from workers are off the table from the beginning. Practices such as manipulation, threats, outbursts of anger, sarcasm, etc., certainly don't glorify God, and Christian leaders should never employ them.

Jesus made it very clear how He expects believers to glorify God with one another and before the world:

John 13:34-35 (NKJV) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

As a leader, my priority should be to exemplify, model, and stir up Christ-like love among the members of my team.

As a ministry leader, my #1 goal should be to exemplify, model and stir up Christ-like love among the members of my team, so that they are blessed and God is glorified by their participation on the team. Even when confrontation is necessary (and that is a part of the leader's role), I am committed to "speaking the truth in love" so that whatever the outcome, neither I nor team members ever lose sight of our brotherly love for one another.

VIDEO: What it means to be a leader

My Second Purpose as a Leader Is to Help Team Members Grow as Disciples of Christ

The second consideration that takes precedence over accomplishing the task is embodied in the apostle Paul's description, in Ephesians 4:11-15, of why God placed various leaders in the church. Paul says that the purpose of the church's entire leadership team is to edify (instruct, train, develop, build up) the body of believers so that mature disciples of Jesus Christ are produced as a result.

This applies no matter what specific task your team has been assigned to perform. Whether it's staffing the nursery, cleaning the restrooms, or greeting worshipers as they enter the sanctuary, your ultimate goal as the leader of that ministry is making and strengthening disciples.

My aim as a leader should be to edify (instruct, train, develop, build up) the members of my team so that they become mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

That means that as a ministry leader I cannot just focus on how an individual's gifts, skills, and hard work can help the team achieve its goals. I must also, as a priority, consider how to help that person grow spiritually through their membership on the team. In a very real way, every ministry leader must be a pastor to the members of their team.

In your experience, do most church leaders prioritize getting the job done, or ministering to team members?

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Leadership Keys to Preventing and Healing Hurt Feelings

Now that you know that your purpose as a leader is first to glorify God, and then to minister to members of your team so as to help them mature in Christ, the next question is: how does that work out in practice?

Here are some practical keys to having a positive impact on ministry workers as you all strive together to accomplish the tasks the team has been assigned.

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1. Always treat team members with respect (honor) and love - they are of much more importance than the task. (1 Peter 2:17; 1 Corinthians 13). This requires much patience, especially when performance falls short of expectations (Proverbs 19:11, NIV).

2. Always build team members up, never tear them down - words that tear down will cause hurt feelings and will not glorify God (Proverbs 15:4).

3. Always maintain a positive attitude toward team members - your "merry heart" (or lack thereof) will affect their spirits (Proverbs 17:22).

4. Never throw a team member under the bus - a godly leader does not publicize team members' shortcomings, but allows himself or herself to be the target of any arrows of blame that may be aimed at the team when it fails to accomplish its goals (Proverbs 10:12; 11:13).

5. Make a deliberate and conscious effort to be a godly role model - determine to demonstrate to your team how a mature believer glorifies God in the way they handle difficult circumstances (Hebrews 13:7). And by the way, this includes providing them an example of how you recover when you yourself mess up! (1 John 1:9).

If you as a leader remain focused on the twin priorities of glorifying God and helping team members mature in Christ, it will take you a long way toward being an effective leader who helps your team accomplish its goals without hurting the feelings of workers.

© 2017 Ronald E Franklin

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    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 3 weeks ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Jo. I certainly agree that we all should be applying these biblical principles all the time.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 3 weeks ago from Tennessee

      Great advice, Ron, for churches and other organizations. In fact, it's just a pretty good way to treat others, generally speaking.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 3 weeks ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, MsDora. I hope ministry leaders will find it helpful.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      A very helpful guide for ministry leaders. Thanks for supporting your leadership keys with texts from Scripture.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 3 weeks ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Heidi. I certainly agree with you that expecting perfection from leaders is pretty much a universal condition! And so is the fact that both leaders and the led need to give one another some grace.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      It doesn't matter if it's church or corporate leadership. People expect "perfection" from leaders which is impossible. Some great insight on that situation!

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 3 weeks ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Kari. And I think you're right - the same principles apply on the job, in our families, and throughout life.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 3 weeks ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Eric. I think your practice of giving people permission to give you feedback is an excellent idea. It requires a level of security and humility that too few of our leaders, even in the church, possess.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 3 weeks ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Jennifer, you make an excellent point about how radically different communication styles can be a source of unintended offense; both leaders and workers need to take that into account. And, now that you mention it, I'm thinking about going into the rhinoceros hide business - I can make a mint selling them to some pastors I know!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 3 weeks ago from Ohio

      Excellent advice, Ronald. And it is excellent advice within and without the ministry. In any position of leadership we should always be trying to glorify God.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you Ron for an excellent article. I think this is a very important area of inquiry.

      Now this is just one of my little theories. If the leader is an open jerk then folks will be empowered to complain or least speak up a bit. If the leader somehow slips with his wording the worker will keep it to themselves and seethe.

      When I taught Bible study I routinely asked for folks to speak up privately or in class if I was messing up or messed up. It leveled our playing field.

    • Jennifer Mugrage profile image

      Jennifer Mugrage 4 weeks ago from Columbus, Ohio

      Right on.

      And for those of us who are NOT leaders ... we should strive to give up our idolatrous hope that the leader will be what only God can be to us, or will be the perfect parent figure we never had.

      Not everyone expects this of leaders, but it's those who do, who spend the most time getting their feelings hurt.

      It can also be helpful to learn about different communication styles. I love the book That's Not What I Meant, by Deborah Tannen.

      If someone has a radically different communication style from our own, and we realize this, their style might still cause us to feel hurt, but we will have an easier time believing that this springs from their style and not from their motives or character.

      This article makes me think of that quote that says a pastor needs to have the mind of a scholar ... the heart of a child ... and the hide of a rhinoceros!