Yes, you really can improve your leadership by cultivating a resource church leaders sometimes neglect: your own family. I don’t mean you neglect them because you are too busy, but you may not think of family – especially extended family – as a resource for ministry.
Here are three ways you can tap your family to improve your leadership:
1. Reflect on your family’s story and the strengths they had. My own father is, still at 92, a flaming extrovert. (This picture was taken last week.) When I was a child, I hated that he wanted to meet everybody he saw. (“Noooo, Dad – don’t talk to them!”) Yet it was a huge strength that contributed to his success in sales and in making his way through life. A bonus: he’s happier late in his life because he knows how to connect with people.
But now, even though I’m a bit of an introvert, I can talk to just about anyone. I’m grateful for that skill. It helped in my ministry as a pastor, and it helps now in the work I do supporting pastoral leaders.
What gifts did your family give you?
2. Ask extended family for advice. You may be surprised. Your parents, siblings and cousins have life skills that can help you in your ministry. Sometimes a pastor will say to me, “But they don’t know anything about church!” But family members may know about life in ways that surprise you.
One pastor realized one member of his staff was walking all over him. His brother, a school principal, coached him through taking a stand without being too harsh. His brother later came to him with some heartfelt questions about his own spiritual life. And they grew closer after these conversations.
You may get more benefits from these conversations than simply good advice. Clergy often give advice to their family, and experimenting with a reversal of the pattern may shift some habitual dynamics
3. Accept your family as they are, and you’ll be better able to deal with those challenging folks at church.
Remember: the people you react to the most at church hook something in you from your family story. Even if you change churches, there’s probably someone similar waiting for you. When you work on your reaction to the most challenging people in your family, it benefits your whole life.
Can you create a plan to shift one relationship a bit? A few ideas to consider:
- Have at least a brief conversation with each of your parents separately instead of together.
- Send a postcard to your least favorite relative.
- Set out a photo of a family member you’d like a better relationship with and pray for them daily.
Believe it or not, it may be the most practical work you do. In my own coaching work, I help people connect some of the dots between their family and the tough church relationships. The benefit can be less stress and more freedom in family and at church.