Here's something that I've become more aware of recently: when someone is leading me or asks something of me, my willingness and enthusiasm to respond is directly connected to their relational bank account with me. It's not that I'm unwilling to submit and do something when asked, but my enthusiasm in doing the task is the issue. Here's how it works:
+ Every positive relational interaction makes a deposit in my relational account.
- Every negative relational interaction creates a withdrawl from my relational account.
Now, you might be thinking that this concept sounds really bad—definitely performance-oriented, and maybe even unbiblical. Shouldn't our default mode of operation be unconditional love and grace? And yes, I would agree that unconditional love is the goal. But the reality is that we are all flawed human beings who are incapable of unconditional love—at least for any extended period of time.
The truth is that most people can "get the job done" when we ask something of them, regardless of their level of enthusiasm concerning the task—for a little while, that is. But over time, if we don't make consistent relational deposits, those people will cease to have the will to follow us or do what we ask. When we do make relational deposits, people are more willing to be influenced and to take steps of faith. They are more willing to believe that we want them to succeed, and they will be more excited about doing things for the Lord.
If you want to make relational deposits with someone you are leading, try to practice a few of these ideas regularly:
- Warm greetings. An encouraging word, a touch, and eye contact are powerful ways to greet others when we see them.
- Honor others. Recognizing accomplishments (no matter how small) and consistently making positive comments will overcome and offset the few times when we as leaders need to give negative feedback or a note of correction.
- Actively serve. Whether it is giving your time, money, or physical labor to serve someone else, your example will build up the other person and model a servant's heart to those you ministering with.
- Resolve conflict. Deal with anger and conflict quickly. Approach the other individual in private at first, admit and clarify misunderstandings, and confess and ask for forgiveness as necessary.
- Never gossip or slander. These habits will always impact relationships in a negative way.
- Love language. Learn the other person's love language and speak in that language to them frequently. It might be words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, or quality time—discern what makes the other person feel most loved and focus your communication efforts there.
- Listen well. Always be more focused on hearing and understanding what others are saying to you than on what you are going to say to them.
- Speak truth in love. Always be honest and do your best to avoid presenting a "false face." And when hard or negative things need to be shared, do it with an attitude of love, respect, and kindness.
Practicing these behaviors regularly will ensure that relational deposits are running well ahead of withdraws for you and the members of your small group.
—Dan Lentz is an Editorial Advisor for SmallGroups.com and the author of Let's Get Started: How to begin your small-groups ministry (Standard, 2007). Copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.