The Must-Have Pastoral Skill

“Public speaking?” No.

“Time-management?” No.

“Theological expertise?” No.

Give up?

It’s social intelligence. Some call it “interpersonal skills” or “EQ”(Emotional Intelligence).  ”Why?”

Writing on The Must-Have Leadership Skill, at the Harvard Business Review blog, Daniel Goleman explains: “Leadership is the art of accomplishing goals through other people…Technical skills and self-mastery alone allow you to be an outstanding individual contributor. But to lead, you’ve got to listen, communicate, persuade, collaborate.”

Now Goleman is speaking specifically of business leadership, but surely this is one area where pastoral and business leadership overlap. In fact, I would argue that social intelligence is even more important in ministry than in business.

We’ve all seen clever, competent, and self-disciplined people utterly fail in pastoral ministry. They just couldn’t connect with people at even the most basic levels of simply saying hello, asking how they were, and remembering their children’s names.

But I’ve also had the joy of seeing pastors with average IQ, limited preaching ability, and so-so administrative gifts being mightily used of God to unite, grow, build, and lead their congregations over many years.

Similarly, I’ve got to know a number of leaders of non-profit Christian organizations and institutions, and they too have EQ in spades (and usually IQ too!).

In fact, it’s such a thrill to watch such Christian pastors and leaders at work among their flocks, employees, and volunteers; to watch how they connect, communicate, inspire, energize, motivate, etc., and to observe the difference they make in people’s lives with even the most minimal of passing contact.

Spotting Social Intelligence
As a teacher of seminary students, I find it’s getting easier to identify those whom the Lord is most likely to use to bless and build his church in pastoral ministry. The Lord is sovereign, of course, and can blow all our analysis and predictions out of the water, but usually He uses “ordinary” means.

So how can we spot social intelligence? Daniel Goleman asked an executive with a long track record of good hires, who not only interviews candidates but watches them in social settings too. He said:

“We’d watch carefully to see if she talks to everyone at the party or a dinner, not just the people who might be helpful to her,” he said. One of the social intelligence indicators: during a getting-to-know you conversation, does the candidate ask about the other person or engage in a self-centered monologue? At the same time, does she talk about herself in a natural way? At the end of the conversation, you should feel you know the person, not just the social self she tries to project.

Lots of pastoral crossover here too, but for prospective pastors I’d like to add:

  • Does he hang around the church lobby or car park talking to people or does he always dash off straight away?
  • Is he always talking to the same people/group, or do you see him regularly talking to different people?
  • Does he make the effort to leave church by different doors, park in different parts of the car park, etc., so that he has opportunity to meet people he would not normally have contact with?
  • If he’s in your home, does he treat your wife well, expressing appreciation for food and thanking her for hospitality? And does he take any interest in your children?
  • Do you ever see him talking to the young people, especially those who may be rebellious and may not exactly welcome his interest in them?
  • Does he initiate and build relationships with the elderly?
  • Does he turn up for working parties to clean the church, sweep the car park, paint the hall, etc?
  • Is he able to sustain a conversation with you, without leaving all the initiative to you? If you decided not to ask one other question of him, would he just sit there waiting, or would he jump in?
  • What does the Seminary secretary and other admin staff think about him?

Maybe you can suggest other questions, but let me close with this appeal from Robert Anderson in The Effective Pastor:

In the seminary in which I teach, as a part of a course in philos­ophy of ministry I regularly bring in our assistant librarian to teach a class in etiquette. Unfortunately it probably is one of the classes that is received the most poorly. I say unfortunately because it is the class that often is needed the most.

Not many of our graduates fail in the ministry because they fall prey to doctrinal errors. Numbers, howev­er, have made an improper impact on the ministry simply because they are “klutzes,” are continually making themselves offensive to people—and they will not change. Simple things—such as practicing acceptable table manners, placing a mint in their mouths when deal­ing with people in close proximity, and refraining from picking the nose, ears, or teeth in public—would give those people substantial mileage in being more acceptable to others.

If they learned a few social graces in addition and were able to remember to express grati­tude to people for every kind action no matter how small, they would be making major progress toward becoming the type of re­spectable person the Bible demands for the position of pastor. The person who basks in his crudeness and considers it a necessary part of his “macho” image probably should seek another vocation besides the pastorate.

Top 10 preaching mistakes

It’s one of my privileges to hear many beginning preachers preach their first sermon. Sometimes, it’s stunning how God has gifted a person and you hope Seminary doesn’t spoil them! Usually, however, first sermons confirm the need for much further training. As I’ve listened over the years to students begin to preach, I’ve noticed the same mistakes arising again and again, the same mistakes that we all fall into from time to time. The ten most common are:

1. Cramming: Squeezing all you have ever studied about the Bible over the years into 30 minutes.

2. Skimming: Taking too many verses and simply skimming over the surface of the text, teaching nothing that someone with average intelligence would not have derived from the text themselves.

3. Floating: The preacher says many things that relate to the text, floating or hovering above the text, but fails to show how they are anchored in the text.

4. Proof-texting: Including lots and lots of texts from all over the Bible, and sometimes diverting hearers by expounding the proof texts as much as the sermon text.

5. Quoting: Too many quotes from commentators, theologians, and other preachers from the past and the present.

6. Lecturing: It’s difficult to define the difference between preaching and lecturing, but you know it when you see it/hear it. It’s about passion, eye-contact, persuasion, urgency, etc.

7. Assuming: Our own over-familiarity with the text results in us assuming that our hearers know the background of the text, the meaning of basic key words and concepts, etc. May also result in Mach 7 preaching speeds. And don’t assume your hearers are all converted either.

8. Confusing: Hearers are left confused usually because of a lack of structure or too complicated a structure (main points, sub-points, etc.); or sometimes there is a good structure, but it’s not sufficiently highlighted and emphasized so that hearers know where they’ve been, where they are, and where they are going.

9. Spraying: Lots and lots of data, but no single dominant thought; it’s the difference between a shotgun and a rifle.

10. Complicating: Instead of explaining the text, a preacher can actually make it more obscure. Usually involves words too big, sentences too long, concepts too abstract, language too philosophical/theological.

Maybe Monday morning is not the best time to post this, as many of us preachers are already immersed in our own sermon “post-mortems.” On the other hand, maybe it will help us figure out where we went wrong (again).

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (53)

Here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s this week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

And for those who want to start at the beginning, here’s six months of the morning and evening in pdf, and here’s six months of the single reading plan in pdf.

Here’s a brief explanation of the plan.

CK2:20 Preaching without notes?

Download here.

This week’s guest is Pastor Timmy Brister. A short time ago he wrote a blog post about the benefits of preaching from a manuscript. Most of you know that I have reservations about this (here and here)! So we invited Timmy on to discuss the pros and cons of each method.  We hope you enjoy it!

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

The “Gospel” of Art

What does art tell us about our culture’s hopes, values, and fears?

That’s the question this week’s Puritan Pod tries to answer following a visit to the Grand Rapids Artprize Festival, which awards the winner $250,000, making it the world’s largest art prize.

Email and RSS readers may need to click through here to view video.