Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

How to deal with people cannot be fully learned from a textbook or in the seminary classroom. These skills must be hammered out on the anvil of experience. Here are a few basic guidelines to help elders with those allimportant people skills.

Love and Trust

Love and trust must be intentionally cultivated. Commit yourself as an elder to approach your people, even the difficult ones, in this manner. Even though your attitude of love and trust may not always be returned in kind, your risk will be worthwhile. But how do you love the unlovely and trust those who are not always trustworthy?

Develop a healthy appreciation for others. —Perceive them as persons of worth. An attitude of suspicion is the only alternative, and suspicion is a waste.

Develop a healthy concept of God. — This will give you a proper perspective on your concept of self and others. If you, as an elder, view God as primarily a God of wrath and judgment, this will be reflected in your concept of God. If the elder recognizes God's attributes of love and forgiveness, the elder's own love and forgiveness will be more apparent.

Develop a healthy concept of authority. It is much easier for an elder to love and trust if he isn't obsessed with a need to control and manipulate.

Honesty and Openness

An honest elder is a man of integrity. The word integrity comes from the mathematical term integer, which means "whole or undivided." An honest elder does not have many sides; he is a man of integrity.

Openness takes the elder one step beyond honesty. Openness implies vulnerability.

Honesty and openness may sometimes carry risk in the church. The open, honest elder may encounter people in his church who are disappointed when the elder shows his humanity. These persons may be devoted to the elder and love him until he shows his human side. Nevertheless, vulnerability is worth the effort for elders who want to relate to members as team members.

The Futility of Withdrawal and Avoidance 

An elder can learn to love and trust if he realizes the futility of withdrawal and avoidance. Some elders practice this by moving to another position or other congregation every time a difficulty arises. Others simply withdraw emotionally with almost the same result.

Here are some negative and positive suggestions for improving relationships with church members.

Things to Avoid (1)

*Avoid being judgmental.
* Avoid hypercriticism.
* Avoid unrealistic expectations.
* Avoid ambiguity or inconsistency.

Steps to Take

* Cultivate a genuine desire to help people.
* Develop a willingness to forgive people.
* Adopt an attitude of forgiveness toward people.
* Learn to trust people.
* Develop sensitivity toward people.
* Maintain flexibility in dealing with people.
* Deal with frustrations that come from relating to people.
* Acknowledge your personal limitations in dealing with people.
* Seek opportunities to develop close relationships with people

Give some quality attention to getting along with people in the church. Through exhibiting love, trust, honesty, and openness, the elder can create an environment in his congregation where close interpersonal relationships can develop.

(1) Adapted from Books Faulkner, Getting on Top of Your Work (Nashville: Convention Press 1973).