I don’t have tremendous profiling skills when it comes to who will make for a great minister, but I have discovered one sure fire way to tell if someone is going to struggle in ministry. I will now reveal that secret to you. On a completely unscientific and data-less basis, I can tell you that 95% of the people who use the phrase “I don’t play church politics” will struggle in their ministries. Now you know. I don’t know about the other 5%, but God does work in mysterious ways.
Here’s the thing, most of the time what people mean by church politics is people skills. What they also typically mean is that they don’t care what people say or think, they will do things their way. Sure churches have politics with people and groups vying for influence. Is it the ideal way for a church to operate? No. Is it going to change before Jesus comes back. No. So let’s work with what we have.
Something that I really like about youth ministers is that they are often bold and innovative. Something that I really dislike about youth ministers is that they fail to appreciate the importance of people skills in a church when doing things that are bold and innovative. You can have a great idea for the youth room, but before you knock down walls, think about getting some support behind the idea. To do that, you will need to be able and willing to give your rationale and how it fits into your vision for the ministry. This of course takes time while just knocking down the wall takes like 30 minutes. You know what else takes 30 minutes, packing up your office. So make the time to communicate and get support.
Developing people skills also earns you goodwill. Attending the senior citizens banquet allows you not only to get to know your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but you can also set the stage for asking for their help down the road. Developing a good relationship with parents gives you the benefit of the doubt when you and the students get back to the church 45 minutes late for pickup.
Let me give you another example of why it is important to develop relationships with all of your constituents. I know of two youth pastors who were let go (and several others who lost significant support) after addressing the inappropriate attire that some of the girls in their groups were wearing. It seems like a small matter, but when you lack the confidence of the parents, stories like these take a different shape. The minister is looking out for the boys of the group and trying to encourage the girls to be more modest. What the parents hear is that you are at worst staring at their daughters and at best challenging them on what they buy for their children. If there was some goodwill stored up from spending time with these parents, then perhaps what the parents would think is “maybe my kid does need to dress more appropriately.”
People skills go a long way with other groups whether it is your personnel committee, deacon body, or other church staff. What happens so often is that people think that working in a church should not have any of this political stuff so they will just rebel and refuse to play. But, it does not make you more spiritual to refuse to develop relationships in the organization. What it does make you is the person most likely to find a new place to work.