Interpersonal Leadership Series: An Overview

“Interpersonal Skills: Leading With Your
(SL# 10)

by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
7.0 – Leading With Your Heart

A Leadership Thesis: You are leading with your heart when as a total person you consistently exercise interpersonal skills to interact effectively with other people, both in your living and in your leading. “Leading
with Your Heart,” as a series of articles under six subcategories, seeks to explore and put into practice interpersonal skills that are essential to leadership as a relationship. Leading from within your internal core
expresses the combined strengths of your Christian faith and values, ministry competencies, disciplined disposition, relationship abilities, and social skills. From this very core example and relationship forms a powerful expression of the journey of practicing servant leadership after the pattern of Christ.

David W. Johnson, an extensively published sociologist, has written relating interpersonal relationship to every expression of human life, including personal and family:

Interpersonal relationships are essential for our personal well-being in many ways, helping us to grow and develop cognitively and socially, to build a positive and coherent personal identity, and to feel we are firmly in touch with reality . . . Interpersonal skills, the sum total of your ability to interact effectively with other people, is not a luxury but essential to human well-being.

— from Reaching Out by David W. Johnson, pp.

1. Leadership as a Relationship

One of the discoveries of contemporaries who practice and teach servant leadership, one that was resident in Christ, is that leadership is first and foremost a relationship; not just that to the exclusion of other components, but essentially so to all other components. Since the nature of leadership is that there is at least the leader and one follower, then relationship is embedded in the performance of small tasks or large objectives. (See closing two resources.) If we seek to be excellent in our work, we must forge authentic relationships. Research reported in the book, Credibility, presses this to the front:

Leadership is a relationship. . . . Until we all, constituents and leaders alike, grab our picks and shovels and work to repair our interpersonal infrastructure, style will continue to succeed over substance, and technique will continue to triumph over truth. — from Credibility, Kouzes and Posner,
pp. 47-48

2. Leadership and the Heart

In the Old Testament and New Testament, “heart” is an expression of the central control, the will, the choosing, governing center of the whole man: physical, intellectual, and psychological. It goes deeper than cognitive
information or rational exercise. With the heart we are to love God, to believe in the Christ, and to live out our days. The biblical record seldom uses “heart” to refer to the life support function of our physical organ.

Our common use of the word “heart” often reflects the biblical concept, such as:

  • the whole person, personality, inner life;
  • emotional states: love, joy, sorrow, fear, courage;
  • intellectual activities: attention, understanding, reflection
  • volition or purpose: the will, the mind, believing, choosing;
  • character: a pure or wayward heart.

When it comes to the subject of leadership and the heart, Holy Scripture has many insights, with “leading with your heart” readily finding its benchmark in two texts:

Jeremiah 3:15Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.

Philippians 1:7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace
with me.

(The concept of the heart is more fully explained in articles found under the subcategory, Self-Understanding: Searching Your Own Heart.)
3. Six Interpersonal Leadership Skills

Six contemporary leadership skills and practices are applied to the roles of ministers and lay leadership in today’s church! This overview article presents only briefly the six interpersonal skills that seem to be the most
significant to those of us in Christian ministry. Please visit those articles as you have an interest, and when we put them in the Servant Leaders Library.

  • Self-Understanding: “Searching your own heart” asks and seeks to answer the following eight questions regarding self-understanding and its benefits. Remember, your actions demonstrate your true sense of identity and purpose: heart of a shepherd/minister/leader; heart of a disciple/follower; guiding biblical texts; understanding “self-understanding;” disclosure to others; feedback from others; spheres of relationships; exercising spiritual gifts; and practicing ministry leadership.
  • Trust-Building: “Trust-building” is a critical skill, essential to effective leadership through: 1) understanding the elements of trust; 2) assessing your present practices; 3) reflecting on trust in your
    ministry–specific faces and cases; 4) choosing specific areas for focused improvement; 5) revitalizing your relationships. Ten identified characteristics of interpersonal trust-building serve as the outline to this study: trustworthy, trusting, communication, honesty, consistency, competency, encouragement, vision/cause, responsibility, and rebuilding trust.
  • Interpersonal Communications: To contribute toward the improvement and practice of interpersonal communication as a skill for effective interaction with individuals and small groups in your life and leadership, listed below:
    • Communication tasks and functions
    • Communication: biblical guidance
    • Choosing your communication channels
    • Communication between people: a model
    • Active listening and responsive feedback
    • Small group communications
  • Assertive Leadership: To present the principles and practices of assertive leadership as an expression of the biblical understanding of “speaking the truth in love.” The study, a “how to” practical approach, is presented in a series of articles, including: an understanding of assertiveness, an assertive case study; assertiveness and Christian leadership, aggressive leadership, passive leadership, how and when to use assertiveness, and how to develop assertive leadership for Christian leaders.
  • Resolving Conflict: The study introduces and explores ten proven strategies for dealing with interpersonal conflict and applies these to the life and work of staff and lay Christian leaders. The benefits should include: improved relationships, satisfaction of dealing with conflict, and ability to defuse potential conflict. Proven strategies include: understanding, assessment, inventory, foundations, communication, collaboration, assertiveness, intervention, fellowship, and mission.
  • Motivating Volunteers: “Leading the way onward” 1) clarifies and defines the meaning of motivation in leadership; 2) examines reasons why people do (and do not) volunteer for Christian service; 3) presents
    leadership styles used to influence others; and 4) applies the findings of motivation to critical functions of Christian ministry. Article topics include:  understanding motivation, influencing motivation, volunteering for service, recruiting team members, guiding and developing, appraising performance, empowering
    people, and motivating through recognition.

4. Reflection/Actions/Benefits

Just what is this interpersonal leadership series all about, and how can the materials be of long-term help in developing such skills? The following is a development process:

  • Experience interpersonal skills and relationships as significant expressions of the Christian message, not just means to other ends.
  • Understand clearly what interpersonal skills are and what behavior patterns are necessary to their performance.
  • Apply by making a list of persons and groups with whom you want to develop more effective interpersonal relationships.
  • Assess your interpersonal skills, both strengths and weaknesses.
  • Set long-term and short-term goals for developing your interpersonal relationships and skills.
  • Practice persistently the desired interpersonal skills while receiving coaching, feedback, encouragement, and reinforcement.
  • Progress from learning situations to real-life applications, modifying your behavior routinely and naturally for a lifetime.

(The following two sections are intended to provide for personal reflection
and assessment.)


Interpersonal Skills: SkillTrack®
Task/Needs Assessment–
L. Elder

As a Christian minister, what ministry tasks and functions most often need your effective interpersonal skills? If you want to take an assessment of your need/use level of interpersonal skills, rate yourself (1 Seldom to 4 Often).
Include examples.

  1. Struggling with your own self-understanding _______
  2. Getting along with difficult people. _______
  3. Communicating on a person-to-person basis. _______
  4. Communication among small group members _______
  5. Guiding and leading staff members. _______
  6. Motivating and inspiring church and staff members. _______
  7. Enlisting volunteer workers for church programs. _______
  8. Caring for, and counseling the members. _______
  9. Maintaining control of your schedule. _______
  10. Building trust with coworkers and volunteers. _______
  11. Resolving/managing personal conflict or criticism. _______
  12. Working with people in small groups. _______
  13. Showing respect to those you work with. _______
  14. Acting on your own feelings/values. _______
  15. Leading based on your relationship to others. _______Total: _______

Each response and the numerical total reflects dependence on interpersonal skills. Review this assessment to preview the most significant uses you may want to make of this series of articles. SkillTrack® Leadership #7 Series may be just the help you are looking for.

© 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership


Executive Summary of Minister Survey
Minister/Church Relationship Committee
BGCT Executive Board
Baptist General Convention of Texas, Dallas Texas

The following statistics reflect the answers of those who responded to a written survey randomly mailed to 1000 ministers from all regions of Texas that included rural, small town, city and urban churches. Approximately 42% of ministers returned the survey.


  • 78% indicated that they were personally acquainted with serious conflict arising in a church.
  • 77% indicated that they see ways for outside resources to be utilized in resolving conflict in the church.
  • 83% indicated outside consultation by trained persons in conflict resolution would be of value.
  • 72% indicated there is inadequate training and information available for ministers and church leaders in recognizing and resolving conflict.
  • 91% indicated it would be personally helpful in their own church for them to receive additional training in interpersonal relationship skills (to include stress management, conflict resolution, and communication skills).
  • 94% indicated that it would be helpful in their own church for ministerial staff to have additional training in interpersonal relationship skills.
  • 92% indicated that it would be helpful in their own church for church leaders to have additional training in interpersonal relationship skills.
  • 88% indicated that printed materials and/or videos dealing with churches in conflict would be helpful.
  • 95% indicated that ministers/staff in training at the seminary should be required to take a course in interpersonal relationship skills that would include stress management, conflict resolution, communication, dealing with emotions, and how to nurture/encourage others.
  • 68% of those who had attended seminary indicated that the seminary they attended provided inadequate preparation that they have needed for dealing with church conflict.
  • 95% indicated that there needs to be an expansion in the availability of counseling for pastors/staff and their families who have experienced destructive conflict in the church.
  • 99% indicated that a search committee would find it helpful to have some type of training to assist them in preparing to do their work.
  • 70% indicated that it would be helpful if the search committee in their church had not dissolved when they were called to the church but had acted as a liaison between the church and them, the new ministers, for the first six months to a year.
  • 88% of those who direct ministerial staff indicated that it would be helpful to have additional training in how to effectively supervise and evaluate the job performance of ministerial staff.
  • 91% of those who direct ministerial staff indicated it would be helpful to have additional training in administrative skills.