For the church, and probably almost any organization, leading from relationships is critical for success. Building relationships is the bulk of the first three years when someone is heading to a new appointment in a church and hopes to have a long-term effective ministry in that church and community. Building relationships may be the most important tool they have.

Not only is building strong relationships key to experiencing a successful, long-term appointment in one church, but if a pastor has served one church for many years, relationships are most often why.

The most awesome vision, strategy, mission and structure, whether in a small, mid-size or large church, won’t work if it does not include relationionships with and between the key players in it.  Many well thought out strategies hit a roadblock somewhere, if not right away, if there were not strong relationships that existed to unify people around that strategy, because they trusted you. If a pastor is newly appointed in a church and leads immediately with major strategy, vision, and structure changes, not only will she or he not succeed but may scuttle their effectiveness completely. Know and let people know you first. Trust is key in implementing a vision and trust comes from relationships.

One of the reasons a pastoral succession works so well when an associate pastor takes over for a long-term senior pastor, is they have had time to build the relationships they will lead from. There is a trust level that already exists that is foundational for a team to function and lean into a vison.

In “Leading Beyond the Blizzard, the New Ice Age”, the article talks about naming the resources the church has. Identifying the team is one of the first things to do in preparing for the "what’s next".  The team is everyone united around the common mission of the church and who relate to each other and relate to you.
  1. Be a good pastor and make sure everyone is pastored well.  Nothing builds trust like relationships and a positive future more than pastoral care.  Lack of pastoral care is a vision, mission, and strategy killer.
  2. Stopping to begin, continue, or deepen a relationship with someone is always a valuable work, maybe more important than that important meeting you are planning for. The meeting may make something you want happen, or maintain your church, but the friendship will build the future.
  3. Taking one of your leaders, committee chairs or key influencers out for lunch, breakfast, or a cup of coffee can pay tremendous dividends for the life and mission of the church and for you. Jesus spent three years with 12 men preparing them for their roles. What may appear as a waste of time, is taking the time in mentoring and building the strength of the church. Making disciples of your leaders and influencers that make disciples of the world.
  4. Ignoring or passing people by in key moments because you have something more important to do can come back to bite you in the future.  Not only may they feel devalued, but the friends they tell may agree.  People like to think they are important to you and not just tools we use to get the outcome we want.
  5. Attend group events as much as possible, even if you have no part.  It is a great place to connect with lots of people in one place.  This is especially helpful in large churches where one-on-one building moments are more difficult to come by.
  6. Connect in the hallways, stepping into a classroom, at the water fountain, the coffee bar, parking lot, and when you run into people in your community. In the same vein, connect with community leaders. If we want to lead beyond the church this is very important. 

Yes, we want a compelling vision for people to follow, and they might begin to follow for this reason alone, but they won’t finish, won’t stay with it, and won’t hang in there.  No amount of vision or planning will prove fruitful, unless there are relationships with each other, of course with Jesus, and with you that carry the team and the church through the ups and downs, the successes and the disappointments, and the long term sacrifices that must be made if the church is going to make disciples of all the world.

If I was pastoring a church in the COVID-19 season, I would do everything I could to maintain, build, and create new relationships, understanding this as the foundation of the future church.  If this key task of a pastor is neglected, we might find our church declining far more than just in the worship attendance numbers and the offering during this season of isolation.
There is a reason Jesus spent three years mentoring those 12 disciples and commanded they do the same.  Relationships are the key to discipleship.

Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth