- Relational Wisdom | Ken Sande | Biblical Emotional Intelligence | Peacemaking | Institute Christian Conciliation | Reconciliation - https://rw360.org -

Approachability: The Passport to Real Ministry and Leadership

Craig was well-equipped for teaching God’s Word. He was committed to Christ, thoroughly educated, solid in his doctrine, well read, loved to study Scripture, and could preach outstanding sermons Sunday after Sunday.

He also saw himself as a gifted pastor. He loved to discuss theology, debate doctrinal issues, and tell people how to apply the truth of God’s Word to everyday life. When people came to him with questions or problems, he prided himself on helping them to quickly get to the heart of the matter by identifying underlying sins in their lives and developing practical plans to grow in godliness.

The trouble was that as time went by, fewer and fewer people were coming to him for pastoral advice. He would have been shocked to learn that while most of the people in his church respected him as a gifted preacher, many had lost confidence that they could approach him safely with questions, personal problems, and especially criticism, no matter how graciously it was offered. So while Craig’s pulpit ministry seemed to be thriving, his pastoral ministry was withering day by day.

Jeff, a pastor in another church, was flourishing in both his preaching and shepherding ministries. He loved to dig into God’s Word and prepare practical lessons and sermons, but he was equally passionate about coming alongside his people, understanding their struggles, and helping them live out the gospel in the issues of daily life. Like the apostle Paul, he had an “Acts 20:20 ministry,” teaching God’s Word “publicly and from house to house.” His people loved him, shared their struggles, ideas, and even their criticisms freely, and together they were growing in their love for God and their passion to build his church.

Craig and Jeff shared many characteristics: excellent education, solid theology, and a passion to teach and preach. But there was one major difference between them: month in and month out, Jeff’s flock had found him to be consistently approachable, while Craig’s congregation saw him as being so distant and above them that they gave up coming to him with their life concerns. Craig was a fine preacher, but he had failed to earn the relational passport needed to shepherd the flock God had entrusted to his care.

Countless leaders in other settings, whether the home, ministry, or workplace, fall into this same habit, which destroys their ability to lead and minister to other people.

Without a Passport, You Cannot Enter

A passport is an authorization to go somewhere. There is no more difficult place to enter than the inner life and deep struggles of another person. If you want people to welcome you into their world—their real, messy world, not the smiling façade we all put up—you must earn a relational passport.

In order to gain a passport into the lives and struggles of other people, you must relate to them in such a way that they would answer “yes” to three key questions, each of which contains a variety of sub-questions that roll around in the back of people’s minds:

Every time a leader engages people, he or she is either building or destroying passport. Use a counseling story as a sermon illustration without fully concealing the identity of the counselees, and you’ve lost the trust of an entire congregation. Refer with mocking humor to a letter from a member, and you’ve signaled your entire flock not to share their concerns with you. Brush past a person who is clearly trying to catch your attention, and she may not reach out a second time. Jump to conclusions about the reasons for someone’s struggles, and the conversation will quickly come to an end. Give hurried or superficial advice and your people will look elsewhere next time.

But if you take time to be filled with the love of Christ and learn to look at your people with his eyes and care for them with his heart, they will grant you access to the deepest regions of their lives, opening opportunities for rich pastoral ministry.

The Characteristics of an Approachable Leader

One of the most effective ways to build passport with your people is to deliberately and persistently cultivate the image of being an “approachable leader.” An approachable leader makes people feel safe; they know they are welcome to come to you with questions, concerns, or even criticism. In order to gain this image and reputation, a leader needs to deliberately put off “passport killers” and cultivate attitudes and relational habits that encourage people to open up and draw near.

All want of love, all indifference to the needs, the feelings, the weakness of others; all sharp and hasty judgments and utterances, so often excused under the plea of being outright and honest; all manifestations of temper and touchiness and irritation; all feelings of bitterness and estrangement, have their root in nothing but pride, that ever seeks itself.[1]

Many leaders conceal a proud attitude under a demeanor of humility, which is not the same as actual humility. One of the many evidences of actual humility is the inclination to “consider others better than yourself,” which results in valuing their thoughts and interests as highly as your own (Phil. 2:3-4). A closely related evidence of humility is to sincerely welcome critique and correction, no matter who brings the “observation” (Prov. 13:10, 17:10). Therefore, wise leaders regularly meditate and pray about the “pride and humility” passages in Scripture (see Prov. 11:2, 19:20; Isa. 66:3; 1 Pet. 5:5-6), asking God to help them put off self-confidence, pride, and every hint of arrogance, and to put on a humility that genuinely welcomes questions, suggestions, criticism, and anything else that might aid us in the process of presenting ourselves before God as empty vessels, so that we might be utterly dependent on and fulfilled in him, which is the essence of true humility. [2]

“I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge–because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Cor. 1: 4-9; cf. Phil. 4:8-9).

When people know from experience that you prefer and delight to focus on God’s grace in their lives, they will be more willing to pull back the curtain on areas that need more of that grace.

Get an “Approachability Checkup.”

Even when leaders sincerely want to be approachable, they are often blind to the ways that they push people away. (This is certainly true of me!) If you have the courage to learn how approachable you are, there are several tests you can take.

Becoming an approachable leader and earning passport into others’ lives is no easy task. The very qualities that cause others to recognize a person as a leader can also result in an image or demeanor that keeps others closed off and distant. No one was more likely to have such an aura than Jesus. Yet his humility, love, and desire to connect intimately with others were so strong that people were constantly drawn into the safety of his presence and desirous of having him enter deeply into their lives. If you are a leader, I encourage you to make it your life-long pursuit to draw on God’s grace and develop this same approachability in your life.

– Ken Sande

See a companion article: Accountability: The Mark of a Wise and Protected Leader [2]

[1] Humility, Andrew Murray (Wilder Publications, Radford, VA, 2008), p. 13

[2] Two books I recommend on cultivating humility are: Humility, Andrew Murray (Wilder Publications, Radford, VA, 2008), and Humility: True Greatness, CJ Mahaney (Multnomah, Sisters, OR, 2005).

[3] For superb insights into the biblical concept of shepherd leadership, I highly recommend While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, Tim Laniak (ShepherdLeader Publications, 2007).

[4] As Ed Clowney wisely wrote, “Better by far are imperfect structures in the hands of devoted servants of Christ than the most biblical form of church government practiced in pride or in a loveless and vindictive spirit.” (The Church, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Il, 1995, p. 202)

[5] You can begin this process with an email like this: “Dear ___, I would like your assistance in gaining an accurate assessment of how “approachable” I am to other people. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you would do me the great favor of reading the attached article and giving me your candid feedback on how approachable I am in your eyes. You may do this in any way that is comfortable for you, whether offering some general observations, or evaluating me in light of any or all of the characteristics described in the attached article. It would be especially helpful if you could provide specific examples that illustrate my strengths or weaknesses in any of these areas. I sincerely want to become more approachable to others, so the more candid and specific your feedback, the better. Thank you!”


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