Skip to main content

First Thoughts

The Second Commandment of Staff Relationships: Thou Shall Communicate Regularly, Truthfully, and Lovingly

Because Silence Creates Trouble We Will Communicate to Stay Ahead of Problems and to Resolve Problems

Staff Problems Are Communication Problems

Almost every problem you can imagine in any relationship you have traces back to some communication failure.

Years ago at First Baptist, several of us in leadership trusted a staff person to work on an important set of problems with a few key people on our ministry staff. As the months passed, however, the problems were increasing, and the relational tensions were worsening.

When I would ask why things were getting so much worse, this staff member would rub his face, plead ignorance, and express profound frustration over the difficulties. I suggested that it might be good to just get everyone in the room, lay the problems on the table, and develop a solution together. He assured me that the tensions were too high and feelings too raw to attempt such a course. Trusting him, I followed his counsel and waited.

Not long after that season, he resigned his position, moved to another ministry, and, from that safe distance, confessed that he had been lying the entire time. He had been dishonest to me about the others and dishonest to them about me. He explained his lies, saying he did not want to communicate to either side what he actually believed, so he worked to delay any meeting long enough to get away.

Almost every staff person involved in that situation ultimately left our church without any resolution. Many of those relationships remain fractured to this day. That ongoing relational pain stems, in part, from a staff person who refused to communicate regularly, truthfully, and lovingly.

Staff problems are communication problems, and communication problems always lead to a mess.

Communication and Swords

Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

The language of iron sharpening iron is a reference to swords. When the blades of two iron swords are rubbed together, it makes each blade sharper.

This truth is used as an analogy to explain how people sharpen one another. Iron blades improve when they are rubbed together. Human beings improve as they interact together in communication. Communication improves people the same way friction improves swords.

Five Kinds of Communication

I tell our team at First Baptist that there are at least five different kinds of communication we need to have a well-functioning team.

The first kind of communication is encouragement. This is the kind of communication where we let one another know how much we appreciate them as individuals, how well they are doing in their jobs, and how thankful we are for all the help they provide to us as we accomplish our responsibilities.

The second kind of communication is coordination. This kind of communication is the conversations we need to have about logistics, interactions, and the specifics of our jobs as they relate to other people on the team. The larger your ministry staff is, the more important coordinating communication is.

The third kind of communication is offering suggestions. None of us have arrived or have everything figured out. We all need the helpful voice of another telling us how to improve in our life and work. We all work with others who see things we don’t see and understand more than we do. Everyone must be open to learning how they can improve, and so must listen to suggestions.

The fourth kind of communication is correction. Correction happens on the other end of the continuum from encouragement. Encouragements are offered when things go well. Corrections are offered when something goes wrong. Because all of us fail in our work and because we often fail in ways we do not see, everyone must be open to correction.

The final kind of communication is confrontation. Correction has to do with an error in our work, but confrontation happens when we sin before God. The reality is that as ministry staff live and work together, we will sin against one another. That is not the end of the world. Jesus is perfecting all of us. What is a deal breaker is if we never talk about it when we sin.

A Word Well-Timed

The Bible encourages us not only about what to say but when to say it. In Ephesians 4:29, the Apostle Paul tells us that our constructive words need to “fit the occasion.” Proverbs 25:11 talks about the importance of “A word fitly spoken.”

Ministry teams need to have all five of the conversations I mentioned, but they won’t have each of those conversations with the same frequency. The order of the list for those five kinds of conversations is not accidental. In a ministry team that is functioning well, the conversations at the top of the list will happen more frequently than the items at the bottom of the list.

In a well-functioning team, there will be a lot of encouragement and little confrontation over sin. That doesn’t mean confrontation over sin will never happen—far from it. Our commitment to communicate regularly, truthfully, and lovingly requires us to confront sin whenever we see it. But if we are working with a staff member who always needs to be confronted with their sin and rarely needs to be encouraged, then we have a problem.

The list also generally indicates a difference in the care we need for each conversation. In general, the lower down the list, the riskier the conversations are. We need some care as we coordinate how the music and education ministries are going to navigate their activities on a given Sunday night. We need more care if we are going to make a suggestion on how someone can do their job better. We must have the conversations about suggestions, but we also must acknowledge that such conversations can have more risk than the encouraging conversations and prepare accordingly.

What is true for all Christians is crucially true for a ministry staff.  If a ministry team is not communicating together, not only is there no way for them to get their jobs done, there is no way to care for the larger body of Christ for whom they must set the example in communication.

One of the ways to talk about the journey of the staff at our church over the last few years is one of growing to improve in our communication together. These changes have not happened immediately, but they have happened, and our team is so much stronger for it.

That strength has a lot to do with our commitment to communicating regularly, truthfully, and lovingly.

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. 

Share this

Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.