What can a pastor do to develop such relationships?
- The pastor needs to spend time with the church members to experience life from their perspective. The small church pastor cannot spend the bulk of his or her time sitting in the church office. You have to be with people doing what is important to them.
- The pastor needs to listen to people. We live in a rather impersonal world that communicates more by emails, IM, and tweets. We send facts to one another, but we spend less and less time actually talking with one another. When the pastor is an active listener he or she is looking at body language and trying to understand the emotions behind the words. It's also important to ask questions to clarify anything that we might misunderstand.
- The pastor needs to be transparent. Ministers make mistakes just like everyone else. We don't want to be sensational, but we do want to be honest about our humanness. People struggle to relate to someone on a pedestal. Don't let them put you there, and don't put yourself there either.
- The pastor needs to be honest about his or her doubts. Some in the church do not believe that ministers ever have questions about their faith so they don't feel that they can talk about such things when they struggle with their faith. We need to help people understand that God is not threatened by our doubts, and sharing our own questions about the faith is one way to do that.
- The pastor needs to work alongside the members of the congregation. I've known some ministers who would challenge people to get involved in hands-on ministry but would never do so themselves. As a pastor I enjoyed working with members of our church and association when we took one month a year to prepare and serve meals with the Salvation Army. I enjoyed working alongside some of our members as they built houses for Habitat for Humanity. I always showed up in my work clothes when we had a work day at the church. Those kinds of experiences helped create positive relationships with our members.
- The pastor must always keep confidences. Perhaps nothing will damage the pastor's relationship with members of the congregation faster than sharing confidential information with others. It sends a clear message that you cannot be trusted, and people seldom enjoy positive relationships with people they do not trust.
- The pastor must make a long-term commitment to the church. Smaller churches are used to revolving-door pastorates. People in such churches have little interest in developing a deep relationship with someone they believe will soon be leaving. Don't be surprised if you do everything listed here and still struggle to have the kind of relationship with people that you want. That will come after people realize that you see them as more than a stepping-stone to a larger church.