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First Thoughts

The First Commandment of Staff Relationships: Thou Shall Love People More than Your Job

The People You Work with Are More Important Than the Tasks You Are Accomplishing

A Problem of Priorities

One of my first meetings during my first week as Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church was with a leader on our staff who had received dozens of complaints from the people who reported to him. The complaints painted an ugly picture: He was angry, loud, accusing, forceful, and generally created a hostile work environment. Several women who reported to him were afraid to come to work.

This environment is obviously unacceptable in any place of work, but especially in a church. I called a meeting with him immediately.

As I raised the serious complaints, he immediately became loud, angry, and accusing. Before I knew it, he was on his feet towering over me, pointing his finger in my face, and berating me with language I won’t repeat.

It’s been said when you fire someone, they will prove within two weeks why it was necessary. I’m sad to report that I got that time down to less than two minutes.

Of course, this man had an anger problem, a patience problem, a language problem, and a leadership problem—to name just a few. At a deeper level, he had an affection problem. He loved his job too much. He would get angry and scream at his staff when they did things that, in his mind, threatened his reputation as a boss. He got angry and yelled at me when he rightly believed his job was at stake.

He loved his job more than people.

A Common Problem

This man is an extreme example of a problem everyone struggles with sooner or later. Not everyone screams and yells. We don’t all behave in ways that make others fearful. But everyone is tempted to put work and tasks above people and relationships.

There is a reason for this that makes a lot of sense.

We are hired to do a job and are evaluated based on our performance of that job. We believe we are right to prioritize the performance of our duties over how we treat people. Of course, we hope to get along with the people we work with, but if we ever have to choose between people and performance, most choose performance.

There is a lot wrong with this, but let me highlight two problems.

Two Problems

The first problem is that the mindset of putting work before people will guarantee staff conflict.

If I put my work ahead of you, you put your work ahead of me, and the next lady puts her work ahead of both of us, we will all be in constant conflict for the limited time, space, money, energy, and attention that are available in any place of work. When work is first in your eyes, eventually, other people will be a threat to that work. You will fight all the time.

The second problem, which is much more serious, is that putting your work before people places you in disobedience to Jesus. Jesus has told us what our priorities are to be. When asked about the most important commandment in the law, he responded,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus has already established our priorities. We are to love God and others. Jesus gives no refuge for the workaholic driven by performance. As Christians, we can understand it when ungodly employers place self-advancement ahead of interpersonal care, but there should never be any place for this on a ministry staff.

What This Does and Does Not Mean

Of course, loving others does not mean everyone we work with will always feel that love. It doesn’t mean we never make hard decisions that are good in the long run but hurt in the short term. It is impossible to do your job in a way that ensures everyone likes you and is always happy with every decision you make.

The commitment to loving others more than our job means when we are striving for our ministry, we will do so without viewing our ministry partners as our opponents, and we will do it ready to sacrifice our desires for what is best for the team. We will seek to deliver hard words of correction and rebuke with patience, compassion, and love.

Above all, it means we must make clear that one of the metrics of job performance is how well you love others with whom you serve. There is no way to excel in ministry without having a reputation as a loving servant among those with whom you work. We must all be the kinds of people who are growing to love the people we serve with more than our jobs.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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