A priest friend of mine recently told me how, whilst at theological college, she had spent untold hours studying Thomas Aquinas, ancient Greek and Christian ethics, to name but a few subjects. All, no doubt, being rich and critical learning for any priest in training.
But what no one prepared her for, she said, was how to persuade her ‘somewhat obstinate’ PCC of the pressing need to tackle the church’s guttering, and how to overcome the disagreements that followed.
Another clergy friend at the coal-face mentioned that her job often felt more akin to being the chief executive of a small charity. Both roles depend on building and maintaining a complex web of relationships in order to keep things moving.
This sense of feeling underprepared for the full reality of one’s ministry is of course natural and impossible to resolve entirely. Yet there is plenty that we can do to better prepare clergy, and those in positions of church leadership, to nip conflict in the bud and to develop more trusting and collaborative relationships.
Missing the point
Part of the problem is that we rarely think of communication and relationship-building as skills in and of themselves that deserve and demand study and practice – a mistake that is also reflected in many secular organisations.
Consequently, we tend not to recognise and reward outstanding practitioners, thus creating a vicious circle that is hard to break.
And yet in practice these tools seem to form much of the foundation for everything that clergy and the broader Church seek to be and do in their communities. Whether that be organising the next quinquennial process, reconciling honest differences of opinion on complex topics or even securing agreement to fix the guttering.
My experience as a mediator (and veteran church musician) is that communication and inter-personal tools underpin the cause that clergy and all those in positions of responsibility hold most dear: drawing people closer to Jesus.
It ain’t what you say …
Here are a few means of improving communication and relationships:
- Ask open or calibrated questions to go deeper and expand the context of the conversation
- Seek to identify the underlying needs of others eg respect, safety, to be heard and acknowledged – this is an effective way in to developing common ground
- Slow down the pace of conversation by summarising regularly, to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings as well as to demonstrate to the other person that you are committed to fully understanding them
Let’s commit to sharpening our communication tools for the season that lies ahead and continue polishing the lens through which we perceive our fellow humans with greater self-awareness, insight and compassion.
Resources to explore:
- Harvard Negotiation Project: https://www.pon.harvard.edu/category/daily/mediation/?cid=11411
- The Power of Listening: https://youtu.be/saXfavo1OQo
- The Power of the Apology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7vP01U8qr4
With thanks to Owen Bubbers-Jones, Director, reconciliation and wellbeing organisation Khuba https://www.khubareconciliation.com/