They are the two most common causes of forced termination of pastors.

  1. Weak leadership skills.
  2. Poor relational skills.

Much has been written in the past decade on leadership skills. The body of literature on the topic is massive and growing. I certainly have little to add in a brief blog post.

It is for that reason I focus specifically on the relational skills of great church leaders. Admittedly, my approach is both anecdotal and subjective. But I have been in the ministry of working with church leaders for thirty years. I think my cursory overview would be supported by more thorough research.

Most pastors and church leaders have never received formal training in relational skills. Perhaps these seven observations of outstanding leaders will prove helpful to many of you.

  1. They have a vibrant prayer life. The more we are in conversation with God, the more we realize His mercy and grace. That realization leads to a greater humility, which is a key attribute of those with great relational skills.
  2. They ask about others. Listen to people with whom you have regular conversations. How many of them focus the conversation on you and others? A key sign of relational health is a desire to direct the conversation to concern and questions about others.
  3. They rarely speak about themselves. This trait is the corollary to the previous characteristic. Have you ever known someone who seems always to talk about himself or herself? They are usually boring or irritating. They are definitely self-absorbed.
  4. They are intentional about relationships. They don’t wait for others to take the initiative. They are so focused on others that they naturally seek to develop relationships.
  5. They have a healthy sense of humor. This trait is natural because the leaders are not thinking obsessively about themselves. Indeed, they are prone to laugh at themselves and their own perceived inadequacies.
  6. They are not usually defensive. Pastors and other church leaders deal with critics regularly. Sometimes a defense is right and necessary. Most of the time, the leaders with great relational skills will not take the criticism too personally.
  7. They constantly seek input. Their egos are not so tender that they are unwilling to receive constructive criticism. To the contrary, many of these leaders seek such input on a regular basis.

I speculate that over one-half of forced terminations have at their foundation poor leadership and/or relational skills of the leader. I hope this brief checklist will help you look in the mirror with greater clarity.

Let me hear from you about the issue of relational skills of church leaders.




This article was originally published at on May 16, 2016. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at


  • Dennis Hounshell

    I think you have a very clear perspective on this topic. Toxic leaders tend to resist and react to criticism rather than listen. Proverbs 29.1 reminds us that these leaders will not last. Relational abilities are key to longevity in ministry. People won’t remember what you accomplish nearly as much as how you treat them. That’s not in the Bible but nothing could be more true in leadership. I’d rather work for our with a leader who cared deeply for others than one who is highly intelligent or gifted to speak or anything else. Nothing compares to how they care about others.

  • Tom, many of those traits can be hard to differentiate when determining if you are dealing with extroverts or introverts – they do have different styles of relating. Many Senior Pastors I have found are wonderful speakers from the pulpit (giving their members the idea that communications come readily and easily for them) but are in need of their “space” to recharge their batteries – alone. Ideally, any pastor should surround themselves with wise counselors that can speak truth into their lives and help them identify EARLY any relational short-comings or blind spots. Please let me know your thoughts.

  • Andrew Ichwara

    I concur with Rich as concerns the Introvert & Extrovert leaders. Surrounding yourself with focused, ambitious, determined, optimistic, and well versed leaders will trigger you to achieve your dream and vision. True Church leaders are always listeners than tutors if i may put it that way. They are people focused than self focused. Their vision catapults the entire congregation forward. Members are always seeking his/her advice

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