Five Communications Habits That Destroy Relationships

Pastors and other church leaders depend on healthy, open and vital communications with members and lay leaders for local church ministry to function. Without good communication, there is more room for misinterpretation, misunderstanding and mistakes. These can kill relationships, driving a wedge between believers and making the church less effective in sharing and living out the Gospel. Let me suggestion five danger areas with respect to church leaders and communication.

Failing to Listen. By far the biggest danger area for a pastor in communication is being a poor listener. Don’t handle every personal conversation as if you are on the pulpit, lecturing and giving instruction, but with ears closed. Listen to your people. Be an active listener and ask questions to encourage others to clarify and expand. Avoid the tendency to interrupt. Let others know when they are with you, they have your undivided ear.

I was talking to someone on the phone last week and while I was answer one of his questions, he kept saying “yes, yes” while I was talking. That’s not body language, rather it’s vocal language that the person is not listening to you. It’s a nervous habit. It infuriated me, because I knew the explanation I was giving was going in one ear and out the other. When someone else is talking, close your mouth and don’t. You’ll be amazed at how your reputation will increase when you are known as a good listener.

Failing to return contacts. When someone emails or calls you, it’s important to return your calls and emails in a reasonable timeframe. I’d say within 24 hours—or one business day if we count over-the-weekend contacts. Your members have an expectation of you as their pastor.Failing to reply when contacted will clearly be seen as you ignoring them. In today’s fast-paced culture, people understand leaving voice mails, and the fact that most people are not immediately available for a phone call. And they’ll also understand you screening your cell calls. Let’s face it, who hasn’t skipped a cell call then listened to the voice mail to see if it was someone important before calling back?

But you must actually call back. Sometimes you need to delegate the call—but make sure you do that quickly and that the person you give the responsibility to is diligent. I especially like email as a communications tool with members. Though not quite as personal as a phone call, there is one important detail that an email provides—a written record of contact. You can always go back and see if and when you replied to someone’s contact. Because contacts often take a chunk of time, you might want to devote a certain time of the day to return all contacts. Whatever your system, though, have one and use it!

Complaining. There as a skit character on Saturday Night Live called “Wendy Whiner”. All she did was whine and complain, making a negative out of everything. The skit was funny because it rang true. We all know people like that—never a positive or uplifting thing to say. A pastor must be, at some level, an encourager to his people. Yes the job is stressful, the hours are long, and there may be many things to complain about. But don’t.

Constant negativism makes you less effective as a leader. Nobody runs to the “no” person to get something solved, or to push things forward. A “yes” person, on the other hand, is optimistic even in the challenging times. Others are drawn to that person and desire to be a part of what they are doing. Because happy people are just more fun to be around. If you are full of complaint, consider a simple phrase you can carry with you all day: Whenever you see someone say, “Tell me something good happening in your life today.” You’ll be surprised how positive you can be when you put out positive words consistently.

Contacts based on getting something. Almost as bad as complaining is being the pastor who only calls someone when they want something. “Oh, it’s Brother Bob on the phone. He must want me to volunteer for…” Just like we all know the complainer, we all know the guy who just wants you to do his thing for him. Though recruiting volunteers is an important part of leading, consider too that just having relationships is important. Surprise someone by calling them just to see how they are doing, or to pray with them, or to find out first-hand if you can help them through a life challenge.

I received a call a few days ago from a church member I don’t know very well. “What can I do for you?” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied. “I just wanted to take you to lunch and hear what God is doing through your ministry and get to know you. I haven’t been coming here that long and am interested in meeting like-minded people.” Aren’t those the phone calls you love to get? I’ll move a few things around to make that lunch, I can tell you. As a leader, be that kind of person. The one who just wants to know others for the sake of knowing them. That’s a powerful ministry tool.

Not telling the truth. Finally, the last big communications danger for a church leader is to lie. This takes a number of forms. You can embellish a story to make it more impressive. You can fail to tell the truth when you need to. Or, you can just outright say something that is untrue. I have to say in my own life this has been my greatest sinful temptation in communication and one where I have to consistently check what I am saying to ensure it’s honest. Nothing destroys a reputation quicker than being known as a liar.

I think the majority of lying is the result of a leader never having learned how to say “no” gracefully and with dignity. “No” is a reasonable answer and can be given without offense. When the Miller family asks you if you can join them for lunch on Sunday, there may be a temptation to say, “I don’t know, let me check my calendar and get back with you” even though you know you can’t. It’s just fine to tell them, “Sorry, I have plans with my family on that day.” There is no such thing as a “little white lie.” Any and all falsehood impacts your character and your ability to build strong communication and trustworthy relationships.


Author:Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.