The Priority of Relationships in Ministry Leadership

I’m always grateful when a reader of one of my books reaches out with a comment or question. Over the weekend, one reader sent this question: 

“On page 107 of An Unhurried Life, you mention the verse Col 4:7-11. I believe that you are saying that we should live as brothers in Christ first, then we live as workers and ministers. I can’t quite see how you are pulling this from this verse. I really would like to hear more of your thoughts on this passage.” 

On that page, what I said was, “Are we living, as Paul implied, first and foremost as brothers [and sisters] in Christ and then fellow workers and fellow ministers (Col 4:7-11)? Does the way we spend our time together reflect these biblical priorities?” 

I can see now that a core belief I’ve come to, thanks in no small part to the gift of some wise mentors in my life, is that when it comes to leadership, relationship-focus precedes work-focus. Listen to some of the phrases in that Colossians 4 passage that I believe support what I was trying to communicate in these lines of the book: 

  • Tychicus…is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant. 
  • Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. 
  • Mark, the cousin of Barnabas…

What I see in this passage is that Paul places a priority of friendship language over fellow-worker language. Tychicus is first a dear brother, then a faithful minister and fellow servant. In other location. Onesimus is only described in terms of friendship. Mark is in family relationship with Barnabas. In our own leadership teams, do we have this much relationship language in the way we talk about or to one another? 

Elsewhere, Paul describes Epaphroditus as “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger (Phil 2:25).” I don’t think the order of these phrases is accidental. In other words, when it comes to the ministry leadership teams in which we work (or even lead), we are first family who happen to work together. We are not first workers who happen to be family. 

I take from this that a healthy ministry leadership community will learn to ask brother/sister questions first, then ministry/leadership questions. 

If we meet first at the level of ministry and leadership, and assume or presume the reality of our first being brothers and sisters in Christ, I think we are getting the dynamics of God’s kingdom backwards and upside-down. We are turning our secondary identity as fellow-workers with God and one another into a primary one, and we are forgetting that our primary identity is being beloved sons and daughters of God in relationship with one another. 

I wrote about this because it happens more often than it should, and it does harm to the lasting fruitfulness of the work of God among us. In the kingdom, we meet first at the level of the people of God, and from that place of mutual love and encouragement, we serve together in the work to which our heavenly Father has called us. 

For Reflection

  • Are you part of a ministry team, paid or volunteer? What are the first topics of conversation among you when you meet? 
  • Have you learned Paul’s priority of relationship first? In what tangible ways do you see this value being played out among you? 
  • What next step could you take to move even further in this holy, healthy direction? 

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

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