Lesson 6: Consider Fears and Joys

Series: Speaking the Truth in Love

by D. Marion Clark May 1, 2006

Lesson 6                      Consider Fears and Joys

In my previous message, I made an issue of addressing behavior, not motive. It will seem that I am reversing all that I said. For to gain a hearing and to motivate your people to right action, you need to take into consideration what inwardly drives them and what paralyzes them.

When I first took my position of Executive Minister, and, for that matter, of school Principal, I made it my first order of business to meet individually with my staff. My primary goal was to establish trust in each staff member that I was for him or her. That is, I would do my best to make him or her achieve in their work. I wanted them to know that when the time came for me to address issues in their work performance, it was not a prelude for dismissing them but for helping them. They needed to know that I, as their supervisor, was on their side. I don't mean on their side as being against the establishment, but that I wanted them to succeed; I cared about their welfare.

If I could win that kind of trust, then a number of things would happen. One, they could relax and thus work better. A stressed worker is a poor worker. He makes mistakes; he stresses and discourages other workers. When he is worrying about his future, his mind is not on his work. I want my people focused on doing their work well and enjoying it. Two, they become open to correction when needed. They are willing to listen to constructive criticism and benefit from it when they are not feeling threatened. Three, they treat their fellow workers and the volunteers who work under them in a similar manner. Competition in the workplace is not nearly as productive as teamwork where the staff trust one another and are encouraging each other. Thus, if I am effective in conveying a positive attitude towards my staff, a healthy atmosphere will develop in the workplace and disseminate into the church body.

Because of our sins and living in a sinful world, we all operate in some level out of our fears, and those fears adversely affect performance. Fear keeps a person from asking for help, worried that asking for help would signal incompetence. Fear encourages a worker to cover up mistakes. And you, if you are a ministry leader, have much influence over the level of fear. If you can create an environment in which mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn; if you can make people feel safe to ask questions, then most work will not only to what is ask of them but will go the extra mile for you.

How do you build trust and reduce fear? Begin by freely admitting your own mistakes. Freely ask for help from those under you. Some leaders think that admitting mistakes signals weakness and ineptness. It's true that you don't want to communicate that you do not know what you are doing, but appropriate admission of mistakes signals not weakness but actually instills respect and confidence in those under you. A wise leader is respected for knowing his limits, especially for limitations that are clear to those under him. It shows good judgment to recognize one's own mistakes and to seek the help of others below him who have knowledge and expertise that he doesn't.

By leaning on those under you for matters that may not be under their job description, you also build self-confidence in them. When I ask the advice of a staff member about a matter that is unrelated to their responsibility, I am communicating that I value his or her thinking ability. Leaders worry about asking opinion not only because they think they are revealing weakness, but that they may be surrendering their decision making responsibility. But, again, wisdom is marked by the desire to receive wise counsel, to discern what counsel is best, and then to take responsibility for whatever consequences may come. If the consequence is negative, then the leader takes full responsibility; if the consequence is positive, he credits the one with the idea. Do so in both cases, raises him in the respect of those under him.

And this respect translates into a positive work or ministry environment. Workers know their backs are covered, that their ideas will not be squashed, that they can be creative and receive due encouragement. All the more then they will work and minister more productively.

Another way to ease fear and build trust is through the simple but overlooked act of giving encouraging facial expressions. I remember being in a Session meeting where the elders were interviewing a group of people joining the church. As we got to one woman, she began by blurting out to one of the elders, "You sure look mean!" Actually, this elder was one of the gentlest men who even at that moment was enjoying listening to the testimonies. Nevertheless, he did have a scowl on his face that was communicating the opposite of what he felt.

Men, many of you need to work on this. While you think you are being attentive to someone talking with you, that other person is reading in your face that you are angry or impatient or he just can't figure you out at all. He doesn't know if what he is saying makes sense to you, if he should keep on or stop. All he is getting from you is a stolid face. You need to nod your head and give expression in your face to communicate back to him. You need to make sounds of agreement or wrinkle your forehead in disagreement; in some way communicate. Otherwise, you are making the other person nervous not knowing how you are reacting to him.

Elders need to understand how intimidating it can be for someone to have to appear before them, whether it be for a pastoral concern or hearing a testimony or just giving a presentation. Men need to be aware how intimidating it can be for some women to meet with them, particularly when the conversation may be about job performance. And all leaders need to be conscious of how their authority puts their subordinates in an uneasy position. We think we are merely discussing a particular task; they are worrying about what we are thinking about them.

The old adage here is to put yourself in the other person's shoe. Anyone under your authority is always in the position of being judged for performance by you. You may not think about that, but they do if you have not developed an atmosphere of being for them. Think what it is like to be in their position and relate to them accordingly.

And then be alert for what makes your people tick. The more a person can do what naturally motivates him, the better worker he will be. You want to look for what comes naturally for your people. It might be doing a particular task such as organizing papers or carrying on a conversation. I might be a particular subject. Where one person has nothing to say when brainstorming ideas about what outreach events to hold, he may become quite talkative when you move to figuring out logistics. You may not be able to change jobs around to fit each person, but most jobs can be tweaked to emphasize a person's strength over his weakness and to encourage his interests over what is boring to him.

And some motivational activities can be simple and seem trivial like bringing to the meeting a snack you know is appreciated. Think of ways to show appreciation and be alert to what is meaningful to individuals. One person may like public attention when he does well; another may prefer the private pat on the back. Not everyone gets involved in ministry for the same reason nor are they motivated the same way.

But what every Christian does want is to be useful and productive for Christ's kingdom. He wants to know that what he does matters. The more in tune you are to how to reinforce that feeling for each individual, the more responsive he or she will be to your leadership. Every Christian will downplay that they are looking for attention or reward in their ministry service. And it is true that most are not in it for those reasons. But all of us need positive reinforcement for what we do. We may claim that we desire only to be good servants of Christ; as much as that may be true, God has created us with an inner need for human affirmation. Consider yourself to be Christ's representative to your brothers and sisters to convey his approval of their service. Especially take this role in regard to those who are under your leadership.

The human heart is filled with fears and yearnings. You cannot remove all the fears and fulfill the yearnings. But be alert to them. Know that they are at play in your people's lives and that they impact they way they relate to you and serve with and for you. Give the cup of cold water, the cup of encouragement. You will not merely refresh them occasionally, but find that the apt word spoken and the kind deed performed will be significant acts that the Lord used to build them up towards maturity in Christ.

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