Pastors' Forum


People Skills

What are the two or three most important skills you’ve found that are necessary in dealing with people, and how do these skills help you lead? Did these come naturally to you, or did you have to work at developing them?


Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
I think the most important skill that I have continuously worked on and tried to develop is my communication skills. It doesn’t matter what nor how much one talks, if the people you are addressing doesn’t understand what you are trying to say. Many problems can be avoided by developing great communication skills. So many times I have created more problems by my lack of communication skills than the problem I was trying to solve. Needless to say, this is one of my top prayer items I pray for myself –“ Lord, help me to be a better communicator.”

To be a better communicator also means to be a great listener. If you don’t hear or seem interested in what people are saying, they will know it and it will be impossible to effectively communicate with them. Learn to listen to people without trying to think how you are going to respond before they finish a sentence. Look at people in the eyes, listen, and don’t let anything distract you.

Another important skill is leadership. While it seems I’ve always been in some type of leadership position all my life, I cannot say that leadership has come natural to me. I’ve made many mistakes over the years that can be contributed to my leadership. So I am constantly working on my shortcomings and developing my skills. John Maxwell says that everything rises and falls on leadership. How true that is whether it’s a church or fast food restaurant! They might not be aware of it, but most people are looking for someone they can follow. They are looking for a leader that they can trust and have confidence in knowing that he has their best interest at heart; a leader that can show them the way. Therefore, we never quit developing our leadership skills.

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Glendora, CA
This happens to all of us at some point. In fact, Moses faced a similar situation in Exodus 18:13-26. He was being overwhelmed by all of the needs of the people. He needed to delegate some of the ministry responsibilities to others. It may be true that you are doing things that are important, but do you have to do them? Or, can someone else do them? Moses mistakenly believed that all of the problems needed his personal touch, when in reality, there were others who were qualified to handle the majority of them. His heart was right, but his method was wearing him out.

In Acts 6:1-7, the apostles realized they couldn’t do everything. While it was important to feed the needy widows, it was taking them away from their time in prayer and the Word. They had to determine their priorities.

The challenge is in knowing what to delegate and to whom to delegate. My advice would be to get with some of your key leaders and work together to figure out exactly what your priorities are, what are the things that only you can do, and what responsibilities can be shared with others. Work together to determine exactly what’s expected of you, what must have your touch, and what you can and cannot delegate to others.

Delegation requires a lot of faith in God and trust in others. In both Exodus 18 and Acts 6 we see that there are certain qualifications that have to be met in those to whom we delegate ministry. We who are Pastors must teach these truths to the church. If we don’t, the church will likely have wrong expectations of us. You might do some teaching from Exodus 18 and Acts 6. Teach them that according to Ephesians 4:12, your responsibility as a Pastor is to equip them to do the work of the ministry. Exodus 18:20 says to, “show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.”

Regarding delegation, a lesson I had to learn was this: When it comes to delegating ministry, you have to give them permission to make some mistakes. It’s going to happen. Fear of this is one reason many Pastors fail to delegate ministry. But think about it. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all made dumb decisions; we’ve all mishandled situations, and somehow Jesus is still Lord and God is still on His throne. So don’t let fear keep you from trusting others. Share the ministry with them. We all need others to help us carry the load of ministry. This will free you up to focus on the things that really do need your attention. Then you will be able to concentrate on the truly important things that only you can do.

Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
Be totally honest! What do you gain by misleading someone? Honesty is a choice, but there should be no other option. Walk in love. Be led of the Spirit. Honesty came kind of natural from the way I was brought up. Learning what it means to walk in love and also getting my spirit trained to follow the leading of the Lord is an ongoing process. We will never ‘arrive’ at perfection in these areas. There will always be room to grow.

Don’t be vague with people. You might want to meet with someone to share something wonderful with them. If you are vague, they may think that you are upset with them. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Smile! It is easy. If you make an appointment—BE ON TIME! Don’t start out on a bad note by being late and having lots of excuses.

Make God part of every conversation in some way. Stay in an attitude of thanksgiving. You will be surprised at how easy it will be to deal with people in most any situation that you will face.

Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
Some of my greatest people skills are smiling, listening, and asking open-ended questions. I have used resources on asking questions.

Pastor Dan Morrison – Farmington, NM
One of the most helpful and beneficial people skills that I have come to learn over the years is that of listening first, before giving input or advice. Whether it is speaking with a staff member, praying for a church member, or giving spiritual guidance to someone in need, always get the facts first before proceeding.

In the book of Genesis, it is interesting to note that God asked a number of questions of Adam after he had eaten of the forbidden tree, even though it is obvious to us that God knew every answer. In the same way, we as people helpers must ask questions to determine a person’s real need, allow time for the Holy Spirit to prompt us as to our next step, and then move forward with confidence.

In Luke 24, Jesus joins himself in conversation to two of the disciples. He knew what the need was, but He still proceeded to ask question after question to allow the disciples to identify their need and the emotions surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. It wasn’t until they were done, that Jesus took time ‘to expound to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.’  Then their eyes were opened to see that it was Jesus they were speaking to.

I’ll never forget a hospital visit that I made one time to visit an older woman. Her children were gathered all around her. I took time to meet them all, and then I proceeded to minister scriptures about healing and then I prayed for her. After the visit, one of the daughters thanked me for the visit and informed me that the entire family had come to visit their mother to say their “goodbyes” before she went to be with the Lord. I felt so foolish. I had failed to take the time to determine the woman’s need before ministering to her. No real harm was done but I had failed to minister accurately in that situation.

We as ministers will be so much more effective when we take time to listen first before sharing the counsel of God’s Word.

Pastor John Lowe – Warsaw, IN
Lead. Be on time. Plan your work and work your plan.

Delegate and train so that people have confidence to do what they are delegated to do.

Communicate, communicate, communicate the 3 great laws of leadership.

Don’t take yourself that serious, no one else does. Laugh at yourself, it is healthy.

Leaders who are truly leaders make decisions for the ones they are leading first, then their self. Marine training in leadership: last in line, the men eat first (a concept lost in modern day church culture), I personally believe.

Some of these I learned by reading and conferences. Most were, or are, part of me all my life.

Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
The number one thing is to learn and remember people’s names. Rev. Cooke is one of the best examples of this, as he remembers not only your name but your spouse’s name when he hasn’t seen you in a long time. It’s a key people skill he’s mastered that makes people feel valued.

To help remember names at church, I work with the church secretary after the offering is counted and read the visitor cards and the names on offering envelopes and checks. I’m a visual learner. So the people I met on Sunday, I’ll definitely remember if I see the name on the visitor card. I can read their address and if they write down a prayer request, I’ll easily remember their name the next Sunday. I’ll also send a follow-up note. By the next time I see them, I’ve read their name and address, sent them a note, and now it’s easy to say hi to them by name.

Next, praying for your church members and making mid-week calls is vital. You don’t have to call everyone. But the ones in crisis do need your personal call. So make the time during the week to pray and to call those that God has on your heart. I find it’s better to help people with issues mid-week when I have more time. If you touch base with people mid-week, you’ll often get a thank you on Sunday rather than a long prayer request.

Lastly, arrive to church and to every meeting early. Every time I arrive late to an event, someone catches me in the parking lot, or as I walk in, and needs my time. That’s when it’s easy to hurt feelings by being too rushed. When I arrive early, have enough time to prepare, I have the time and composure to greet people properly and hear their concerns. Similarly, don’t be in a hurry to leave church. Our kids know that we don’t leave church early and don’t pull on us to go. But there are limits, so we do take two cars so one spouse can take kids home (and their friends they invite) and one can stay and fellowship or pray with people.

Dr. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
In order for a pastor to be effective, he must maintain favor with the people of his congregation. The Bible states that Jesus “grew in…favor with God and men.” (Lu. 2:52 NIV) The information which I share today is based on almost 40 years of pastoral experience, formal training in University and Seminary, and what I have learned from other leaders & pastors.

There are certain premises which are important in developing people skills:
Be genuinely interested in other people. In conversation, be others-centered instead of self-centered. Maintain good eye contact and be sincerely interested in what they have to say.

Be affirming and not judgmental. Many people suffer from an “affirmation deficit.” Everyone has some good qualities to observe and should not be pre-judged.

Love every person with Godly love (unconditional). No matter how a person looks, remember that every person is made in the image of God.

Encourage others and never put them down, even in a joking manner.
Be positive. No one enjoys fellowship with a negative person.

The above observations are basic skills and there are specific skills which are vitally important in dealing with employees of the church or members of the congregation. Here are some thoughts on each of these as follows:

Pastoral Staff and other paid personnel—The Sr. Pastor is responsible to help Associate Pastors and employees to reach their greatest potential for success in their respective areas of ministry. If there are employees who are accountable to certain supervisors, the Sr. Pastor should help the “supervisor” develop the same kind of people skills as he or she has. On the positive side, there must be weekly “Staff Meetings” in which the Sr. Pastor shares information and training materials. If there personnel problems, the Sr. Pastor must take time to know all the facts. It is good to ask key questions and let the person share everything he would like before making any judgment of the situation. This helps the person to feel that he or she has been properly heard and not pre-judged. If a person is to be dismissed, there must be much time taken in a session to help the person see that the decision is for their good and the good of the church. A sudden “firing” of a person or giving our “pink slips” is the way of worldly business but is opposed to doing Godly business in His Church.

The congregation – In counseling with a person or dealing with problems, it is important to do “non-directive” counseling unless the situation is a crisis, such as a pending divorce, suicide, etc. The required skill is to promote the truth without being seen as being judgmental and in a manner in which the person can accept it. The objective is to help the person to work through a problem and remain committed to the church for needed support. Unless it is a case of open rebellion, the person must see the love of God instead of judgment. It is amazing to see how many people will become strong Christians and leaders when we help them during these times of crises.

Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
Giving prayerful consideration to this question, I’ve found this much more difficult to address than I first thought it would be. The amazing thing about people is that they’re all so different. What seems to be effective with one tends to irritate another, which leads to another people skill to develop and then another, and so on. However, after much prayer (and a short chat with my beautiful wife of 27 years), I believe that I’ve narrowed it down to just one single skill that I would like to invite you to grapple with: Forgiveness.

The ability to forgive is the greatest people skill that I’ve ever needed and/or used. I’ve needed to use this skill when dealing with every single person I’ve ever allowed inside my inner circle. I’ve had to use it with almost every member of my church. I’ve even needed this skill dealing with family members, neighbors, community leaders, peers, mailmen and random individuals utilizing roadways across America. Forgiveness is by far the greatest people skill I’ve ever needed.

I believe one of my own strengths is the fact that I really like people. One of my weaknesses, on the other hand, is that the people I really like tend to really hurt my feelings. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not an emotional weakling. I’m simply attempting to be brutally honest in an effort to share with you what I believe is the most important people skill that I’ve had to develop over several years of ministry.

Many leaders are under the impression that to admit an offense would be a sign of weakness. We hide our hurts and suggest that we’re too spiritually mature to be offended, all in a vain effort to protect our position and the image that we’re working so hard to project. How others see us, we believe, is one of the most valuable assets we possess. The reality is, however, that working with people sets us on a collision course with destiny. When reality and expectation collide, the door to disappointment swings open wide. The greater our expectations are, the greater the potential for offenses become. When we really believe in people, we position ourselves for probable hurts. If we don’t develop the skill of forgiveness, we set ourselves up for certain failure.

There are many truths about the ability to forgive. Most of you reading this already possess a wide range of revelation regarding the issue and could easily share insight and instruction on the topic. I simply hope that the introduction of the thought itself might serve as a catalyst to initiate freedom and success in the life of ministry of at least one. When I first launched into ministry I had no idea how often I was going to need to utilize the skill of forgiveness. Honestly, it was quite a struggle for several years. It wasn’t until I learned how proactive forgiveness truly was that I began to see myself as effective with this particular skill.

It’s an interesting word, Forgive. Forgiveness has more to do with the future than it does with the past! The prefix for actually means “in advance or ahead of.” Give carries the implication of “a gift.” A gift is something given to someone who has done nothing to deserve it. To forgive, then, is to give something in advance to someone who has done nothing to deserve it. To release people from their shortcomings in advance is the skill that has become incredibly powerful in my life of ministry. Knowing that people are just, well, people. They’re going to say things they shouldn’t say – think thoughts they shouldn’t think – perform actions they shouldn’t take – you get the picture. I’m developing the skill to forgive people before they offend me. Then all I really have to do is remember the right thing, NOT the wrong that’s been committed against me, but the right that’s been afforded them by me. The right to do wrong, I guess. I actually had cards made up once that I handed out to people on my team and in our congregation. The card read as follows:

“Go Ahead – This One’s on Me!”
Enjoy one free mistake

There’s a lot that could be said about the ability to forgive. We probably already know enough. Now we just need to do it. As you’re developing your leadership skills – don’t leave this one out!

Pastor Timothy Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
I had a very difficult time thinking about answering this question because one of the greatest skills that I have developed is really not a skill as I understand it. That preamble said, in so many situations there are several verses that, put together, have helped me to relate to people at any given time and to make inroads in the situation. So let me propose them to you for your meditation where this question is concerned.

The first one is simply, humble yourself…, said by Peter and talked about by James; and the value in your life that humility plays in your life mentioned in Proverbs, etc. Humility is really not a skill; it is a fruit of the spirit, but without it you will not be given grace to minister or lead in any given situation. The Bible says to let your speech be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer each one. Really, without humility, you cannot qualify for speaking this way because God only gives grace to the humble. Without humility you can never speak properly in any given situation. Put another way, without humility, you can never speak what “God is saying” in that situation, you are on your own using your own intellect. This really plays out when you are talking to someone who is angry and is being unreasonable, and frankly is just wrong in their thinking.

The Bible says that a “soft” answer turns away wrath. Nothing can bring change to a situation quicker and more powerfully than a person who is walking in humility, considering themselves lest they also be tempted, loving the mercy of God for their lives and esteeming that mercy highly for that person they are talking to, and speaking to them with a soft answer. That is a formula for success in conflict resolution and just about every other situation that you find yourself in. When you humble yourself, God has a way of flowing through you, it just happens; it is the natural course of a supernatural life.

Pastor Terry Scheel – Fenton, MO
As a pastor, there are many things I have learned about dealing with people. Some of these things came naturally, others I have had to work on very hard.

Let me first say, I have observed ministers who were very anointed and could preach well and flow accurately in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, these ministers never realized their full potential. They would spend hours in prayer talking to God, but spend no time talking to their church members, or even saying ‘hello’ to them when passing them in the church hallway. These ministers learned to flow with God, but never learned to flow with people. It is possible to flow with God and with people. In the past, I would have said, let the people get in, get out, or get run over. But, is that really the love of God? Yes, it is more important to flow with God than with people. However, the ministers I mentioned above could have been far more effective if they would have attended charm school and learned how to properly treat people.

One day I visited a church member in the hospital. This was the first time I had been with him privately. As I was leaving his hospital room, he said something to me that made me think. He said he liked the person I was while visiting him more than he liked the person I was in the pulpit. I appreciated his honesty. I came to realize that when delivering my messages, the anointing would make me bold and, as a result, I would come across like a drill sergeant. I had to learn how to be bold in the anointing without talking to my congregation like they were in boot camp. Even though the church is the Army of the Lord, we must remember that most people are not going to respond well when being talked to in a gruff manner. I refuse to water down my messages and tell people only what they want to hear. But, at the same time, I have learned that I can still boldly deliver the uncompromising Word of God without getting in the congregation’s face like Sergeant Carter did to Gomer Pyle. Since I have made this adjustment in my sermon delivery, I feel it has caused my congregation to get more out of my messages, and has caused them to have greater respect for me as a leader.

Being reasonable is vitally important when dealing with people. I believe a congregation will follow a pastor who is reasonable. I have observed pastors who come across with the attitude, “It is my way or the highway!” I’ve observed some church members choose the highway. I used to think that if a church member chose the highway, it was probably better for the church. In some cases, this is true. But, there are some cases when they leave because the pastor is just being unreasonable and the church suffers loss as a result. I recall one instance where the pastor set the air conditioning at a very cold temperature so he would not perspire when he preached. Some of the congregation would bring their winter coats to church in the middle of summer. One church member asked this pastor if the sanctuary could be warmed up just a bit so he and his family would only have to wear their jackets instead of their winter coats. The pastor said, ‘NO!” That church member moved his family to a warmer church and all because the pastor would not simply be reasonable. I had a church member say to me one day that he really liked my messages, but thought he would like them more if they were a bit shorter. I checked the length of my messages and realized that sometimes I was preaching as long as 90 minutes. That is unreasonable, especially when I was ministering to basically the same people two times a week. I now try to preach 35 minutes (or less) and my congregation is getting much more out of my shorter messages than my longer ones.

In conclusion, I would say to any minister, preach the Word and be nice to people!

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Glendora, CA
This is a great question, and it’s difficult to narrow it down to only three, but here goes.

1. Understand the temperaments. Understanding the different temperament types of those I lead has helped me immeasurably. I didn’t have a clue about this when I started in ministry. I just thought everybody should be like me. What a mistake! People usually have one of four distinct personality types. A leader has to know his own type, and the types of those on the leadership team. Each type has certain strengths and weaknesses, and a leader has to know them. They all speak a different language, and I need to speak to them in their language – not expect them to speak mine. A great resource for understanding the different personality types is Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. This book is a must-read for all who desire to lead people effectively.

2. Keep yourself refreshed. This is a must if I want to lead people effectively. If I allow myself to constantly run on empty, if I allow myself to flirt with burnout, everybody I lead is going to suffer for it. If I’m running on fumes, my perspective about people will be twisted, little things will get blown out of proportion, and I might say or do some things that can inflict great damage on someone. A leader must keep himself refreshed spirit, soul, and body. A leader must be ruthless about this. When a leader keeps himself refreshed, everybody benefits.

3. Lead by example. As leaders, we have to set the pace. Those who follow our leadership are going to be a reflection of us. If we want to see consistency in those whom we lead, we must be consistent. If we want to see a healthy attitude in those whom we lead, we must maintain a healthy attitude. People follow our example.