Ministry Relationships

Pull quote: Far more church programs are crippled through tensions among the leaders than through false doctrine.

A minister’s work may be going beautifully, with the church growing and souls being saved, and then the work may fall to pieces over personal clashes and strained relationships. Far more church programs are crippled through tensions among the leaders than through false doctrine. But there are practical ways to avoid damage and keep the work going smoothly.


General suggestions about the minister’s relationships with leaders and members

A minister has no more authority in a congregation than the respect he has earned from others by his life and attitude. Whatever he may think about his own authority, he cannot have an effective ministry where people don’t respect him. Greatness comes through humble service – Matthew 20:20-28.

The minister must do everything without partiality – 1 Timothy 5:21; James 2:1-9. You will have favorite people, but this must not affect your actions or treatment of others. Don’t say about a person what you won’t say to him. And don’t say anything negative that is unnecessary. Consider all your proposed actions and words in terms of how they will affect others.

Constantly form, build and strengthen your relationships with others so that the relationships will stand times of stress. This is a major secret of long-term successful church work. If you genuinely love people and see them through the eyes of Christ, you will naturally do this. And they, knowing you love them and want good for them, will trust you when they need you.

Do not be self-willed or think too highly of your own opinions – Romans 12:3,16. Be aware of the sensitive spots and weaknesses of others, as well as their strong feelings and preferences about some things. Try to respect these if possible. Make allowances for the failings of others just as you need allowances made for yourself – Matthew 6:14,15. Recognize the unique value of each gift and talent in the body of Christ – Romans 12:3-8. Don’t expect every person to excel in every way. Appreciate each person’s gifts rather than rejecting him or her for their weaknesses.

Always honor others where honor is due – Romans 13:7. Notice good things in others as quickly as you notice mistakes. You have no right to criticize faults unless you also pay the debt of honoring good behavior.

Study why you react to people as you do, and deal with wrong reactions on your part. This will bless your whole life from the time you learn it. In any conflict, look first and with painful honesty to see how much of the conflict arises from what you are and what you do, and take the log out of your own eye – Matthew 7:1-5. Repair relationships and restore communication when strain begins to develop, while problems are small and people have not lost good will or confidence in each other. Make such repairs a priority. Relationships usually break down because we let them. People remain one because they are determined for Christ’s sake to take care of relationships.

When a conflict develops, the natural, fleshly thing is to withdraw and communicate less. Instead we must do the unnatural thing, the born-again thing, which is to deliberately reach out to the other person. Don’t wait for the other person to come to you and apologize. Christ tells the offended to go – Matthew 18:15-17. He tells the offender to go – Matthew 5:23-25. There is no “first one” to go. Go in gentleness lest you add to the trouble and make the other person defensive – Galatians 6:1. Say to the person, “We will hurt Christ’s cause and make others stumble if we stay at odds with each other. I want peace between us. What can we do? What do I need to do?”

Really forgive those who treat you wrongly – Matthew 18:21-35. God won’t forgive you if you don’t. Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision. Communicate even when the other person doesn’t. Leave the door clearly open for reconciliation. Do good and be kind regardless of what the other person does – never repay evil for evil but overcome evil with good – Romans 12:17-21. This is a powerful approach that the worldly or fleshly mind just doesn’t understand.

Be sensitive to when others are hurting or struggling or going through bad times, and show sympathy. Don’t be so bound up in your own problems you don’t notice those of others. Think of ways to show love and thoughtfulness to others. Try to always be as up-beat and encouraging as possible in the way you talk and act. Have meaningful Bible study and prayer with others. This draws you closer to God and to each other.

Some people will always be hard to get along with. Some persons don’t let grace change them much inwardly. Realize that you will have to control your reactions to such people for the sake of your example and the welfare of Christ’s work. Control your reactions at the base before you get steamed up – its easier that way.

When in doubt, always follow the golden rule: “However you want people to treat you, so treat them” – Matthew 7:12 NASB; compare 22:39.


The minister’s relationship with his overseers

Respect the elders in more than word. If you agree to work under their oversight, really do so. You can talk candidly to them, but always in a respectful manner. Don’t play favorites among the elders. This would hurt your work with the whole group of elders. Consult different elders at different times on matters that do not require a decision of the whole group. Don’t flatter the elders or curry favor, but try to have a genuine, loving relationship with all.

Avoid playing down to the elders if you are better-trained in the scriptures than they. But share good things in the Lord with them whenever you can (books, ideas, tapes, programs, people, etc.) and encourage their growth.

The minister should never struggle with the elders over authority or influence. Where all concerned are mature in the Spirit of Christ, this is not a problem question. If it is, everyone concerned should deal with his own spirit. It is up to elders whether to invite the minister(s) to their business meetings. He should not be invited, of course, to meetings where he is being discussed. But otherwise, where relationships are right, most groups of elders will quite naturally want to invite the minister because of his understanding and responsibility in the congregation. This will be especially true where elders are spiritually shepherding the flock and not just making business decisions. They are workers together, and the minister can be a valuable aid to the elders without infringing on their area of responsibility. Newly-arrived ministers should go slowly about suggesting changes in the program of the church. Give time for respect to develop.

A minister should work. Since he is largely unsupervised, he must be a self-starter. He should obviously be doing a full-time job if he receives full-time pay. The minister must not short his work for the church because of his own personal activities and business. At the same time, elders should realize that demands on a minister are unpredictable, so that he cannot maintain a rigid schedule (though he should have a schedule). Provided a minister is putting in full time, the elders should not be critical if he sometimes uses part of a normal work-day for personal business. They should realize that he will have worked on many nights, “days off,” etc.

The minister should do the elders the courtesy of keeping them informed about unusual changes in his schedule, trips away, etc., even when the trips are in the work agreement. This kind of thing goes a long way in avoiding misunderstandings. Also do the elders the courtesy of discussing with them anything major which you want to do which is of a kind they would expect to discuss.

Elders who invite a visiting minister for a ministry engagement should do the local minister the courtesy of consulting his feelings about their plans. The minister may know things the elders need to know about the effect the visitor may have on the work.

Ministers and elders should study and pray together and go on occasional retreats together to study and seek God’s will and unite their minds about goals and strategies in the work. The minister should learn how to be gracious when his proposals on matters of judgment are overruled by his overseers. They may understand things he doesn’t, and in any case, no one can have his way all the time. The minister should never pout.

Elders and ministers should know themselves, understand their egos, and be aware of any insecurities or weaknesses within themselves that might cause them to be over-sensitive or to have an abnormal need for authority. They should decisively deal with such tendencies within themselves lest those tendencies damage the work and destroy souls.

The unity of ministers and elders should at all times be demonstrated to the congregation. If there is disagreement, let it remain confidential among the leadership until it can be worked out. Elders need to support the minister and show love for him before the eyes of the church, and vice-versa.

If some elder or elders seem stubborn or negative to every suggestion the minister makes, he should concentrate on working with them on things they do agree on, and so grow closer. Emotional barriers may diminish as the minister takes a conciliatory approach and genuinely tries to please in optional matters. “Overcome evil with good” – Romans 12 NIV. Don’t let a sour attitude develop within yourself toward an elder or elders – that might be the beginning of the end of your effective work. Genuinely appreciate the good things in the person and love him as Christ teaches. Agape love is not just a natural emotion. It is a decision, the kind of thing that can be commanded and obeyed – John 13:35.

The minister should try to submit to the elders’ requests as best he can. If he has a problem of conscience, he should kindly but frankly explain this to them and ask their forbearance. If he asks in the right spirit, they will usually respect his request. Anything can be said without damage if it is said in the right way. If the minister has a serious problem with the church or elders that he thinks might necessitate his leaving, he should frankly discuss it with the elders and they all should make every effort to resolve the problem. The same goes for elders having a problem with the minister.

Sometimes the only solution may be in a parting of ways like that of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). If the minister feels he has to resign, he should do so without creating ill feeling or dividing the church. Much will depend on how he governs his tongue during the period of tension. And although the minister and the elders do separate works in the future, they must if at all possible have a brotherly relationship. They should clear up any relationship problems as far as possible, before parting. Otherwise their standing with God is in jeopardy.

Where a minister and the church part ways, neither side should talk to outsiders unnecessarily about the trouble or leave a trail of bitter talk. It is not a small thing to damage God’s work by uncontrolled talk (Luke 17:1-3; Jude 9,10). Normally the minister should give the church a reasonable time to find another worker, and the church should give the minister time to make new arrangements.

Ministers and elders can avoid many misunderstandings by having a clearly-stated written agreement about what each expects of the other in a work relationship.


Suggestions for a minister in relating to other ministers:

Where two or more ministers work in the same program, the natural, fleshly tendency is for them to be like two roosters placed in the same pen of chickens. They fight until one is supreme. Such a carnal spirit of competition can only be overcome through the Spirit – Galatians 5:19-26. A minister should put away any feelings of envy toward another minister who excels him in any ability. He should be glad that the other minister can serve God so effectively. We are on the same team.

A minister should not let himself be troubled because some other minister is better-supported or better-treated or more honored. A servant of God should be content to let God decide how much honor he is to receive, and simply concern himself with the redemptive work of Christ. We must lay down our rights and crucify self as Jesus did – Philippians 2:5-11; John 3:26-30.

A visiting minister should be guided and helped in every needed way by the local minister, who will suggest people who need to be visited, spiritual needs in the congregation, etc. A visiting minister with the right spirit comes to minister, and will welcome the suggestions of the local minister.

-G.B. Shelburne, III, from SHBI’s course The Life and Work of a Minister

© by G.B. Shelburne, III (except for any graphics and scripture quotations). May be reproduced for non-profit, non-publishing instructional purposes provided content is not altered and this copyright notice is included in full. Format may be altered. South Houston Bible Institute, 14325 Crescent Landing Dr, Houston, TX 77062-2178, U.S.A., tel. 281-990-8899, email <> or <>, web site <>. Scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION © 1978 and 1984 by the New York International Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.