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Being relational and being productive are not mutually exclusive.  I believe that health and high-performance are not an either/or proposition.  The best organizations and ministries have a both/and mentality when it comes relationship and results.

It would probably be good to define what I mean and don’t mean when I talk about relational leadership.  What I don’t mean is that the people on your team have to be your BFF.  Also, being relational doesn’t mean that you aren’t the clear organizational leader or supervisor.  Leading relationally doesn’t mean you don’t have hard conversations about job performance.  

My friend Pete Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Leader has devoted an entire chapter on Power and Wise Boundaries.  When Pete talks about power and wise boundaries he is referring to navigating the tricky waters of being boss and friend.  Pete starts his chapter with these sobering words... “The most painful lessons I’ve learned in thirty-five years of Christian leadership have involved the exercise of power and having wise boundaries.”  (Emotionally Healthy Leader p. 239)

He goes on to say “Churches are fragile, complex, confusing systems.  We are a community, a family, a nonprofit mission.  Yet there is also a ‘business side’ in that we steward resources (we hire and fire, comply with legal requirements, manage budgets, define success, etc.)”  (EHL p. 242)

Because ministry organizations have complex dynamics, we do need boundaries.  If you have a supervisor responsibility, relational leadership does not mean only being a friend to those you supervise.  As a supervisor, you still need to be able to be the boss.  

Relational leadership doesn’t mean abdicating the power or authority that comes with your role.  But we must always remember that the power that has been granted to us belongs to God, not us.   Therefore, we are to humbly steward that power so that while we are accomplishing great kingdom work, the people who work on our teams feel valued, cared for, empowered, and treated with dignity.  Relational leadership means that you love and care for the people you lead beyond what they can produce.

Over the last 40 years we have become obsessed with leadership and intoxicated by vision.  But, I think it is good for us to regularly be reminded that the Bible puts the highest premium on love, not leadership.

The Bible’s message about loving people is relentless:

  • serve one another humbly in LOVE  Galatians 5:13  

  • LOVE one another deeply from the heart  1 Peter 1:22  

  • Be devoted to one another in LOVE. Romans 12:10

  • Anyone who loves God must also LOVE their brother and sister 1 John 4:21  

  • Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith… be courageous… be strong… Do everything in LOVE.   1 Corinthians 16:13-14  

  • Walk in the way of LOVE  Ephesians 5:2  

  • Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward LOVE and good deeds  Hebrews  10:24

  • Over all these virtues put on LOVE  Colossians 3:14  

  • We know that we have passed from death to life, because we LOVE each other  1 John 3:14

  • By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you LOVE one another  John 13:34-35

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

With all the time and energy we put into being a better leader, what if we put the same time and energy into being loving and relational?

Before we talk about your relational leadership of others, let’s talk about self-leadership.  This may seem contradictory, but self-care is crucial to relational leadership. When I am empty and exhausted, I won’t be very relational.  Fatigue makes me less loving.  Being emotionally empty makes me less patient.  Stress makes me less kind and running on fumes makes me less gentle.  If my tank is empty, I won’t have anything to give to others.

By the way, hurried people are also less relational.  Being relational means paying attention and being present.  And you can’t do that in a hurry.

The key to relational leadership:


Short term view
People’s value is extrinsic
Focused on the ends only
Project focused
Considers results


Long term view
People’s value is intrinsic
Focused on the means and the ends
Person and project focused
Considers impact on people

If we are only transactional in our leadership people will end up feeling used and de-valued.

One day I was doing a life plan for a business leader and we were working on the life net tool.  It is a construct that identifies the web of your closest relationships.  These are people who know you well, can speak honestly into your life and can support you in your pursuit to live out your life plan.  As we were working on this exercise, this guy’s wife walks in.  We are reviewing the tool with her and asking if there are other names that should be considered for his life net.

As soon as this wife mentioned a certain man’s name as a possibility, the husband immediately responded “No way.  The only time he ever has anything to do with me is when he wants something from me.”  In other words, he was saying that their relationship was not personal, it was only transactional.  This guy knew that his so-called friend’s only interest in him was what he could get from him.  

Let me make this even more personal.  When I look back at a couple of the roughest seasons of our marriage, Connie and I were only talking about our schedules and to do lists.  Our interaction was only around what we were doing for dinner or who was taking the car in to get it fixed or who was taking the kids to the youth event.  We were simply coordinating the logistics of our lives.   There was no meaningful conversation or intimacy.  Our relationship had become purely transactional and not personal.  

It never feels good in a relationship when your only value is what you can do for the other person.  That’s not just true in a marriage, it is also true in a ministry team environment.

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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